To the plate: Sea bass


Sea bass is absolutely one of my favorite proteins to prepare, and consume. And it just happens to be an item we sell a lot of at one of our restaurants at work. Over the years I have prepared it several different ways and I have came to the conclusion that for me the best way is to just keep it simple.

The first time I worked with sea bass it was prepared with a macadamia crust and a raspberry tomato coulis, and I absolutely fell in love with it. That was the way I prepared it each time I had the chance to work with it for a long time. I knew it was good, I was comfortable preparing it that way and since I never had a complaint about it I didn’t feel that I needed to try something new.  Then one day while prepping 20lbs I had one little three ounce slice left over. So I heated up a skillet put a touch of oil in it and some butter, seasoned the piece of fish and cooked it up for a snack.  And when I took a bite I realized how much of a mistake I was making by not trying different ways to prepare this fish. 
Now there are two ways in which I serve sea bass, butter poached and pan seared. And really depending on your mood you can’t go wrong these two ways.

First for the butter poached:

Build a double boiler with about a half an inch of water in the bottom pan, and nothing but butter in the top pan, not clarified, just straight butter. Turn the fire on under the double boiler and after the butter has melted keep track of its temperature until it reaches 180-184. Then adjust the fire to maintain this temperature. 
Season the piece of fish (we use 6oz pieces) with salt and pepper and place it in the butter.  The usual cook time is about 8 minutes. You can use a fish spatula to gently lift the fish from the butter and use a thermometer to check the internal temperature. We serve it at about 140 degrees.  We top it with a clove or two of garlic confit and a lemon wedge and of course some finishing salt.
This preparation give you an incredibly rich and delicate experience.  The fish flakes apart and butter rolls on the plate and simply melts in your mouth. 

Now for the pan seared preparation:

Heat a skillet and pour enough oil in the bottom of it to coat the bottom of the pan (we use a canola and extra virgin olive oil blend). You want the skillet and the oil to both be hot, but not smoking.  Season the piece of fish and place it in the skillet gently then don’t move or touch it, just let it cook. Once you can see the bottom edge of the fish starting to brown add some clarified butter to the pan (about 2 ounces) then gently using a fish spatula turn the fish over. Immediately place the skillet in a 350 degree over and let it cook for about six minutes.  Remove the skillet from the oven and use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fish (once again we serve at 140).  If it is the right temperature tilt the skillet to one side so all of the clarified butter comes to one side of the pan and use a spoon to baste the fish a few times. Then place the fish on the plate, season with some sea salt and serve with bernaise  on the side. 
Preparing the fish in this way is my absolute favorite.  I highly suggest making sure the bernaise is on the side not on the fish or under it, the crisp seared edges are a nice contrast to the soft creamy center of the fish. You want to be able to maintain that texture and drag a bite of the fish through the sauce when you want that extra little enhancement to a bite. 
Although both ways of preparing the fish just described are not that different they provide two completely different experiences when eating them. However they both show complete respect to the product and allow you to enjoy it for what it is.  Its a very soft and gentle tasting fish that should be an experience in dining and something that is memorable. 
If you haven’t tried sea bass then stop by the FQ sometime and experience it.


Doing french fries at home


It seems to me that all too often when having fries at home, everyone is always willing to settle for “less than” great fries.  Think about some of your restaurant, bar, or pub experiences and how many times you have thought, said, or heard “man these fries are great”. Having great fries to go along with a burger, sloppy joe, fish sandwich or heck even a bologna sandwich can transform a simple dinner at home in to a great meal that is just the way its supposed to be.
Me personally I have vivid, wonderful memories of eating fries in my grandmothers kitchen just after she took them out of the grease and seasoned them.  Crispy on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside and steam rolling out of them when you take a bite from them.  That’s the way fries should be, they shouldn’t be an after thought or a vehicle of soggy tasteless starch just to fill the void of hunger in your stomach. They should compliment and enhance what you’re having for your meal. 
Now let’s assume you don’t have one of the fancy new small home kitchen deep fryers that are in the market and have been for a long time, that’s ok never fear you more than likely still have everything you need to make the perfect fries at home.  I use a small sauce pot for this at home and yes sometimes I do wish I had a deep fryer like we use in the restaurants at work.  However I can get the exact results I want simply using a sauce pot from the cabinet. The main thing to remember is to not get in a hurry, and don’t fall in to thinking that high heat on your stove will work wonders for you. Hot grease is dangerous, and from the second you turn the burner on you should never leave the sauce pot unattended until it has cooled. 
So let’s look at how I cook my fries at home:
What you will need:
A small sauce pot
A colander
A large bowl the colander will fit in
Some paper towels
A slotted spoon
And of course your favorite bag of fries

I start by placing the large bowl beside the stove where I am going to be cooking the fries.  I put the colander inside the large bowl then place a few paper towels in it.
Then I put a few spoon fulls of lard in to the sauce pot and place it on the burner and turn the fire on medium.  Remember there is never a need to use the high setting when doing fries at home. Once the lard has melted pay attention to how much liquid is in the pot, make sure it is below the halfway mark of the pot, an inch of liquid is more than enough.  Wait for the lard to get warm enough to cook the fries, and when you think it is drop one fry in the pot. If it starts to bubble and cook then you’re ready. If it sinks to the bottom then raise the heat slightly and wait for it to start to cook. If it begins to pop and crack and it obviously too hot then turn the fire down slightly and give it a few minutes to cool down some.
Once you have the right temperature place a handful or two of fries in the pot and let them start to cook.  After they have cooked for a minute or so use your slotted spoon to stir them so they do not become a single unit of deep fried stickiness.  The time that they cook depends on how thick your fries are.  Usually we buy the shoestring fries and they take about 3-4 minutes per batch.
As they start to crisp on the outside give them one more stir to make sure they have all been cooked through and using the slotted spoon start taking them out of the pot and putting them in the paper towel lined colander.  Give the pot 30-40 seconds to get back to the proper temperature then place another handful or two of fries in the pot.  While their starting to cook season the fries that just got finished cooking with salt, again this is a personal preference as to how much to use and make sure you try one while the second batch is cooking.  This will let you know if you cooked them too long, or not long enough. 
Continue cooking batches of fries until you have enough for lunch or dinner.  When you’re about to remove the last batch reach up and turn the burner off under the pot so that it can start to cool.  Once it has completely cooled I normally will store it in a jar, or large coffee cup as you can get more than one use from lard, so why not use it as many times as you can?
Now this does take a little more time than a large deep fryer, however if you just take your time, and be patient while you’re cooking the fries they will end up being a side for your dinner that is going to invoke the comment ‘these fries are great”.  And the beauty of cooking at home is you don’t need to hurry, you don’t have customers waiting in the dining room, you have family members that you’re going to enjoy dinner with.  So take a few extra minutes and make some memorable fries the next time you have burgers and dogs at home.