Leftover crabs from a crab feast can be frozen and then put to good use in this dish. The list of ingredients is long, but the dish is not difficult to put together.
Poaching slowly in olive oil imparts an irresistible richness to fish, particularly rockfish. Restaurant Local chef Richard Hamilton prefers to cook rockfish more thoroughly than, say, salmon. It should be slightly firm but still delicate, and a soft, but not dull, white.
- For the potatoes
- 1 3/4 pounds (about 12) fingerling potatoes, preferably Russian banana, cleaned and blotted dry on paper towels
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups sea salt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup; reserve the stems for the fish)
- For the fish
- 2 medium lemons, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional to season the fillets
- 1 tablespoon assorted whole peppercorns, such as tellicherry, Szechuan, Indonesian black, white, java, cubeb berries and grains of paradise
- 8 6-ounce skinless rockfish fillets, pin bones removed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium orange, seeded and cut into 8 slices
- 1 bunch thyme
- 1 vanilla bean, cut in half
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 to 8 cups excellent-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- For the sauce
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
- 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled, trimmed and coarsely chopped
- 3 to 4 leftover whole steamed spiced crabs (preferably large), chopped into several small pieces (edible parts only)
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
- 2 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 stalk lemon grass (ends and outer layers discarded), bruised and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped tomatoes
- 3 cups dry white wine
- 1 cup water or shellfish stock
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or as needed
- 1 cup drained and finely diced sun-dried tomatoes (dry or oil-packed)
- 1/4 cup baby spinach leaves, rolled and cut into 1/4-inch strips (chiffonade)
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet.
Sprinkle the potatoes with the ground black pepper and a teaspoon of the sea salt. Spread the remaining salt on the baking sheet and place the potatoes on top of the salt. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Remove the potatoes from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Carefully brush the salt off the hot potatoes and place them in a medium ovenproof bowl. Mash the potatoes with a fork, then drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes. Make sure they have cooled to room temperature before adding the chopped parsley. Adjust seasoning to taste, then cover the potatoes loosely with aluminum foil and set aside.
For the fish: Make sure the oven temperature is 250 degrees. Have ready an ovenproof baking dish large enough to hold the fish in a single layer.
Spread the lemon slices in the bottom of the dish and sprinkle them with the teaspoon of salt and the peppercorns. Season each piece of fish on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Place the fillets on the lemons, leaving a little space between each fillet. Place an orange slice on top of each fillet. Place the thyme sprigs, vanilla bean and reserved parsley stems between the fish portions. Drop in the 2 bay leaves. Add enough olive oil to just cover the fish and bake for about 2 hours. The fish should be a soft white, feel barely set and be slightly underdone. Extract 1/4 cup of oil from the fish dish; strain it and set aside, leaving the fish in the oven. Place the dish of potatoes in the oven and turn the oven off.
For the sauce: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the tablespoon of olive oil and the butter to the smoking point. Add the celery, onion and carrot and cook for about 3 minutes, until golden brown. Add the crab pieces, ginger, garlic and lemon grass; cook for 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes and white wine. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half, then add the water or shellfish stock and the tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and cook about 15 minutes or until the liquid has again reduced by half. Remove from the heat and pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a deep saucepan. Discard the strained solids.
Place the saucepan of strained sauce over low heat. Using an immersion blender, slowly incorporate 3 tablespoons of the reserved poaching oil. This will slightly thicken the sauce and soften it a bit. Adjust the acidity of the sauce to taste by adding lemon juice as needed (up to 1 teaspoon). Add the sun-dried tomatoes (pat them dry first if you are using the oil-packed variety) and the spinach chiffonade. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if needed. The sauce can rest over low heat for up to 10 minutes while you assemble the dish.
To assemble: Line a platter with paper towels. Remove the baking dish from the oven. Using a slotted flat metal spatula, carefully transfer each piece of fish to the platter, making sure to remove any peppercorns, herbs or fruit slices that may be clinging to the fish. Remove the potatoes from the oven and divide them among the individual plates. Place a fillet on top of the potatoes on each plate, then spoon the sauce over the fish. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of reserved poaching oil around the plates. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Restaurant Local chef Richard Hamilton.
Tested by Hal Mehlman.
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