I am underwhelmed.
Some Smackdowns are toe-curling, orgasmic. Some shatter your preconception of what a good dish is, rebuilding it in their image. Some have you licking the plate, and depressed when the meal ends. They are world-changing. It’s what the Smackdown lives for.
This meal is not that meal.
This meal – olive oil poached halibut with fennel, rosemary and garlic, paired with peas and pancetta, from Michael Symon’s Live to Cook – failed to whelm me. I am, in point of fact, underwhelmed. Sad, really, when you think about all the big flavors at play, flavors that should play happily together on the plate and in my mouth.
Somehow, these big flavors opted not to come and play at all, remaining stubbornly locked inside their respective foodstuffs, not to be pried out. Maybe they, smarter than I, knew that this was an underwhelming dish and chose not to be a part of it. Or maybe the fennel hates me. WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOU, FENNEL?
I mean, come on! Behold the porky wonder that is thick-cut pancetta! If this cannot save a dish, one must question whether the dish is salvageable at all.
At least it wasn’t difficult or time consuming. That’s probably the nicest thing I can say.
I started out by steeping the aromatics in the olive oil – the aforementioned fennel, garlic and rosemary, along with shallot, salt and red pepper flakes. (I used my favorite grocery store olive oil, Badia; look for it in the Spanish foods aisle, it’s a good buy.) With some careful stovetop finagling, I managed to keep the oil at exactly 140 degrees, as instructed.
While the oil did its thing, I prepped the ingredients for the peas and pancetta.
Pancetta, obviously, went into a pan to render. I sliced up some shallot, minced a clove of garlic and zested and juiced an orange, which gave me an excuse to use my macro lens, which was probably the most fun part of this whole thing.
Man, I’m quite the Debbie Downer tonight, aren’t I? And I didn’t even have a shitty day or anything. What’s my problem?
Don’t answer that.
Fresh peas joined the pancetta – I know, I know, it’s not pea season, go ahead and crucify me on the altar of seasonality – along with the orange juice and zest. Everything took longer than the recipe said it would, an irritant. Once everything was cooked through, I stirred in a pat of butter and the peas were done.
In the meantime, the oil had, theoretically, finished steeping. I say theoretically because, like everything else so far, the cook time didn’t seem to be long enough to achieve the desired results; the oil tasted of rosemary, a hint of chile and little else.
I suppose I could have let it steep longer, but (1) I was really fricking hungry and (2) I like to put recipes to their mettle by following instructions slavishly. (I use number 2 as an excuse when number 1 is especially pressing.)
The fish took about 15 minutes to hit an internal temperature of 110, and dinner, such as it was, was served. I put down a bed of peas, nestled in a piece of fish and propped a sprig of rosemary on top, my pathetic nod to food styling.
Somewhere, Adam Pearson just got annoyed and doesn’t know why.
So, dinner. The thing is, it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t gross, it wasn’t nasty, it wasn’t off kilter or lacking balance or poorly conceived.
It just…wasn’t, period. Wasn’t flavorful. Wasn’t exciting. Wasn’t living up to its promise. I ate about half, then couldn’t bring myself to expend any more energy chewing on its bland nothingness.
I can’t malign the whole book based on this experience, especially when it has excellent chapters on pickling and charcuterie, so I’ll definitely be giving it another go at some future point. Just, you know, not this recipe.