I’ve been sitting here for over an hour, meaning to start writing but unable to look away from the Tour de France. I think Alberto Contador is a punk. Yeah, I said it. I hope Andreas Kloden waits until the Tour is over and then pops him right in the nose. I challenge you to fisticuffs, sir.

Also, and this is the last reference I’ll make to the Tour, commentator Bob Roll is on Twitter and he is a freaked-out cross between a Zen master and a schizophrenic off his meds.*  Highly recommended whether or not you care about bikes. One must take advantage of this kind of highly concentrated batshit insanity where one finds it. Grammar and spelling be damned! This shit is deep.**

Moving on.

There was a magical time, when I first started this blog, when I typically left work before 4:30, which left me ample time to spend seventeen hours making a parsley coulis and reducing a gallon of liquid to an eighth of a cup.  Those halcyon days are behind us and now I usually get home closer to 7, so I’m usually picking recipes that are interesting but relatively quick and will fool you into thinking I did something exciting. IT’S TOTALLY WORKING.

Today I rose up and said NO MORE COMPROMISE. The Smackdown was meant to challenge. To inspire. To make one gasp with the joy of a flavor newly discovered. To teach. To take a long time and make the whole house smell like fennel, despite the fact that I generally dislike fennel. Ergo: Chanterelle’s Red Snapper in Bouillabaisse Broth with Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes.

*“Man makes a beast of himself to avoid the transcendent pain of being human.”

**“Trying to talk to the French is like lying, and lying is just like talking; indiscretion indeed.” This is my new motto.

This dish had a lot of things going for it: I get to enjoy a fine dining-style meal but also eat mashed potatoes. Massive amounts of garlic are involved. Extensive sauce reduction is required, ensuring a deeply flavorful final product while also allowing me to nap during the process. It involved a new (for me) ingredient in the form of fennel. It required purchasing a bottle of Pernod, making me feel gourmet. Today was also a dreary, rainy, chilly day – because summer this year was apparently limited to July 14 through the 21st, and I really wish someone would have told me because I would have planned my vacation a little differently – so a warming but not overly heavy dish seemed just right.

Plus, I didn’t have to peel any of the vegetables. Score!

Hunks of carrot, onion, fennel and two whole heads of garlic browned in a copious amount of olive oil before being joined by white wine, Pernod, orange peel, saffron, fish stock, tomatoes, bay and fennel seeds. The orange peel had to be removed from the orange with a vegetable peeler and carefully cut into strips rather than just being zested or microplaned, which is how you know you’re doing something fancy. The whole mess o’ vegetables and liquids simmered for about an hour and a half, concentrating and reducing into a deep, intense rust-colored broth.

Valuable lesson learned during this part of the process: do not consume Pernod on its own. Do French people drink this shit? It would explain a lot about both their attitudes and facial expressions.

While the bouillabaisse broth was reducing but before I (did not actually) take a nap, I put the potatoes together. The uber-garlicky, olive oil-spiked potatoes are meant to stand in for the aioli traditionally served alongside bouillabaisse.  There are few things in the world I love more than garlic in olive oil, and that love increases exponentially when you increase the amounts of garlic and oil exponentially.  Some freakishly over-sized cloves took a ten-minute bath in simmering olive oil and continued steeping off the heat while the potatoes finished cooking.

I was going to take pictures of that since I normally try to take pictures of everything, but you know what, it’s a goddamn potato. Plus there’s really no way to get a good shot of boiling potatoes without destroying your I-don’t-have-a-lens-that-allows-me-to-be-more-than-four-inches-away-from-what-I’m-shooting camera with steam.  Also: potatoes boiling.  Top Chef Masters was boring enough; this is my show.

<prepare for shocking confession>
This is not the red snapper the recipe specifies, it’s just boring, non-color-specific snapper. It was on sale. Yes, I am ashamed.
</complete processing of shocking confession>

Kanye West: What the fuck is up with the sunglasses? Seriously, they make me hate you a little.
</end aside>

HTML-based humor is passe. I know it. I waited too long watching the Tour and my brain is entering shut-down mode too early in the post. I blame myself. No, I take it back: I blame that jackass Alberto Contador. He is my new scapegoat.
</end apology>

I sliced the non-red snapper into picturesque triangular portions and failed to adequately score the skin with the very dull knife I was using. (The good knife was already in the dishwasher, what do you want from me? Am I not already doing enough here?)  Because I astutely decided to re-read the instructions I realized the fish was supposed to be dredged in seasoned flour, so at least I didn’t fuck that up.

I took care of the flouring, laid the fish into a hot, oiled pan and watched hopelessly as the fish’s poorly scored skin caused it to instantaneously contract and curl the fish into a decidedly non-picturesque shape. I was pressing down with the fish spatula, but my upper body is apparently so atrophied that I am unable to apply sufficient pressure to a FISH FILLET.

While the fish finished cooking through, I riced the potatoes and garlic, whipped them with the garlic-infused oil and some heavy cream and ate about half a cup’s worth off the wooden spoon. Don’t tell Brian.

A shallow bowl, a dollop (SEVERE UNDERSTATEMENT) of potatoes, two pieces of non-snapper of color, a pool of broth and a fennel frond for garnish that was immediately discarded post-photography and dinner was served.

God love them, they can put a dish together over there at Chanterelle. Nine times out of ten we enjoy Smackdown meals, but it’s a rare dish that causes us to stop and allow our eyes to roll back in our heads before high-fiving.

Okay wait, sorry. Tour’s still on. Bob Roll: “It’s looking very tenuous, like a snow leopard on a vanishing glacier.” The humanity.

ANYWAY, this dinner was luscious. Dare I say it was a little…sexy?  But in a wholesome, guy- or girl-next-door way.  Or maybe a sexy librarian taking off her glasses kind of way. Whatever, definitely not a wallflower. The intensity of flavor in the bouillabaisse broth was more than a little astonishing. My fennel fears disappeared into the reverie over the robust broth. All the traditional bouillabaisse elements were there – fennel, Pernod, saffron, olive oil – and amplified without being thrown off balanced. This broth goes to 11.

The potatoes served their designated role as aioli understudy with great aplomb. I let the garlic go a little too long in the oil and it took on more sweet roasty notes, but it still spoke up. As the impossibly creamy potatoes – olive oil and heavy cream, be still my heart* – mixed with the broth, the strong flavors in each made for an even better whole without compromising either. The potatoes started blending into the broth, creating a thick mixture that was much easier to scrape into one’s gaping mouthhole than broth alone. Add in a some fish with enough body to stand up to its companions, and you have a bowl full of damn near perfection. Bonus: the house smells incredible.

Two out of two of us agree that this dish slots into the Top 5 Smackdown dinners of all time, where all time = the past 18 months and it felt like old times, where old times = last year.

*I don’t mean that literally, although after those potatoes I may not have a choice.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Pluot Pluot, Fizz Fizz: Plum-White Tea Sorbet with Sake and Ginger Marinated Plums

[tags]food, cooking, fish, cuisine, french, bouillabaise, mashed potatoes, fennel, snapper[/tags]