Thursday, April 8, 1999
Sometimes, not all the time, but occasionally it happens that you taste something that is so good, it''s devastating. Yes, the presentation is there; it looks delectable, it smells delicious, a sip or two of wine has opened up your senses, you take a bite and--whoop! There it is. You are unsure whether to curse (I''m thinking of the character in Big Night, the rival Italian restaurateur who takes one bite, puts down his fork, and says to Primo, the chef: "You f----n'' guy! It''s sss-soo good! Now, I have to kill you!"), burst into an operatic aria, or simply swoon.
Then, after force-feeding your dining partner ("You gotta taste this!"), the next thing that happens is you become nervous and fidgety about how you''re going to get the recipe. ("Whaddyou think? Do you think he''ll give it to me? Do you think I should ask? Maybe he won''t want to. Oh, what the hell. If I have to, I''ll beg.") Because you are already plotting how, at the first opportunity, you''re going to devastate your own dinner guests. ("Oh, do you like it? Really? It''s just a little something I whipped up.")
In such a case, it''s always a bonus if the chef doesn''t have such a high opinion of himself/herself that they consider such acts the rough equivalent of eliciting advice for the lovelorn from Linda Tripp. It just saves everybody embarrassment if you don''t have to beg.
Fortunately, Stokes Adobe''s Brandon Miller magnanimously agreed to tell me how he did his so-good-it-hurts seafood ragout, just a little something he whipped up as a lunch special last week. Start with the concept of cioppino, only different. "Tomatoes aren''t great this time of year," he explained, "so I decided to go green instead of red. I used fresh salmon, but you can use a variety of fish--halibut or ahi are also good. It''s a ragout, because it''s more of a sauce for the fish, rather than a broth." And the finished dish, served with a plop of peppery, soft polenta smack in the middle, is swoon material.
Brandon starts by making a fumet, fish stock made with halibut bones (or any other flat fish) covered with cold water, a splash of white wine, and pretty heavy on the mirepoix; in this case, rough-chopped celery, onion and fennel. (I usually figure about a pound of bones, at least, to a quart of water.) Throw in some fresh thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns and bring to a simmer for no more than an hour. While the stock is doing its thing, he blanches fresh parsley (easy to do right in the simmering stock, I found), shocks it in cold water, and squeezes it fairly dry. Saut finely chopped garlic and a pinch of chili flakes in extra virgin olive oil, just until you inhale its perfume. When you''ve strained the finished stock and pured the parsley with the garlic (adding enough fumet to blend), you''ll blend just the right amount of fumet into the puree to get a pleasing consistency and balanced flavor. Season with salt and pepper, and honey, you just made yourself some verde sauce!
Saut chunks of salmon until they''re slightly crisp for texture, plop your mussels and clams into the sauce and simmer until they open, and add the squid only at the last minute. Pour into soup plates, add the fish, and spoon in the soft polenta. (Brandon does the polenta with fumet for the liquid, and finishes it with cream and a stir of hot pepper puree.) Serve immediately, and be prepared for threats upon your life.