Don’t forget to come up with the bleakest soup you can for a chance to win a copy of ‘Sunday Soups’!
So everyone was all, like, “You have to get A Platter of Figs, it’s the best new cookbook ever, it babysits my kids and re-caulked my bathtub and helped me lose 47 pounds in 7 days without even trying.” And I was all, like, “I’m not spending thirty bucks on a book with a recipe for tomatoes that is ‘slice tomatoes and sprinkle with salt, the end.’” I’d spend twenty on that book, tops.
Then I bought it anyway, because it was recommended by some very trustworthy people and I like to be able to debunk the formerly trusted. It’s organized seasonally like Sunday Suppers at Lucques, which has never let me down, and despite the fact that the weather is so effed* up that I’m not really quite sure what season it, is I picked a summer recipe – Indian-Spiced Fish with Raita and Yellow Tomatoes – and got down to business.
By “get down to business” I mean “accidentally buy $40 worth of halibut fillet because half the slab was hidden under a neighboring hunk of sea bass”; by the time the fishmonger heaved it onto the scale and I saw what was going on I figured what the hell, I’ll freeze it and we’ll eat it eventually. Sometimes you have to drop enormous sums at Whole Foods in the name of blogging. At least I noticed before I got to the cash register so I had time to mentally prepare myself, unlike the foie gras incident of April Aught-Eight.
The weather decided to get its shit together today and actually decide to be summery and humid so I was glad to have a picked the correct dinner and gone with a meal requiring minimal cooking, just some spice toasting and fish searing.
*I am not losing my edge or pandering to the anti-F-word crowd; I deliberately went with “effed” rather than “fucked.” I remain, as always, committed and ready to say fuck. Fuckity Fuck. Fucky McFuck. See?
I toasted some cloves, cumin fennel and coriander seed, ground them and mixed in some turmeric and cayenne. I hacked off a few hunks of my side of halibut, pressed them into the spice rub and let them sit. Oh, and I took this picture which, let’s admit it, is far above average for me and I’m not really sure how it happened. I don’t question.
I cut the edges of the fillets to make nice rectangular pieces and let one of the scrap pieces “fall” onto the floor for the dogs. One doesn’t like slimy foods, so the other sucked it down and spent half an hour licking the tile where it had fallen. The tile there is a slightly different color from the rest of the kitchen now, but I don’t think anyone other than me will notice other than that cohort of people who both visit my home and read this blog, circles that are lined up pretty much exactly on top of one another in the Venn diagram of my existence.
Note that even here I have to maintain the fiction that the fish fell rather than having been purposefully and knowingly dropped, because the dogs aren’t allowed to have any people food except in their bowls and one of them might learn to read and see this and realize that I’m a giant sucker. You never know who’s reading.
I let the fish sit out to take the chill off and give the spice crust a little time to penetrate while I prepared the side dishes and cleaned out half my freezer to make room for a piece of halibut that is, with no exaggeration, bigger than my neighbor’s cat. (And it’s not some kind of midget cat, don’t get any crazy ideas.)
The tomatoes just got sliced and parked in the fridge. The recipe specified yellow, and I was able to find some nice-looking heirlooms at Whole Foods even though it’s not really tomato season here yet. I didn’t see their per pound price, but they clearly were not cheap because I know how much I spent altogether, I know how much the fish cost, and I know the only other things I bought were a loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese.
The raita was slightly more labor intensive; I had to toast some mustard and cumin seeds, quickly saute garlic and fresh ginger and mix it into some yogurt along with salt, pepper and a finely minced serrano chile. Then I took a picture of it that was not nearly as impressive as the one of the spice-crusted fish. It’s probably because I was so exhausted from the complexity of this dish, although if you squint several of the mustard seeds do appear to be in focus.
In the meantime, the cast iron skillet started getting up to speed on the stove. (The fish was supposed to be grilled, but it’s hard to justify started up an enormo charcoal grill to cook 2 pieces of fish; I was explicitly allowed to broil or pan-sear so the dish remained within the proper recipe parameters.) I seared the fish off, weighing it down with a pot for the first minute or so to ensure maximum spice crust-to-pan contact and lightly salted the tomatoes.
Admit it, you’re envious of my spice crust. It’s okay.
Take a hint from this dinner, Keller: food can be beautiful, flavorful and EASY AS SHIT. I would gladly eat my hat re: Platter of Figs if I weren’t so full from dinner (I cut some big-ass fillets), and would gladly pay thirty bucks for this book if I hadn’t gotten it for free thanks to an Amazon gift card.
This is a perfectly lovely meal. I cooked the fish to the perfect doneness level for once in my life – I’m a chronic over-cooker because raw fish squicks me – and the spice crust was right on. Indian-inspired without screaming “Indian,” spicy without overwhelming the fish, well-balanced so that no single spice dominated the scene. The raita smoothed it out while also bringing some texture to the party; pops of crunch from the whole spices, crisp little bits of chile and thick, creamy smoothness.
The tomatoes were . . . also on the plate. It’s not their fault; they’re out of season and were probably jet-lagged from whatever lengthy plane ride they took to get here. I know they were meant to add both some sweetness and the hit of acid that’s always so welcome with fish. They failed at the acid completely, although I guess I should be thankful for small mercies; they weren’t at all creepily mealy, the cardinal sin for a tomato.
I couldn’t make the other side dish included in this menu plan because I couldn’t track down any squash blossoms (which: damn it), but I did make the dessert. Which is one of the “recipes” that makes me look askance at the book, but who am I to turn my nose up at fruit soaking in booze?
In this case, white peaches tossed with a little sugar and soaked in rosé. I don’t know how the peaches got here, since it’s not peach time here yet either – I assume they flew, but at least they didn’t take the red-eye like the tomatoes – but they had three days to rest on the counter and by this evening they were the perfect juicy peach texture and smelled wonderful. And then they sat in rosé, and ain’t no fruit that never got hurt by sitting in no wine.
So my trustworthy friends remain trustworthy, because not only was this a wonderful dinner, but after flipping through the book there are any number of other dishes I’ll be trying. You got off easy this time, friends.
UNRELATED: Other people have found my writing worthy of publication. It’s not just me! Of course, it’s a free magazine, but they are distributed at all the better Jersey City coffee shops and they did pay me. And there’s an actual printed something containing something I wrote. Therefore, I rule the school.
ONE YEAR AGO: Guess what this is. No really, guess.
[tags]food, cooking, indian food, a platter of figs, fruit, wine, raita, tomatoes[/tags]