Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

How to Make Perfect Fish (and other dinner party tricks)

P1300010Ever since I worked on KEEPERS, and we developed a recipe for cooking fish in the oven, I haven’t wanted to cook seafood any other way. For our method, you basically take a side of flaky fish—cod, halibut, mahi-mahi, or salmon works really well—season all over with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, place slices of lemon all over the top, drizzle the lemon slices with olive oil, place the fish skin-side down on a baking sheet, and then roast in the oven for 10-12 minutes at 450 degrees. The result is a uniformly cooked piece of fish that you can then serve family style. If you squeeze the roasted lemon slices over the finished fish and top with chopped herbs and Greek yogurt, it’s fantastic.

This method is also wonderful for dinner parties, when you don’t want to juggle individual filets, but still want the impact of serving a gorgeous piece of fish. Now I’ve learned of another step that takes this method up a notch. I was reading chef Suzanne Goin’s terrific new book—The A.O.C. Cookbook—and for many of her fish recipes she first seasons the fish with salt, pepper, lemon zest, and herbs (parsley, thyme, etc.), and then places it in the fridge to marinate overnight or for at least four hours.

P1300016I did this the other day with a side of salmon that I was serving at a dinner party and the  result was fish that was even more flavorful than usual. I seasoned it with lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper, and then covered it and left it in the fridge for about 8 hours. Right before dinner, I roasted the salmon the same way as I normally do, laying the lemon slices directly over the herbs and drizzling them with olive oil. It came out a real showstopper: Not over-cooked, tender, and lovely to behold.

Now that I think about it, all of the dishes for this dinner party were prepared in advance: I also made potatoes that I roasted earlier in the afternoon (leaving them on the stove-top when they were done to stay warmish or at least room temperature) and served them with a side of sun-dried pesto (see recipe for sun-dried tomato pesto below) that I also made earlier and then let sit on the counter-top to meld. There were also several bunches of asparagus that I blanched before the company arrived and then tossed with a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, grapeseed oil, mustard, shallots, and maple syrup…for one of the first times, I actually got to hang out with my guests and not excuse myself every 5 minutes to check on the food. Without knowing it I had concocted the 100% Do-Ahead Dinner Party. Yeah me.

Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Take about 8-10 whole sun-dried tomatoes and place them in a food processor along with 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts (halves or quarters), a few fresh basil leaves, zest of one lemon, salt, and pepper. Pulse to combine and then slowly drizzle in some olive oil until you get the consistency you’d like (for a pasta sauce add a but more, as a dip or condiment a bit less). Scoop the pesto into a bowl and then stir in about a handful of grated paremesean or pecorino. Taste for salt and pepper. Leave the pesto out on the counter if you plan on serving it that day; but if you plan on eating it later then can be refrigerated for several days.

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