Friday, February 5, 2010

Crusted Bass with Sherry Broth

Tonight, I attempted my third recipe from the Restaurant Nicholas cookbook, one of the better dishes I've had at Nicholas:  Crusted Black Sea Bass with Banyuls Broth.  At the restaurant, you get a perfectly cooked fillet of fish (I've had only the bar portion, so it was a very petite fillet!) resting on a sliced fingerling potato, some halved grape tomatoes and a chopped up haricot vert or two.  Then, one of my favorite aspects of dining at Nicholas occurs - tableside service!  The waiter brings over a sauce boat filled with the most delicious mushroom-Banyul vinegar flavored broth, and pours it around the fish, at which point you get to dig in and enjoy the deliciousness.  Sadly, I don't think this measured up to my previous attempt from this book.

First obstacle - finding Banyuls vinegar.  Know your food (with some help from here):  Banyuls wine vinegar is made from grapes grown in the French region of Banyuls-sur-Mer.  Aged in oak barrels, it matures for over 5 years developing a somewhat tart or sour tasting vinegar that develops a complex nutty flavor. It's been ridiculously hard to source locally - I tried Wegmans and Whole Foods (Chef Nicholas's personal suggestion), as well as Delicious Orchards and Sickles Market - all to no avail.  Now, you are saying to yourself  'Alex, order it online!' but it was a bit of a stretch when all I needed was 2 tbsp of the stuff.  I ended up substituting some tasty sherry vinegar I had in my cupboard.

Second obstacle - finding black sea bass:  I had planned on heading to Woolley's after work to pick up fish, but I ended up getting roped into a 'curriculum meeting' with some fellow teachers.  Somewhere along the way, I got it in my head that I could get skin-on bass at Norkus, so I went there first..  Nope!  I then remembered one of my coworkers told me Top Tomato had an excellent fish selection.  Nope!  Finally, I ended up going where I had originally intended - Woolley's Fish Market.  The only whole bass they had was striped bass, so I bought one, and had the fine workers there fillet it for me - I'm not quite confident of my skills in handling a whole fish just yet.

Third obstacle - crazy shoppers preparing for the Snowpocalypse:  It's not a surprise that this snowstorm just popped up, people.  Did you think of maybe going to the supermarket yesterday?  Also, let me point out the absurdity of buying tons of milk, eggs and bread - you should be buying things like carrots, potatoes and cheap roasts, or beans and tomatoes and chili spices!  That's sustenance on a cold day (unless you are planning on making tons of French toast or bread pudding, and in that case I forgive you for buying all that stuff).

First step was to get my broth up and going.  Into the pot went mushrooms sauteed in butter, honey, soy sauce, sherry vinegar, lemon juice and some water, brought to a simmer for a decent amount of time.


While that was simmering on a back burner, I prepared the crust for the bass, which consisted of hazelnuts, almonds, coriander seeds, peppercorns and sesame seeds (not pictured) all toasted and then ground in the spice grinder.  At this point, the smell of the toasting nuts and spices combined with the odors from the simmering broth were highly intoxicating.

Making 1/2 a recipe of the spice mix made TONS of crust for the fish.  I mean, like enough for a double recipe.  This is also my screw-up of the evening, where I didn't halve the amount of peppercorns.  I couldn't figure out why there was such an overwhelming pepper flavor in the finished dish, then I went and rechecked the recipe, only to realize my blunder, aka Screw-Up #1.

At this point I got a water bath boiling and cooked up my fingerling potatoes, as well as blanched some small green beans and a few grape tomatoes. 

I then crusted the fish on the flesh side with the spice mix, and dusted the skin side with Wondra flour.  They went into the saute pan with some grapeseed oil.  Screw-up #2 occurred at this point, turning off the wrong burner - I couldn't figure out why my fish skin wasn't crispy after 3 minutes - could it be that I had the burner off?!?  Idiot me.  Anyway, got the heat back, cooked the fish and plated, resting the fillets above my garnish.  At that point, I finished my sauce by heating the strained broth with some brown butter (Screw-up #3 - burned 1 batch of brown butter, undercooked another, didn't have enough time to solidify, so my broth broke) and added some chopped oregano and tarragon.  Then, tableside service!


The finished dish - I was very doubtful as to the successful outcome of the dish, so I was not as careful to try to get a picture that matched the book.  I was also extremely hungry at this point, and I didn't have much of patience to wait to compose a picture!

Stephanie thought the dish was a success, but I am a bit harder on myself (per usual).  The dish had way too much pepper in it (see Screw-Up #1) and I wasn't a fan of the way the skin finished up (see Screw-Up #2).  I also tend to think that there was too much tarragon in the broth, the flavor was a bit too assertive.  Would I try it again?  Sure, now that I know where mistakes were made and how I could improve upon the technique.  I may very well blow $30 for that bottle of Banyuls vinegar, too :)


Rob Timko said...

Eeek, sorry to hear about this one. At least you know what went wrong!

Seafood has to be the hardest thing to cook. People say it's the easiest, but I strongly disagree! Makes me nervous!

Alex said...

Oh totally. It's such a finesse thing, too. Tell me to cook a steak to medium-rare, I can do it by time and temperature. Want me to cook a rib roast, I'll tell you to the degree how it's done.

Fish? Watch your heat, have a stopwatch handy and hope for the best :)

Next time, I've got to be a little more planned out - I admit I was a little rushed this go-around.