After all the hearty, heavy fare that is Thanksgiving, I've been craving fish. Something lighter. Maybe healthier. You see, Mark and I went back to Missouri for the holiday and I sort of ate like a pig. At my uncle's house, in addition to all the turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, I indulged in pumpkin and minced meat pie, rich chocolate brownies, and St. Louis favorite, gooey butter cake. Several days later I made a Thanksgiving feast just for Mark, my parents, and myself (so we could have leftovers). More turkey (mine was flecked with herbes de provence and had herb butter squidged under the skin, more potatoes (sage brown butter), and more stuffing (fennel, celery root, shallots, golden raisins and dried cranberries). I lost momentum on the dessert. I had planned to make a chocolate pecan pie, but couldn't be bothered. It didn't matter much, since there was also a huge birthday cake (my birthday is next week). As if all this wasn't enough, Mark and I made a point to stop at a beloved local pizza joint one night for dinner and several nights later decided to try out a new frozen custard stand that had recently opened. I had a "concrete" swirled with caramel and studded with chunks of broken up apple pie. So I'm sure you can now understand my desire for some nice light fish.
But upon arriving back home I poured through my cookbooks and nothing was inspiring me. I hate when that happens. Fortunately yesterday morning on Sara's Secrets, Sara's guest was influential chef Alfred Portale. I guess the show was quite old, because he seemed to be promoting his cookbook called Alfred Portale's 12 Seasons Cookbook, which was published in 2000. Regardless, the book sounds interesting. Apparently at his restaurant, to reflect the changing seasons he replaces the entire menu every thirty days. As we all know, I am a big fan of seasonal eating, so I may have to pick up a copy of the book. On the show, he made this dish - fish! He used black sea bass but noted that pretty much any fish could be used in it's place. I got black cod, instead. Also, curiously, the recipe referred to the garlic element as "garlic confit" but on the show they just used roasted garlic, which I don't think is as subtle. So I looked up a garlic confit recipe in Thomas Keller's book Bouchon and used that as the inspiration. Not surprisingly his recipe was a little overly complicated, so I sort of simplified it with satisfying results. So much so that I now want to confit everything I can get my hands on.
(For the garlic confit)
the cloves from 2 heads of garlic, peeled and stem ends sliced off
3 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
1 to 1/2 cups olive oil
(For the potatoes)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound small potatoes, such as ruby crescents, cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 medium onion, quartered lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
(For the fish)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
20 cloves roasted garlic
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 (7-ounce) skin-on black cod fillets
Coarse salt and freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups clam juice, plus more as needed
2 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
16 black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped, about 1/3 cup (I used Kalamata)
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 thin-sliced rounds lemon
First make the garlic confit. In a very small saucepan, combine the peeled garlic cloves, thyme or rosemary and the olive oil. Make sure the olive oil completely covers the garlic cloves.
Cook the mixture over as low a heat as possible for 25 to 35 minutes, until the garlic cloves are golden brown and very tender. Allow the garlic and oil to return to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Make the potatoes: Heat the oil in an oven-proof 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes. Portale states in his recipe that the potatoes shouldn't brown. Add the onion, rosemary, and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, covered, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. This makes more garlic confit than you will use in the recipe, so I used the rest of it to make a vinaigrette for a salad I served along with the fish. The recipe for the dressing is posted on Apartment Therapy Kitchen.
Transfer the potatoes to bowl and set aside. (The potatoes may be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated.)
Next, make the snapper. Heat the oil in the oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Arrange the potatoes in 4 thick mounds in the skillet and scatter the garlic and rosemary around them. Season the snapper with salt and pepper. Place 1 fillet on top of each mound. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Pour in the clam broth and bring to a boil.
Cover the pan and braise in the oven until the snapper is barely opaque in the center, about 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.
Using a slotted spatula, transfer the potato mounds topped with the snapper to the center of 4 dinner plates and cover loosely with aluminum foil while you finish the sauce. Return the skillet to high heat and boil until lightly thickened, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and olives and cook for 1 more minute. Scatter in the parsley and taste for balance, adding some olive oil if desired.
Spoon half the sauce over the fish fillets and pour the rest into a warmed sauce boat. Serve immediately with the sauce passed on the side.
Okay, so I'm posting this recipe even though I have a few issues with it. Mark loved it and I thought it was quite good, but if I make it again, I might do a few things differently. First of all, I thought the kalamata olives were sort of overpowering. On the show, Portale even mentioned that you could substitute nicoise olives. I'd have to agree. Once they get added to the dish, it become all about the olives. The kalamata flavor is so specific. However before I added them to the sauce, it had a beautiful light flavor, scented with lemon and white wine, which worked well with the delicate, flakey cod. It was very reminscent of something like a picatta sauce. So much so that I thought perhaps capers might be a nice substitute for the olives. I do like the addition of the diced tomato and let me jsut say the garlic confit was brilliant. The two together really give the sauce a richness and a depth.
And then there are the potatoes. I'm not entirely sure why the fish needs to be braised on a mound of the potatoes. Portale makes a point of noting that the potatoes should not brown, but I feel like it might be better if the potatoes were allowed to brown a little, getting crispy on the edges, almost like a hash. I think the contrast in textures would work really well with a moist fish and the velvety sauce and sort of echoing the smokey, sweet garlic confit. Consider this a work in progress.