Wednesday, October 27, 2010

0 Recipe #188: Pecan Encrusted Haddock on a Bed of Wilted Spinach, with Grilled Seasonal Vegetables

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After the vegetarian overkill of the past few days, we all needed a break from the concept of "vegetables as the main attraction." ;) My mother & I, in particular, were clamoring for something different. Seafood sounded really good to us, so while she was out going to an appointment & running errands earlier today, I made a trip to the market to pick up some fish for tonight's dinner. The lady at the counter said that the haddock was really excellent, so I decided to give it a try. Now, normally, I don't care much for haddock, or rather, the way haddock's usually prepared ;) -- nor does my mother -- but the haddock looked so fresh & beautiful, and the fish lady seemed genuinely enthused about it that I just had to try it. My mom's bought fish from them many times before, so I had confidence in the quality of their seafood. Also, the people at the counter are generally very knowledgeable about the fish they sell, so I tend to ask for their personal recommendations before making my selections. They know what's fresh & in season, & it's usually wisest to take their advice. :)

Well, I was glad that I did, because tonight's meal got rave reviews from my parents & grandmother. My mother said she'd never tasted haddock prepared as well as this, ever. So, that was quite satisfying to hear. :) (And of course the freshness & quality of the fish probably had something to do with that too.)

Just a few words about total prep time: The prep for this meal takes a while, so this recipe is probably best saved for the weekends. Either that, or you'll have to hire a sous chef. :) I started at noon with the vegetable prep & cooking, which was a massive task, & kept working on it until well past 3:30 pm, until I was finally ready to start cooking the fish around 6 pm. (And, I'm a relatively fast chopper too!) I didn't finish the whole production until 6:30 pm! Of course, by then we were more than ready to eat. :)

In truth, I had to complete other unrelated, pressing tasks from about 4 to 5 pm, so that added an hour to the total time. Even so, cooking solo, it still probably took me about 5 hours to prepare tonight's meal. That's not exactly a small set of tasks, even if you're a lightening-fast chopper. This was also my first time making this recipe, so I probably could've timed the various vegetable dishes a little bit better. Of course, you get the benefit of my recently acquired wisdom, as I've reordered their prep/cooking.

Both of my parents were out of the house for most of the day, but towards the end of the kitchen prep, they thankfully pitched in on a few tasks like crushing the pecans, starting the timer for the fish, & setting the table, etc. So that made things go a lot faster. Thanks, Mom & Dad! Also, hunger is an excellent motivator. ;)

So, if you're going to make this recipe, start early in the day, & try to get some of the family members to help out with the veggie chopping & other easily accomplishable tasks. :) If you delegate, you'll be finished faster and the veggies won't get cold & then need to be reheated just before dinner. ;) Also, you'll have more time to enjoy the cooking process. :-D

Pecan Encrusted Haddock on a Bed of Wilted Spinach, with Grilled Seasonal Vegetables

Grilled Vegetable Ingredients:
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. baby red potatoes, scrubbed & halved (about 11 baby potatoes)
2 c. Dutch yellow baby potatoes, scrubbed & halved (about 9 baby potatoes)
16 baby green-top carrots (4 carrots per person)
2 c. yellow squash, halved length wise & then crosswise into 1/4" half-moon slivers (about 1 medium-sized squash)
4 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

Sauce Ingredients:
1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 4 large cloves)
2 Tbsp. scallions (about 2 large scallions)
1 large, fresh bay leaf
2 Tbsp. dry white wine (i.e., Chardonnay)
1/2 c. fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, roughly chopped
3 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 c. water
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/8 tsp. salt
1/ tsp. ground black pepper

Wilted Spinach Ingredients:
8 c. raw baby spinach, densely packed
2 c. water (for wilting spinach)
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c. shallots, peeled & finely minced (about 2 medium-sized shallots)
2 c. mushrooms, thinly sliced (about 4 large mushrooms)
1/4 c. dry sherry
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Fish Ingredients:
1 lb. haddock fillet, purchased as 2 long, wide, 1/2 lb. pieces with skins intact
4 Tbsp. dry white wine (i.e., Chardonnay) (2 Tbsp. white wine per fillet side)
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 Tbsp. lemon juice per fillet side)
1 c. pecans, crushed (with the flat, smooth end of a meat mallet) & lightly toasted

Directions: Evenly spread pecans onto a clean, smooth, non-porous surface (preferably a non-breakable, silicone cutting board) & cover with plastic wrap. Use the flat, smooth side of a meat mallet to pound the pecans into uniform little pieces. Pecans should only be crushed, not pulverized into oblivion. ;) Toast them on an aluminum foil-covered baking tray in the oven at 350°F until light golden brown. Watch carefully as nuts tend to toast very quickly, & you don't want to end up with charred cinders. ;) Let cool slightly, transfer to a small bowl, & then set aside.

In a large, square grill pan, sauté baby potatoes & carrots on both sides in 1 Tbsp. olive oil on medium heat until tender & grill marks appear. Pour 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice over top, & season with salt & pepper. Carrots will cook faster, so you'll be removing them long before before the potatoes. Next, add squash, which cooks even faster than the carrots, pouring the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil & 1 Tbsp. lemon juice on top. Grill squash on both sides. Be sure to watch the vegetables carefully, so they don't burn or blacken too much. Flip veggies with tongs. (A large spatula will work, but it's not as effective for exact vegetable placement, which helps to ensure even grilling.) You'll probably have to cook the vegetables in batches, but don't worry, there'll be sufficient olive oil in the pan to cook both the vegetables and the fish. :) When vegetables are ready, remove from heat & transfer them to separate serving plates by vegetable category.

While vegetables are cooking, make the sauce: In a medium-sized sauce pot, sauté garlic, scallions, & bay leaf in olive oil on low heat until tender. Deglaze with white wine. Add all of the fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, & rosemary), followed soon after by the water, butter, salt, & pepper. Watch sauce carefully to make sure it doesn't burn while you're flipping the vegetables. ;) Reduce liquid by about half (or more), remove from heat, & set aside. Let cool slightly & then discard bay leaf.

In a large (12-13") sauté pan, gently wilt raw baby spinach in 2 c. water on low heat. Drain spinach using a sieve, transfer to a large bowl, & set aside. In the same sauté pan, sauté shallots in 1 tsp. olive oil on medium-low heat until tender. Then add mushrooms & continue to cook until they start to turn slightly golden brown around the edges. Deglaze with sherry & lemon juice. Reduce liquid until it's only a thin layer on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, transfer to the bowl that contains the spinach, season with salt & pepper, & gently combine.

Next, place the fish fillets on a plate & pour 2 Tbsp. wine & 1 Tbsp. lemon juice onto the upwards-facing side. Using a large spatula, transfer 1 fish fillet to the same grill pan you used (above) for the grilled vegetables, flipping fish onto the side you just marinated with wine & lemon juice. Grill haddock fillets, one at a time, for 4 minutes per side. Be sure to repeat the same marination procedure (i.e.,  2 Tbsp. wine + 1 Tbsp. lemon juice) for the other side of the fish fillets before you flip it again. This way the fish will be adequately infused with the wine & lemon flavors. (If you do the reverse, the wine & lemon juice will just sit on top on the fish while you cook the plain side of the fish in olive oil, versus actually cooking into the fish. It will reek strongly of alcohol too. Gives the expression "drink like a fish" a new meaning, eh? LOL.)

When fish starts to turn a light golden brown, check the fish with a knife or fork to test if it's done. The flesh should be soft & easily flake from the fish skin. Let cool slightly. Evenly spread toasted pecans onto a clean, nonporous surface board (i.e., silicone cutting board) & then, using both hands, gently roll each fillet in toasted pecans. Cover your hands first with latex/rubber gloves if you don't want them to get fishy.

Meal Assembly: Divide up spinach, fish fillets, & each group of grilled vegetables into 4 even portions. Place similar kinds of vegetables in groups around the circumference of each plate, according to personal preference. Place each bed of spinach in the center, adding the fish on top. Top each portion of fish with sauce. For additional artistic flair, garnish each plate with edible flowers (i.e., I used pre-packaged culinary orchids) & parsley sprigs, if desired.

Yield: 4 servings.

Chef's Notes: It's much easier to cook each fish fillet whole & then divide into equal portions after you've finished cooking them. The skin will soften & be immeasurably much easier to slice into. (Keeping the skin on during cooking will help keep the fish moist.) Remove the whole fish fillets from the grill pan, using 2 spatulas if necessary, transfer to a nonporous cutting surface, & then use a sharp knife to cut each fillet in two.

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