Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spiced Sablefish over Pearl Couscous

Life can be hard, if you are a fish.   It is bad enough that you could end up being someone's lunch while you are looking for your own lunch.  If you are unfortunate enough to be tricked into going after someone's bait and you are caught, then you have to endure the indignity of being called different names.  Take, for example, the sablefish.   Or is it "black cod."   It is really bad if you happen to get snagged by a British fisherman (or fisherwoman), because they might call you by four different names ... "black cod," "bluefish," "candlefish," or "coal cod."  (Don't get me started about what actual bluefish might think about a sablefish being called a bluefish.)  Canadian fishermen (or fisherwomen) are almost as bad, calling you "coalfish," "beshow" or "skilfish."  Really, "beshow" or "skillfish"?  At what point does it appear that people are just making up names for you?  And, what if your real name was just Hal?  Or Nancy? 

If you were a sablefish, you might just ignore the multitude of other names by which you are called.  I accept that people may call me Kevin, Ken, or Eric (long story, perhaps as long as the story behind a sablefish being called beshow).  If only sablefish could think as we do.  What would they think about the fact that the people who will soon eat them can't even settle on a name.

For me, there is a lot about the sablefish that I don't know.  I have never seen one in the wild and, until recently, I never cooked the fish.  Yet, as I stood at the seafood counter of my local grocery store, I stared at the long fillets of sablefish.  I sensed a sort of challenge developing in my mind.  It was not only about how about I would prepare the fillets, but what I could learn about the fish itself.  

Let's start with the basics.  The sablefish is a deep sea fish that inhabits primarily the northern Pacific Ocean.  Their diet appears to be varied, ranging from other fish -- such as pollock, herring, capelin and Pacific cod -- to squid and jellyfish.  They eat and eat, for a very long time.  Some sablefish have been reported to have lived for as long as 94 years.  Given the potentially long lifespan of this fish, sustainability is important.  Fortunately, the fishing of sablefish is highly regulated, helping to maintain the populations so that more people like me can be introduced to this amazing creature.

The most surprising thing about this fish is the flesh.  The fish is known for its rich, buttery flesh.  Comparisons are often drawn to Chilean sea bass (also known as the Patagonian toothfish).  The meat is soft and mild.  After being cooked, it flakes very easily.  With these attributes, it is easy to see why sablefish is popular with chefs and restaurants.  

It should also be popular with health-conscious eaters.  While fillets of sablefish may have a high fat content, it is the good stuff ... Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, almost as much as wild salmon.  Sablefish are also low in the bad stuff, such as toxins and mercury.  It would seem to be the ideal fish.  The only question is how to prepare it.

I decided to use a spice rub.  Rich, mild and buttery flesh meant that I could add some flavor on outside while the large flaky meat would still enable one to taste the fish itself.  The spice mixture takes a page or two out of recipes from North Africa.  The combination of coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, paprika and cumin really appeals to me.  It packs a lot of flavor without a lot of heat.   I decided that the fish would be best served over pearl couscous, something that could complement the texture of the fish.  Overall, this dish was delicious and I have become a fan of sablefish.  Now, only if the store would stock it again....

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 3-4

1 pound of sablefish fish, cut into even sized portions
1 cup of pearl couscous
1/2 orange bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 large tomato, seeded, peeled and finely diced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil 
1 cup of water

1.  Prepare the fish fillets.   Add the coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, paprika, ginger, allspice and salt in a small bowl.  Stir to combine all of the rub ingredients.  Apply the rub to all sides of the fish, cover, and place in the refrigerator.

2.  Prepare the couscous.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Add the bell pepper and tomato, saute until the pepper is soft, about five minutes.  Add the couscous and toss.  Add the water, bring to a boil and then cover.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the couscous until the liquid is absorbed.  Add additional water if the couscous is not cooked.

3.  Cook the fish.  Heat the broiler.  Cook the fish under the broiler for about eight minutes or until the fish reaches about 145 degrees Fahrenheit.


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