Flatfish & Mussel Ceviche

August 24, 2009

A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
~William Shakespeare, (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3)

A friend just returned from Peru where she visited the mystical pre-Columbian Inca site of Machu Picchu. Our mummy bag accompanied and warmed her at night on her life journey. Machu Picchu by osmosis. Her homecoming was a shameful reminder that, to date, only one ceviche recipe appears on the site (see Ceviche: Debated Ancestry 03.27.09). Time to remedy that oversight.

FLATFISH & MUSSEL CEVICHE

1 lb white skinless fish fillets, such as flounder or sole
1 lb fresh shelled mussels, cleaned and rinsed
1 C fresh lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 t salt
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely diced
2 fresh serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 T chopped parsley
1 T chopped cilantro
1/4 C yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
1/4 C red onion, peeled and finely diced

2 C corn kernels
1 lb sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled, and cut into 1/2″ slices, then half disks
1-2 avocadoes, halved, peeled and sliced

Chill bowls in the freezer.

Cut the fish fillets horizontally into 2″ x 1/4″ slices. Soak the fish and mussels in lime juice for at least 2 hours. Add the salt, garlic, and chili and refrigerate for another hour before serving.

Roast the sweet potatoes in the skin until a fork pierces the meat easily, about 45 minutes in a 375 F oven. Cool, then peel, and cut into 1/4″ slices, then half disks

Just before serving, fold in the parsley, cilantro, and onion and slice the avocadoes.

Divide and mound the ceviche in the center of each bowl. Surround with fanned sweet potato and avocadoes slices topped by corn. Serve immediately.

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Finger licking good bottom dwellers. These two recipes display rather classic, yet embracingly simple, French culinary approaches. Pourquoi? Because our gallic friends across that watery expanse—long not crossed but which later became a migratory route for immigrants—have long had the fundamentals down on these denizens of the ocean floor.

Flatfish are an order (Pleuronectiformes) of ray finned fish, sometimes classified as a suborder of Perciformes. The scientific name means “side-swimmers” in Greek, so in many species both eyes lie on one side of the head, one or the other migrating through and around the head during development to create their characteristic assymetry. Evolution forever awes me.

Numerous species of flatfish are regularly caught in the Pacific with common market names such as sole (from gray to lemon to Dover), sanddab, turbot, plaice, fluke, flounder, and halibut. The name “sole” comes from its resemblance to a sandal, which in Latin is solea. A caveat emptor: in many markets, some species of flounder, especially the Atlantic species, are incorrectly labelled as lemon or gray sole. The true soles, Soleidae, include the common or Dover sole (Solea solea), so a trusted fishmonger is crucial…and there should be no fear in kindly asking about species identification or freshness.

On the other side of the world, Atlantic flatfish have not fared so well. Populations have experienced heavy fishing pressure by both domestic and international fleets over the last half century, and many species have been depleted to very low levels, particularly Atlantic halibut and some populations of yellowtail flounder. Efforts have been undertaken to revive the declining Atlantic flatfish populations, but until they have been reestablished, it may be prudent to avoid these species.

In this first recipe, fillets of sole are rolled to form what are termed paupiettes. Rolled beginning at the thickest end, the paupiettes will not unfurl as they cook. Sweet as candy.

SOLE PAUPIETTES WITH MUSHROOMS & WINE

2 lbs skinless and boneless sole fillets
2 C mushrooms, sliced
1/3 C scallions, sliced
1/3 C shallots, sliced
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 C dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

1/2 C unsalted butter
1 T fresh chives, chopped, for garnish

Cut each fillet in half lengthwise, removing and discarding the small strip of sinew from the center of the fillets. With the white side that touched the bones on the outside of the paupiettes, roll up the fillets, starting at the thick end.

Gently place the paupiettes on end with the scallions, shallots, salt and pepper, in a medium heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Cover, reduce the heat, and boil gently for about 3 minutes.

Holding the lid so the paupiettes remain in the pan, pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan and place it over high heat. Boil for a few minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Slowly add the butter and vigorously whisk mix until well blended. Bring to a gentle boil for a few seconds more.

Divide the paupiettes and mushrooms among plates, spoon sauce over the top, and sprinkle with chives.

In this next recipe, the fillets are poached gently in the oven.

SOLE POACHED IN WHITE WINE

2 lbs skinless and boneless sole fillets
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T shallots, finely minced
3/4 C dry white wine
1/3 C fish stock or chicken broth

Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Fresh tarragon, minced

Preheat oven to 350 F

Dry the fish with paper towels, then remove any existing bones. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Butter a 9 x 12 baking dish. Strew half of the shallots in the baking dish, and then lay in the fish, skin side down. Sprinkle the remaining shallots over the fillets, and pour in enough wine and broth to come up just under the top of the fillets. Cover with waxed paper.

Place the dish in the lower one third of the preheated oven. The liquid should begin to bubble, and the fish will be done when it has turned to milky white, around 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully drain the cooking juices into a heavy small saucepan over medium high to high heat on the stove.

Tent the fish as you make the sauce. Reduce the juices until thick, syrupy. Vigorously whisk in lemon juice, little by little, than add parsley while stirring. Spoon the juices over the fish and sprinkle with fresh tarragon.

Ceviche: Debated Ancestry

March 27, 2009

Ceviche, seviche or cebiche is a technique of marinating raw seafood in citrus, traditionally fresh lime juice. As with all great food…exalted simplicity. The fish is slightly “cooked” by the citric acid, which does not involve heat, but does impart subtle flavor. The citric acid denatures the proteins in the fish, unraveling the molecules and altering their chemical and physical properties. Bathing the fish in citrus juices turns the flesh firm and opaque.

As with sashimi, ceviche should be reserved for the absolutely freshest your fishmonger has to offer…and sustainable, less toxin-risky species should always be the goal (see Sustainable Seafood).

While many espouse that ceviche originated in Peru, there seem to be so many varied claims and theories on which country or historical era gave birth to this dish that landing on a solid postulate seems nearly impossible. Suffice it to say, ceviche appears to be native to Central and South America (but, stories persist about ceviche being the fancied, imported stepchild of Moorish women who immigrated to the Viceroyalty of Peru beginning in the 16th century). Such are the culinary conundrums created when civilizations merge, expand, disperse and vanish over time.

GINGER CEVICHE

1/2 lb fresh white fish, such as red snapper, sea bass, sole, flounder, grouper
1/2 lb scallops
Sea salt
3/4 C fresh lime juice
2 T fresh grapefruit juice
1-2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely diced
2 T fresh ginger, grated
Fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

Chill several small serving plates in the freezer.

Carefully cut the fish horizontally into 1/8″ thick slices with a well sharpened and newly honed knife. Salt fish on both sides and place in a large flat bowl. Spoon the lime and grapefruit juice over the fish and toss with the chili, ginger and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, preferably more. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to the chilled plates and serve.