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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gone Fishin'

The best laid plans...

I had a simple plan. Braise a spatchcocked cornish hen in white wine with yellow tomatoes and yellow bell peppers. Simple. Lazy. A little somethin' somethin' Sunday night supper kind-of-thing. I wanted to break in a new enamel cast iron dutch oven that Michael and I recently picked up on the cheap. It wasn't fancy. It was cheap and cute. 

With everything on deck, I cranked the dutch oven over a medium high flame, drizzled the pan with olive oil, and added 2 minced shallots.  When the shallots turned translucent, I scattered minced garlic into the mix. Just before the garlic went too far, I hit the pan with white wine to release the sticky bits before adding chicken stock. I immediately recognized that sound. I knew exactly what had happened. In rapid fire slow motion (think strobe light), the faux cast iron dutch oven splintered and cracked into large broken shards, spilling sticky butter, shallots, garlic, and white wine everywhere. Yep. As the braising liquid oozed down the sides of the oven and puddled onto the floor, I stood in awe of my ridiculous mess. Sometimes, I simply amaze myself. Professionally and personally, I've had my share of kitchen blunders. Trust me. Crap happens. I've learned to roll with the punches and move on.

I trashed everything, had a good laugh,  cleaned up the mess, poured myself a glass of wine, and used a kitchen cleaver to hack the dainty splayed hen into several bite sized chunks.  After battering and deep frying the pieces, I smothered them with buttery hot sauce. Deep fried Buffalo chicken, thank you very much. Celery batons for crunch  and creamy gorgonzola for dipping. Go with the flow.

Needing to wash that hen right out of my hair, I decided to go fishing. Well, not fishing fishing. I stopped by The Lexington Seafood Company and caught gorgeous fresh grouper filets. Easy. Simple. Safe.

Poached Grouper.
I'm not much of a poacher. Sure, I'll poach eggs for brunch or midnight snacks, but when it comes down to meaty or fishy stuff, I prefer a quick saute or long braise. Typically, fish is poached in either olive oil, white wine, or court boullion. It's delicate work. Delicate doesn't become me, so in lieu of the traditional mediums, I used tomatoes for a heartier and less dainty approach.

 That said, the grouper filets begged for a light hand. Using our reliable cast iron skillet, I warmed 4 tablespoons of olive oil over a low flame before adding minced onions and sliced garlic. As they started to perfume the oil, I hand-crushed a 28oz can of San Marzano whole tomatoes into the mix. After adding 1/2 cup white wine, smashed kalamata olives, fresh tarragon, and sliced Meyer lemons, I brought the poaching liquid to a boil, reduced the heat, and let it ripple for 15 minutes before sliding the grouper filets into the simmering sauce. Because I didn't want the fish to overcook, I reduced the heat a bit further and covered the skillet to gently poach the fish for about 8 minutes.

After sliding the grouper filets into shallow soup bowls, I draped them with the tomatoes and tumbled simple boiled potatoes to the side before finishing with fresh tarragon, lemon slices, steamed julienned snow peas, olive oil, and white buttered bread for sopping.

Although the tomato poaching liquid might have bumped up the heartiness factor, the grouper remained incredibly tender and moist. During the quick poach, the fresh tarragon infused the tomatoes with subtle anise undertones. While the Meyer lemons added spunky sweet acidity,  the briny olives countered with needed saltiness. Grounded by the potatoes and crisp snow peas, the poached filets were surprisingly light, soft, and airy. Bathed in the sweet crushed tomatoes, lemons, olives, and fruity extra virgin olive oil, the grouper flesh flaked apart on a whisper, melted into the sauce, and teetered on the edge of morphing into a delicate fish stew. A fabulous unexpected win.

Simple. Complex. Crazy.

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