I was so ready to cook up some cornish hens. I had a solid idea for a recipe, legwork had been done to double check different techniques and methods, and most importantly, I was just really craving whole grilled/roasted chicken. Alas, my little Hispanic supermarket owned by a family of Koreans and not in any way affiliated with even the smallest of established and credible supermarkets , cleverly conceals the “Sell By” date on a regular basis. As soon as I unwrapped the plastic from my prize hens, I knew something was wrong and thanks to Alton Brown, precatious paranoia about my poultry’s acceptability was on high. Roast cornish hen = dismal failure.
So I had to take another trip. While the Latin cashiers stared hatefully at my gringo-ass upon my return (this isn’t exactly the type of place you bother tyring to get a refund), this little market sells one thing better than any of the local chain shops: whole fish! A whole red snapper; clear, shiny eyes; clean ocean smell; preserved well in fresh ice. I was sure this time around I had a quality product.
The recipe I used isn’t anything too special, basically me just using what I had on hand that would pair well with white fish. The focus today is on crisping up your fish skin and breaking the long time tradition of leaving the mushy, unappetizing skin as the last morsel on your dinner plate. Fuck that. Would you go to KFC and remove the crispy, battered skin? Of course not, it’s the best part right?
With fish, especially most white fish, the skin still on can be the best part of the meal. A brilliant counter balance to the soft, moist flesh; properly fried skin add a satisfying crunch that will almost immediately melt in your mouth. Getting this technique down pat will make your fish dishes shine and is going to make an easily ignored part of the fish the star of the plate.
Kitchen Soundtrack: Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Get yourself a few fillets that have been scaled with the skin still on. Any type of rockfish/bass, snapper or trout will serve you best.
Pat the fish dry with paper towels and salt / pepper your fillets on both sides.
In a medium to medium-hot pan add enough oil to give a slight “bath” of oil. You want just enough that the skin can fry all over but doesn’t submerge the flesh in the oil. About a centimeter deep works best.
Once oil is hot, and moves quickly across the pan, try a test with a smaller scrap or two to see how quickly it fries up. You don’t want it to burn or smoke, you just want a sizzling fry as soon as it hit the pan. Once your comfortable add your whole fillets skin side down.
NOTE: Your fillets will shrink instantly! If the oil isn’t sputtering too much I will try to push on the flesh so that the fillets keep their shape. After a few seconds the skin will firm up and you can add the next fillet. Also, as you can see I don’t have a ton of oil in this pan, I should have added a bit more.
Cook for about 3 minutes. Again, this is going to depend on how hot your oil is, but you basically want to pull the fish out with edges of the flesh start to turn white. Carefully lift with a metal spatula (plastic will melt) and place on a paper towel skin side down to dry/cool or simply skin side up on a plate.
Set fish aside and put together your braising liquid (a little garlic, shallots, wine, butter, stock, herbs), reduce the sauce, toss in your veggies (asparagus, peppers, mushrooms, etc). Now turn the heat down to LOW and add your fish, skin side up, nestled among the veg.
Braise for about 3-4 minutes, remove fish, plate veg, plate fish on top, reduce liquid more if desired and pour over finished dish. Eat like a king.
Braised Snapper in white wine lemon sauce for one:
1-2 fish fillets
5-6 asparagus spears
1/4 cup white wine (pref fruity)
juice of 1/2 lemon
several slices of juiced lemon
1/2 clove garlic minced
pinch cayenne pepper
1 minced rosemary sprig