I've been in sort of a cooking funk the past few days. This is most likely related to a general wintertime malaise those February doldrums that lead to a uprising of ennui. Ah, such is winter in the Northeast. Alas, this lackadaisical attitude has wrought very little in terms of culinary inspiration nor exploration. What are you supposed to with rock hard (yet amazingly red) tomatoes, woody asparagus flown in from Chile, and (very sadly) some not-nearly-as-good-as-last -year's Clementines?
What is the winter wine-loving chef supposed to do other than belly up to the bar for some oysters and champagne? "But wait", you say! No, you, my friends, are right. Why not belly up to the bar for some oysters and champagne? Well that's good and all (and really, I actually enjoy a decent red such as a decent Pacific Northwest Syrah ) but this isn't about oysters and wine- at least today. No, this week is about something more home-chef friendly. Something to help rush off the winter blues. Its about something to full your stomach and fuel the fires for the cold weather.
Which is not to say that we're ignoring the fruits of the sea or the bounty of the land. Winter is a great time to explore the brine-y depths. Unlike vegetables and land mammals that eat vegetables for sustenance, our fishy friends usually get better in the winter months. And since it's winter and we don't mind the oven being on for a while (at least those of us who live in apartments and don't have control over our heat), what a perfect time to use our love of wine and integrate it right into the cooking. Not following? We're about to braise something. And what braise doesn't love root vegetables? Certainly no braise of mine.
Choosing a wine on which to build our braise is not a complicated task; but it does involve a little knowledge of fish. Since there's such a wide-range in fish flavor (from the non-intrusive sole and snappers to steak-like tuna and swordfish to our dark, oily friends sardines and bluefish) we want to be sure to a choose a wine that has a complimentary flavor profile. I like to make this dish with bluefish. Not only was it a 1/4 of the price of the red snapper at the local fish store, I like it's oily fishiness - especially when tamed appropriately by cooking. Also, remember the last time you went to the doctor and he told you to start taking fish oil pills? They'll thank you for this as well. (Were I cooking snapper though, I'd want something a little more muted.)
Now since bluefish has a strong fishiness to it, we're going to want to find a wine that can help cut through that flavor, mute some of the stronger parts and bolster the rest. The last time I made this dish I used a cheap white Italian wine, Maculan Pino & Toi but I could also see a decent Oregon Pinot Noir standing in just fine. Aesthetically speaking though, lets stick to the Pino & Toi the finished sauce is a bit more appetizing.
The recipe is incredibly simple: 1 whole bluefish, maybe 2-3 lbs (if you're squeamish, have your fishmonger scale, gut and clean it for you); 10-12 small new potatoes (red or white skinned), cubed; 1 medium white onion, minced; 2 cloves of garlic, crushed; 1 lemon, sliced; 5-6 springs of thyme; 1 bunch of kale or cavolo nero, ripped up (I love kale because it's a hearty winter green); 1 pint of vegetable broth; salt and pepper to taste. Heat your oven to 215°F (or however low it goes) and let it get warm while you sweat the onions and garlic in a sauteé pan over medium heat with a tbls of olive oil. When they're soft, add 2 cups of the wine and the pint of broth. Bring to a boil. In an oven safe roasting dish (if it's stove stop safe you can do the preceding steps in it), put in the kale and potatoes. Season the fish with salt and pepper (inside and out), and put the lemon slices and thyme in the cavity. Lay it on top the vegetables, and pour over the wine/stock mixture until it's barely half way up the side of the fish. Cover with foil leaving two medium holes to let steam out and place in oven until the fish hits 130°F. Take out fish and vegetables and reduce the liquid by 1/2. Add two tbls butter and 1 tbls cornstarch mixed with 2 tbls water, and stir well for a few minutes until it thickens. Add a splash of wine and fresh squeezed lemon juice just before serving.
[ Todd Kennedy is a self-taught foodie/chef who writes the blog Gute Essen about the meals he cooks for himself and his friends. ]
Fish Be Braised
- Reply by Philip James, Feb 6, 2008.
Todd - Nice timing, as i'm on a fish kick myself as I try to eat more healthily, in lieu of going to the gym. Just one question: how many does this serve?
- Blog comment by todd, Feb 6, 2008.
That's a great question. If I'm hungry enough, I could probably eat the entire fish easily :).
This should serve anywhere from 3-4 people under normal circumstances, depending on how big your fish is. You can also easily double this recipe by just buying a 4-6 lbs fish and just using twice as much of everything else. The real trick is if you like something in the recipe, feel free to add more!
- Blog comment by Kirstin, Feb 6, 2008.
I love the Maculan Pinot & Toi- super great fish wine