OK, perhaps the longest dish title I have had on my blog so far. It sounds like there is a lot going on here, but there really isn’t – It is actually a rather simple dish, with a lot of really robust flavor to it.
So I was looking through that rather dodgy old cookbook that I was trying to write, and get published the other day. I was pretty amazed at how far my food, food photography, and writing has come since I started to write that two years ago. My culinary tastes have changed over the past couple of years, with more and more emphasis on simplification, and letting ingredients really stand out.
One dish from there brought back some good memories however – It was a fish and risotto dish, with a heavy smoked paprika (pimenton) vegetable coulis and clams if I remember correctly. The coulis was actually great, but really great as a soup, the day after with leftovers.
I decided to refine the dish a bit. Gone was the coulis (vegetables and water simmered together with herbs and pimenton, and blended to make a thick sauce) – in it’s place is just a simple mussel liquor broth that is flavored with a little of the smoked paprika. Mussels are used in place of the clams, and fewer of them.
So why the changes? My tastes have changed. I like light, simple, clean. I like a good balance of textures, flavors, and densities. Before both the coulis and risotto were thick, and complex. That was just too much. Using a lighter sauce, still with the same smokey flavor (al be it cut back a bit) this competition is now removed. I love to use mussel liquor in recipes when I cook the mussels too. It is so flavorful it seems just wrong to toss it out. A great little plus on the side is that it makes this much faster, and easier to make.
Why the swap of clams to mussels? Well, for me, mussels have a ton more flavor, and look prettier on the plate. The flesh is larger too, so you can use fewer shells, which makes the plate look cleaner too.
And finally… I swapped out halibut for a wonderful, incredible and delicate kampachi fillet. Why? The skin. Kampachi can yield the most fantastic crispy skin. More so than any other white fish (in my opinion). When cooked just through, the flesh is so delicate and light too – which is great when you have a rich risotto, and flavorful sauce.
Oh, and the chanterelles weren’t in the original dish. Well, they are great this time of year, and just a nice simple addition to the plate.
As mentioned in the last post about the mutton, I really enjoy combining a protein with a good starch come the autumn and winter months. In the summer it is all about light fish, and light summer vegetables, come the autumn, I want something a wee bit heavier. Risotto always fits the bill there for me.
This dish can make a mess of your kitchen though. Be warned. Or it could of course just be me.. I seem to use every dish in the kitchen. I am just bloody thankful that I didn’t have to do the washing up for this.
Some tip top tips for this dish:
If you have it, use a cast iron pan for the chanterelles. The high heat available is just magic with mushrooms.
When buying mussels I tend to by 10% more than I need. You will often get a broken shell here or there, and some that are dead (don’t open). Ask to see the tag for the mussels too – this will tell you when they were harvested. Old mussels are bad. Really, really bad.
Cook the fish slowly, and you will get a great browning, not burning. This one takes a bit of patience, and temperature control – but is dead easy.
Store mussels in the fridge, mixed into some crushed ice. If you are keeping them for half a day or more, make sure you drain the water from the melted ice every few hours.
The fish we start in a pan, and then transfer to the oven to cook through. This way we can get the skin perfect, and then use the oven to cook the flesh through, without overcooking the skin. If you fillets are thin, you will most likely be able to skip the oven, and just complete on the stove top. Don’t get fillets that are less than 1” thick in the thickest part.
Crispy skin Kampachi, Mussels, Risotto Bianco, Chanterelle, pimentón mussel broth (serves 2)
1lb Kampachi fillet, skin on
handful of small chanterelle mushrooms – gently (but thoroughly) washed
15 small mussels
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1/4 teaspoon of pimenton (sweet smoked Spanish paprika)
2 1/2 glasses dry white wine
1/2 cup of arborio rice
1 stalk of celery – finely chopped
1/2 medium onion – finely chopped
1 clove of garlic – finely chopped
4 cups of really good chicken stock
1 sliced shallot
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
Start by cleaning the mussels. Scrub each shell to remove any debris stuck onto it. If the mussel has a beard (the grassy looking protuberance in the shell join, that a mussel uses to attach itself to stuff), give it a quick decisive tug outwards to yank it off. If a shell is broken, throw the mussel out. If a shell is open, and doesn’t close when you tap it, throw it out. Dead, dodgy mussels yield no fun for 24 hours, no fun at all.
Cut the last 1/4” from the end of the each mushroom stalk.
Take the fish out of the fridge. Cut into two fillets. Sprinkle a little salt on the skin side of the fish.
In a small saucepan warm the stock, and keep it hot.
Preheat oven to 375F
In a medium saute pan, get a little olive oil warm. Add the celery, onion and garlic, and gently cook (without browning) until translucent. When cooked through, add in the rice. Gently mix, and turn up the heat under the pan. When the rice is just starting to color, pour in 1 glass of the white wine. Stir, and let this bubble away. When the rice has absorbed almost all of the wine, add a ladle of the hot stock. Gently, very gently stir the rice. Stirring helps bring the starch out of the rice, making a great, rich, oozzing risotto. When this first ladle of stock has been absorbed, add another. Keep doing this for about 16 minutes, making sure to gently stir the risotto often. Very often. Give the risotto a taste. It is done when there is still a little bite to the rice, but it is soft enough to eat happily.
When the risotto is done, turn off the heat under it. Mix in one tablespoon of butter, and put a lid on it. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes covered.
About 10 minutes before the risotto is done, get a small non-stick pan hot over a medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to easily cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot (if you swill the pan around, the oil will move much easier), add the fish skin side down.
Keep a couple of fingers on the flesh side of the fish for a couple of minutes. This will stop the fillets curling up, as the skin tries to shrink because of the heat. After a minute or two, you should be safe to remove your fingers from the fish.
Cook the fish for about 7 minutes on the skin side. Regulate the heat carefully. Too hot and the skin will burn. Too low, and the skin won’t crispen. After about 5 minutes lift one fillet, and check how brown the skin is. If it looks brown, and very crispy, transfer to clean, room temperature pan (skin side to the pan) and pop it in the oven, to finish cooking the flesh of the fish. It should just take a few minutes in the oven.
When you started the fish, in another small pan gently cook the shallots in a little olive oil. Add half of the thyme. Cook gently until just cooked through. Turn up the heat, and add a glass of white wine to the pan. Let this reduce down by half, and add the mussels to the pan. Cover the pan, and cook for three minutes. Take a peek into the pan after 3 minutes. If the mussels are open, remove them to a bowl, and cover the bowl to keep the mussels warm. If they aren’t open, then cook for another minute or two.
When the mussels are done and removed to a bowl, add 1/2 glass of white wine to the liquor in the mussel pan, and boil off the alcohol. Add the 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika. Let this simmer for a couple of minutes.
Finally, in a cast iron pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add in the mushrooms, and the rest of the thyme. Cook these over a high heat until just cooked through, and lightly browned.
Blimey… that sounds like a lot to do at once, but most of it cooks itself to be honest.
Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, and keep warm.
Put a 4” diameter forming ring (or cookie cutter) in the center of a plate. Fill the ring (or cookie cutter) with risotto. Pack it down tightly. Gently lift off the forming ring to make a nice cylinder of risotto. Place half of the mussels around the edge of the risotto cylinder. Do the same with half of the mushrooms. Gently pour half of the sauce around the plate. Very, very gently place one fillet of fish, skin side up, on top of the risotto. Serve immediately.