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]
When I was a kid, we made peanut brittle and a glob of it dropped on the linoleum in the kitchen. It immediately fused to the linoleum, but our dog refused to give up on that peanut brittle. He eventually ripped up the linoleum in his efforts to eat the brittle. He got points for persistence.
Even before I read your fun adventure of preparing this dish I was like ‘Wow! Awesome photos. Has Michelle been practicing?’.
Maybe you have, I haven’t been around for a while, but you;re back in my feed reader now 😉 Thanks for dropping by my neck of the woods.
Yes, I’m envious of your dish and I don’t even like fish!
Whole Paycheck has thrown a few monetary surprises my way too. I’ve been known to throw more money than I should on those heirloom tomatoes. I can’t help it. They’re so pretty.
Yes, I am a little envious of your spice crust. Nicely done!
I just realized, after submitting, Rachel (S[d]OC) started her comment the same way. Why do I not read comments before commenting?
i on the other hand i am not envious of your crust
i am merely happy for you
is that not enough?
hey, great going on the article!
Nice one on getting published (and paid, woohoo!) I love free magazines. They’re so endearingly…free.
Have never actually tried yellow tomatoes before, sorry to hear yours underwhelmed. The fish looks and sounds delightful, I love fennel and coriander seeds.
I am amazed by that crust! Mine always falls off or goes blobby or in some other way sucks.
And the peaches in rose look gorgeous. The only way they could be better is if it was sparkling rose and if you were eating them in a sunny vineyard in France.
“Sometimes you have to drop enormous sums at Whole Foods in the name of blogging.”
So true! This rationalization works for me.
The fish does look perfectly cooked. Maybe the tomatoes weren’t great because you put them in the fridge? Just a thought.
kristin, i thought he was going to go right through to the subfloor in search of fish particulate. so no more “accidental” dropping. except for actual accidental dropping.
christie, i haven’t! it happens, or it doesn’t.
i’ve switched to aperture from photoshop for tweaking, that might be helping a little. (and it’s good to see you again, too!)
rachel, even the ones that aren’t pretty, with all the ridges and weirdly-shaped lobes, are pretty.
lisa, hey, if everyone is envious, everyone is envious. what can you do?
claudia, i’m sorry you’re not confident to just admit your envy.
laura, thanks! i got the check in the mail today. i was a little too excited.
i’ve had really wonderful yellow tomatoes, so i’m writing these off as overpriced early-season produce.
foodycat, so true re: the peaches. the crust, i owe to weighing the fish down with a pot for the first minute of searing. great pan contact and no curling edges.
karen, nope, i never store tomatoes in the fridge. i think it’s just too early.
“circles that are lined up pretty much exactly on top of one another in the Venn diagram of my existence.”
HAHAHA! Ahh, me too. Wait, that isn’t funny, that’s sad. Fuckers.
I’ve had that price thing sneak up on me before. I misheard the fish guy when he told me how much the lobster tails were. I about fell over at the cash register. Whaddya gonna do? Telling them “never mind” at that point makes you look stupid AND assholish.
Also? Where can I find tomatoes that provide a perfect hit of acid? Do tell. 😉
Nice spice crust! I must admit before I clicked on the submission I thought it was cake with some sort of cream with lemons, and then was like “why would you put a pile of lemons next to some cake”. I’ve been out of town in a place where it was 100 degrees for the weekend, my brain must be addled…..
its like the sun is rising over that fricking fish, beautiful.
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