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Smoky Fish Minus a Smoker
Thinking about cooler weather, I am ready to hunker down in the kitchen to create a nice entrée for the weekend. I’m inspired by some wonderful smoky Lapsang Souchong black tea from China that in the cooler weather seems to be beckoning to me from my tea cabinet. White, firm-fleshed but moist fish such as halibut (don’t overcook it; it dries out easily) works well here. The process is simple: Start with rather thick (perhaps 1-1/2 at the thickest point) fileted halibut or meaty fileted sea bass or striped bass (named differently depending on where you live and source your seafood – sometimes also called bronzino).
- Count 6 ounces of fish per person
- Sea salt and black pepper
- ½ tablespoon sweet, unsalted butter per serving
- 1 generous teaspoon Lapsang Souchong per two servings
- 8 ounces vegetable stock, store-bought or homemade, per two servings
- (optional) 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream per serving
- (optional) Snipped chives for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Choose a heavy saute pan or a rather shallow baking dish with a tight fitting cover in which to cook the fish.
- Pat the fish dry and then lightly sprinkle it with sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Place the fish into the pan, top with thin slices of sweet unsalted butter, approximately ½ tablespoon per serving.
- Brew the Lapsang Souchong tea similarly to how you would if you were drinking it, but substitute vegetable stock instead of the water. (For two servings, use 1 generous teaspoon per 8 ounces of 212 degree F. vegetable stock.) Brew for about 4 minutes and then decant the tea around the fish in the baking dish. Cover the dish.
- Bake for 10 minutes per inch of fish, measured at the thickest point. Depending on the fish, this may take 12-15 minutes. Don’t overbake it. It should have whitened and juices from the fish should be visible in the tea liquid, commingling into a wonderfully rich, smoky pan sauce.
- Remove the fish from the pan, cover it to keep it warm while you finish the sauce.
- Place the pan on the stovetop and over high heat reduce the liquids by half. Now to gild the lily, pour in a generous glug of heavy cream (if desired, you can skip this step if you wish to produce a dish with a more virtuous sauce—but heck: It’s the weekend, and we’re in the middle of a $^(#@-ng pandemic, so live it up a bit).
- Bring the mixture to a boil to thicken slightly. Taste to correct seasoning.
- Pour this sauce over the pieces of cooked fish which have been placed on warmed plates, garnish with snipped chives for an elegant touch.
Serve with steamed brown rice studded with dried Zante currants which have been first soaked in hot water and then drained (there’s a virtuous side dish for you), some lightly-steamed greens such as kale or chard and sit down with your appreciative guest or guests or significant other and enjoy! Crusty French bread with sweet butter would be perfect to sop up that sauce.