Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Seafood Celebration

Champagne for starters
Italian Prosciutto and Alpina salami, fresh sweet basil
 Then on to the main wine: Soave

Rosemary & olive oil ciabatta

Swordfish with caper sauce, roast fennel, fennel purée, broiled heirloom tomato

We probably should have started with Pastis 51, considering that this was a birthday where we could match numbers - except I prefer Champagne and it goes better with food. All discussion of Champagne with dessert was quickly vetoed, since Annette already chose a nice bottle of Brut. Brut Champagne with sweet desserts tastes like vinegar mixed with lemon juice. Paired with savory dishes, however, the acid in the Champagne cleanses the palate and dances well with the food instead of peeing on its leg and stepping on its feet. This Champagne exuded aromas of fresh citrus with some grapefruit thrown in, not much yeast to speak of. It was destined for the charcuterie plate that came before the main course.

I love charcuterie plates, especially when I'm both chef and celebrant. All they need is decent plating, a garnish and people who aren't afraid of a bit of nitrites. These meats came via Claro's Italian Market, imported directly from Italy. Yes, there is a difference between real imported Prosciutto and that domestic stuff. Richer, fuller, perhaps a tad less salty. The Alpina salami is somewhat like the offspring of Prosciutto and Pancetta with a nice note of black pepper to keep things interesting.

We netted some nice bottles of Soave for the main course. This wine got lots of points from one of those Fancy Wine Guys, yet it's affordable (at least for now). Dry with nice notes of fruit, it's the ideal bride for most seafood. Since we hadn't yet been to the fish market, we would pick the fish to accompany the wine for an acid fruitiness tango with savory fin food.

The main course was supposed to be herb-grilled striped bass. Until we got to the fish market. Ugh. Those poor fish looked about four to five days old, slightly sunken eyes, gills removed, dull scales starting to present a rough appearance. So, 86 the bass. The Alaskan halibut looked nice - glistening thick steaks at $28 per pound. Ouch. How about swordfish?

Swordfish is one of those environmentally ambiguous fish species, going from Avoid to Best Choice, depending on its origin and how it was caught. If it's from the United States, odds are it's acceptable, so you can eat it without an extra helping of guilt. And it goes well with Soave.

Since the meal was centered on summer, the plate was finished with roast fennel, fennel purée and a thick slice of grilled heirloom tomato.

As it turns out, the fennel purée was the most complicated dish to prepare. First, the fennel was sliced into quarter inch slabs, placed on a parchment paper lined baking sheet with some garlic cloves,  sprinkled with EVOO, kosher salt and black pepper and placed in a 375° oven.

While the fennel was roasting, some chicken stock mixed with fresh thyme and bay leaves went on the stove, with a few sweet red peppers tossed in to soften.

The decorative, center sliced pieces of fennel were reserved for a garnish/vegetable. The rest got roughly chopped to medium dice, mixed with a bit of the stock, the baked garlic, and the rest of the sweet red peppers and puréed with a bit of EVOO added.

The heirloom tomatoes were cut into half inch rounds, sprinkled with a bit of EVOO, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and set aside for broiling once the oven was free.

The fish was relatively simple, and could be done at the last minute. Sauté the steaks in a stainless steel pan, add white wine, capers, a bit of fine brunoise from the cooked sweet red peppers, sea salt, black pepper. Monter au beurre, add fresh squeezed lemon juice and pour over the fish when plating.

Next year, they promised to take me out for my birthday. I guess it's a balance between what this meal would cost in a restaurant and the fuss of preparing it at home (four people x charcuterie plate, Champagne, swordfish steaks. Two bottles of Soave. Dessert. Espresso coffee. Armagnac digestif = $$$$). Balance that with the risk of paying a lot of money and being disappointed - or cruising East L.A. for tacos, cemitas or tortas - or Monterey Park for dim sum and forgetting about anything fancy.

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