A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Now I'm Cooking! — Baked Fish w/Greens & Citrus Sauce

As promised in my last post, in which I explained my love affair with Connie, my counter-top convection oven, today I am going to guide you through making a meal using her.

The meal I am about to describe occurred as dinner on Saturday evening.  Saturday began already very cold, with the promise of snow later in the day, so I really wanted to put together something warming.  I had potatoes and kale on hand, which I was keeping in mind as possible ingredients when I went out to go to Whole Foods and to do some other errands.

First, I got my hair trimmed by Mike at my barbershop.  Today he styled my usual crazy wild hair into a well-tamed part, saying my hair was perfect for such a do.  What do you think — do I still look culinary?

Don't worry if you don't like it as much as my usual mop; I can never get my hair to do at home what Mike manages with his magic comb anyway.  After the haircut, I walked on over to the library 2 doors down, skipping my gym, which lies in between, because I was still feeling a bit under the weather.  Laden down with geeky tomes (including 2 by Stephen Hawking) filling up the bag I'd intended for groceries, I headed around the corner to Whole Foods.

At Whole Foods whom should I run into but my friend and salt monitor, Laura, who crowed over a perfect pomegranate she'd just scored.  We chatted for a few minutes, but then I indicated that I needed to concentrate fully on shopping, since I now had a responsibility for reportage as well as cooking.   Laura harrumphed only a bit, I grant her, as I withdrew my focus from her and her fruit and began my search for what would become dinner (and today's blog).

In the produce department, a beautiful big bunch of radishes with their leaves called out to me.  Radishes are a strange passion of mine, which I can't fully explain.  Dipped in salt, they become to me more delicious than potato chips.  I have to limit my intake, sadly, because of an unfortunate side effect which I will avoid referring to directly, in case anyone reading is of a sensitive constitution.  (If you, like me, are a glutton for gross details, just ask one of my sisters what happened one fateful day during our childhood, when, just before a long car trip, I consumed an entire serving bowl of radishes on my own.  Never again!  If you thought that was amusing, I'm sure they'd be happy to regale you with another story, this one set in France, involving moi, Chartres Cathedral, and a big wedge of Brie.  Vive le gaz naturel! It's amazing how even a fart joke sounds elegant en français.)

Moving right along. . .to the fish department.  I usually move right along past this department, what with the exorbitant costs, the threat of mercury poisoning, and the appalling environmental impact of fish consumption in the modern world, but a very good price on fresh wild-caught mahi mahi caught my eye.  I decided to buy a pound-sized fillet for my dinner creation.  The fishmonger (do we still call them that?) asked me if I wanted the skin removed or anything, and I said no thanks, since I like how the skin holds the pieces of fish intact as the dish cooks.  Looking back, I should've had him slice the fillet into 2 portions for me, because that skin was tough and hard to saw through with even my very sharp serrated Cutco knife.  Not even my kitchen shears did a very good job on this.  In the future, I'm going to let the pros do the hard stuff.

I'll spare you having to hear about the rest of the shopping trip, since the fish was the last item I purchased for the dish I'm writing about.  (If you come back for my next post, however, you can read what I did with the sausage I bought from the, uh, meatmonger.)  Laura and I met up again at the registers, so, embarrassingly enough, I had an audience for my habitual napkin gluttony at the station near the exit where free forks, straws, and such are on offer.  (I'm hoping Mr. Whole will forgive me for availing myself of perhaps 1 or 2 more napkins than he intended for me to have, in light of the oodles of positive publicity I'm providing his company on my hugely popular blog.)  Laura and I walked back to our co-op, where I dug in to preparing the meal you've been patiently waiting to hear about.

My intended ingredients, minus the fish

First, I gathered together everything I wanted to put into the meal:
  1. A bunch of kale, to which I would add the greens (the safe part) from the bunch of radishes.
  2. Fresh oregano (left over from the eggplant dish of last week)
  3. Some left-over citrus: half a Meyer lemon, half a grapefruit
  4. Some pink Himalayan salt
  5. Basmati rice (a special, extra-aromatic grade called "Lal Quilla," which I'd purchased at my favorite Indian grocery)
  6. My lb of mahi mahi fillet, eventually hacked into 2 sort of equal servings 
My first step was to clean and soak the rice, and then let it drain.  After that, it went right into my rice cooker, along with the water and salt, to cook perfectly, as it does in this wonderful appliance every single time.  I will do a whole blog about rice and rice cookers sometime soon; it's a subject I've been exploring with passion for a long time. 

Once the rice was on, I cleaned the greens in a salad spinner — those radish greens were dirty! — then steamed them in a saucepan for a few minutes until they were wilted, using a steaming insert.  I tossed them with a little salt in the bottom of the baking dish.  I have read in various places that salt keeps the color of the cooked greens from fading.  Frankly, I have never been able to detect a difference, but I welcome any excuse to toss in some salt.

Greens + salt, tossed in baking dish

While the greens were steaming, I chopped half an onion fine and softened it over medium-low heat in a few tablespoons of butter.  When the onions had reached the desired consistency, I took the pan off the heat and added the juices from the lemon and the grapefruit.  I set this mixture aside.

Chopped onions cooking in butter

Next, I placed my 2 portions of fish fillet atop the greens in the baking dish and seasoned them with a little salt and freshly ground pepper.  Then I poured the butter/juice mixture over the fillets, letting it spill over onto the greens as well.  Over the top I sprinkled an abundance of fresh oregano leaves.  Here's how it looked before baking:

Then I stuck the whole pan into Connie, my convection oven, and set her for 15 minutes at 325 degrees.  The first thing Connie did was huff and puff and blow most of the oregano right out of the pan.  I should have poured the sauce on top of the herb, to stick it down with moisture.

When the cooking was complete (I'd sliced open one of portions to assess doneness), I scooped rice onto Peter's and my plates, then lifted out each fillet with the greens underneath directly onto the plates in one gesture.  It's not often my shaky serving skills are so successful; more often I end up with broken pieces of fish and untidy piles of other stuff, but look how well I managed with the added incentive of knowing you would be viewing this picture:

We enjoyed this meal, along with which I served the remaining Riesling from the previous day, although I thought that I had dried out the greens a bit.  Next time, I'll add more citrus juice so that the greens can braise in liquid as the fish cooks.  Also, both of us agreed that the texture of mahi mahi is a little too meaty for our taste — almost like poultry in its consistency.  I prefer a tenderer, softer-fleshed fish.  If you like swordfish, you'd probably be happy with the mahi mahi.  In any case, it had a nice, mild taste.

In the middle of preparing this meal, I'd had to run my computer, which had just died, 10 blocks down to the nearest Apple store, where they verified its state of non-functionality and whisked it off to Tennessee, where it will presumably be repaired and then returned to me.  To console myself for the time lost on this errand and for having to go out again into the snowy evening, I stopped by my favorite patisserie on the way home — did you really expect me to just walk right on by? — and splurged on this gorgeous temptress known as "La Délice":

Who can resist whipped cream & strawberries?  Pas moi.

By the way, Laura (my shopping buddy) just stopped by to ask me something, so I had her pose for a picture.  Here's to friendship!

Me & Laura, enjoying a good laugh


  1. I've been trying to get more fish in our diet--this dish might do it! Thanks!

  2. I really enjoy your writing, Michael, though I am not much of a cook myself. I don't have a Connie (and likely never will) but what an interesting appliance. I would love love to hear more about your use of rice cookers. I have a very nice zojirushi and have only used it to cook.... wait for it... rice. Though I have used it for different kinds of rice. :)

  3. I only rarely use my rice cooker -- also a Zojirushi -- for ingredients other than rice and other grains myself. But it's worth having for that alone! Occasionally, I have steamed veggies in it, using the little steamer insert that came with it. That does a nice job, and can even work while you cook the grain underneath, but the insert holds only a small amount of ingredients.

    I was thrilled to discover through experimentation that you can finish off a whole rice dish in the rice cooker, after doing the saute-ing steps on the stovetop. Great way to free up a burner when putting together a complex meal.

    I have to stop now before I write my whole rice blog post.....I told you I was passionate about this topic!

  4. @Valerie -- let us know how yours turns out!

  5. I'm really looking forward to that rice post. I don't have a rice cooker and while I have seen them advertised online, I haven't seen one in a local store. I'm reluctant to purchase one based on what the store is telling me. They are just trying to get me to buy it. Where do I live you ask? Just left of the middle of nowhere. Back to the rice. I can never get the rice to come out perfectly, so I'm interested in hearing how you manage it- with and without a rice cooker!

  6. Thanks, Michael. And, as a vegetarian myself, I am especially grateful for your posts on those sorts of meals. :D

  7. Nom nom nom!! Delicious!

  8. Yum! Mahi mahi is one of my favs, but then I prefer my fish to be more like chicken. hahaha No, actually, I pretty much like all fish and ADORE shellfish. (I would almost give up chocolate for shellfish. Almost.) The rest of my household doesn't care much for actual fish (vs. shell) so when I want it, it's usually grilled so the guys can grill their non-fish meat at the same time because who wants to prepare two separate meals! Some days prepping one meal is more than I can handle.

    Salad spinner - THAT is what Connie's appearance reminds me of. I love mine and will usually spin it far more times than necessary because it kind of hypnotizes me.

    I wonder if you can fashion some sort of screen to lay over your dishes to protect them from Connie's huffing and puffing, like one of those anti-splatter things?

    Oh, and I didn't know that about radishes.

    (Sheesh ...I'm wordy today. Maybe I should just write your next entry!)

  9. As if I didn't just say too much, but I neglected your haircut and didn't want you to think no one noticed. I like it! But I really like your tousled locks too.

  10. Hey, Debbie, I'll keep your guest-writing offer in mind for the next time I'm too beat to blog!

    I will see if I can get hypnotized by my salad spinner the next time I use it....Peter is often complaining (fairly) that my salads turn out watery. I think maybe we just need a replacement for our crappy spinner, whose mechanism, which is held together by some piddly little plastic nubs, tends to come apart during use.

  11. I made radish green soup. It was good. You'd probably like it. I like fish with a lot of greens; yours looks really good. I may just try a version of this next time I cook fish.

  12. Oh. My. Goodness!!! That looks so delicious! I love greens and citrus. I don't eat fish very often (except for the occasional sushi or ceviche, which I'd love to hear your opinion on in some future post), but I should, and I will keep this in mind and try to replicate it sometime. I'm also looking forward to reading about your rice cooker. I love mine and I use it for more than just rice.

    On a completely different note, reading about your jaunts around NYC makes me want to live in the city instead of the suburbs-bordering-on-the-country, though it is nice to see lots of open space and cows up the road and to have room to grow a fruit & veggie garden. We're just so dang far from everything. Sigh, I'm torn.

    At the risk of getting wordy here too, and if it means anything at all, I like your old tousled do. :-) What does Peter think?

  13. @Melissa: I could write a whole blog post if not a book on the battle between my internal country boy and city boy. It sounds heavenly to be able to see/smell cows from your home and especially to have room to grow crops. On the other hand, you are probably quite a distance from a subway taking you to the Metropolitan Opera, so I understand your plight! For me, the need to be near a large population of potential voice students is one of the deciding factors keeping me from moving out into the country.

    I think Peter prefers my hair a little shaggier than it is now, and so do I. I refer to that do as my soccer-player hair. If only a soccer-player bum were that easy to achieve......

  14. NO, no, no. Keep the old hair style. Mother Nature knows best. No part.