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Quarantine Cuisine: Chilean Sea Bass

This edition of Quarantine Cuisine might be called the "Prose" edition, or perhaps the "George W.'s least favorite" edition. Why?

I didn't take very many pictures of this one. First, I was feeling stressed and distracted, and second, the kitchen was already pre-messy from our ginger snap baking earlier in the day, so it was difficult to get pictures that didn't make us look like slobs. I am still compelled to share this, however, because of how magnificent the results were, even after a few interesting accidents.

To compensate for my lack of photos, I have included some stock photos closely depicting my process. I'll let you determine which are of me and which are from the Googlez.

Definitely me shopping. Just need the mask.

My last visit to NewPi, our local food co-op where people are more likely to stand six feet apart and respect social distancing than the more-crowded supermarket, I picked up two glorious pieces of Chilean sea bass, one of my favorite fish. Thick, firm, with gigantic, buttery flakes, Chilean sea bass (also called Patagonian toothfish, and an ugly fucker) is one of the most magnificent of the widely-available fish for a special weeknight dinner.

Sea bass can be a tricky fish to cook because the pieces are often quite thick, and so the outside, when searing, can brown much faster than the inside cooks. I have had many experiences with undercooked sea bass in the middle when the outside was looking perfect.

For this reason, I decided to break out some of the high-tech kitchen equipment and sous vide the bass. My Instant Pot is useful for many things, but I actually initially purchased it because of its ability to expertly sous vide. I scrounged around in the pantry and finally found my el cheapo vacuum sealer, which defied me for a while but finally sealed up a bag with the sea bass fillets and some beautiful Italian butter. I heated up a bath in the Instant Pot to 120 degrees and let the bag sous vide for about 35 to 40 minutes, preparing the sides in the meantime.

Seeking the flavors of springtime, I decided to pair the sea bass with asparagus, which I can always find in the store these days. I purchased some organic asparagus with thick stalks, which were perfect for my plan––cut off the florets and cook them in the air fryer, a new favorite veggie preparation of ours, and use the stalks to make a purée. This is also a great way to eliminate food waste, since I find myself sometimes discarding the stringier stalks, especially when the asparagus is thick.

Me harvesting asparagus
Me harvesting asparagus. Duh.

For the purée, I took half an onion (left over in the fridge; yay minimizing food waste!) and a clove of garlic and sautéed over medium heat in some butter. This tends to be the beginning of just about any glorious purée––the garlic and onion make all the difference! I then added the asparagus stalks and cooked, covered, for about 15 minutes until the stalks were tender.

A little bit of cream goes a long way for a purée, and I reduced the heat to medium-low and added just about a quarter cup to the pan, letting the water in the cream evaporate until the cream was thick and sticking to the veg. A quick hop to the blender and a dash of salt later, et voilà! A reliably delicious asparagus purée.

"Tell them to purée the salmon"

Meanwhile, I dressed the florets in olive oil, a tiny bit of lime juice, and some salt, and air-fried at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Asparagus this way is so wonderful––the little "buds" on the florets get crispy, and the inside nice and tender. A new favorite for us. If you don't have an air fryer, roasting or broiling could also do the trick!

The sauce was a happy accident––intending to do a lemongrass cream broth on its own, whilst cutting the lemongrass, my arm upended a Pyrex cup full of lime juice for the gimlets we were drinking, spilling it all over the cutting board and the lemongrass. Rather than dry it off, I was reminded of the glorious lemongrass and lime broth I had accompanying scallops at Le Bernardin in February, and I rolled with it, putting the lime-soaked lemongrass and shallot mince into the melted butter in a saucepan. Cooking for a few minutes over medium heat, I added some white wine and reduced by half, finishing by mounting the sauce with just a bit of cream.

Do you like my new hat?

Meanwhile, I heated a cast iron skillet with oil and butter, and put the (already flaky) sous vide-d sea bass in the pan. Letting one side get slightly brown at the edges was all I needed, and I flipped the fish and basted the other side before serving, very stupidly forgetting to sear the skin for a few minutes! Sea bass skin is one of the most wonderful things; don't forget to crisp it up!

Definitely my kitchen and not Elizabeth David's

Pouring some purée in the bottom of the serving bowl, I plated the bass pieces atop the purée and poured atop some of the fragrant lemongrass and lime broth. Finally, I topped with the crispy florets, for a healthy and spectacular seafood meal. The lime in the lemongrass broth ended up being a key acidic touch in the dish, and was but an accident!

We paired this with a chardonnay from Mendocino County from my absolute favorite CA winemaker, Greg La Follette's Alquimista Cellars, but while the chard was delicious, as always, the pairing wasn't very good. Chardonnay and sea bass are usually a match made in heaven, but asparagus is a finnicky vegetable to pair, and I only wound up taking a sip or two of the wine with the food, preferring instead to finish the (magnificent) bottle on its own after dinner while watching Judge Judy reruns.

Tomorrow I have a break in the quarantine series to remember a lovely February dinner in Minneapolis with my auntie Amy.

This week we have some really magnificent food upcoming, including some unique proteins, like quail! Stay tuned!

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