I recently introduced this blog to a friend of mine, Joe McCarthy, who’s a little further along the winding road of life in bucolic Brooklyn and whose children are mostly grown. He’s been cooking for his family for years, and he wrote me to tell me what he’s been up to lately. The following is his guest post.
These days, around my house, it is husband cooking for wife. My daughter is in the Middle East, and my son’s down south, so I’m not cooking for them anymore. I cook because I really enjoy the process, and generally the result. One of the nicest things about my relationship with my wife, if not the best one, is that I don’t have to do the dishes. It’s been that way since we got together. I’d say to her, “I can cook better that we can afford to eat out,” and she’d clean up. Sometimes, I’d use a lot of pots and pans, and there’d be some complaints, but mostly now I clean up as I cook, so it’s not so bad. It’s only at big dinner parties that I make a major mess.
For the past thirty-one years, we’ve been keeping a Dinner Book listing all the meals we’ve cooked for guests. I thought about writing about that, but I haven’t gotten around to looking back on all those meals and contemplating what was going on as we made those choices. Lately, the decision about what to eat is based on our diets. One of us has genetically high cholesterol, and the other is working to take some weight off, so we’ve had lots of fish lately.
Monday afternoon I stopped by Fish Tails, our local Brooklyn fishmonger, expecting to pick up a fillet of some sort. I’m trying to work down the food chain into fish that do not eat other fish. Lately, we’ve been enjoying Branzino, a mild but very tasty product of the Mediterranean (not that far down the food chain, it seems). The price is right. I worry, though, that Branzino is the new Chilean Sea Bass, and the price is going to go through the ceiling, and it will hit a watch list before the health bills pass. Turns out, according to Wikipedia, that it is under pressure, and is heavily farmed in Spain. The store didn’t have any Branzino, only Sea Bream and Striped Bass. A picture flashed into my mind of an up-right fish with crackly skin splayed open and roasted, and I settled on the bass.
Our vegetable guy, Carmine at Jim and Andy’s on Court Street, in Cobble Hill, has caved and no longer sells huge, dirty clumps of basil. Now he cleans them and nips off the roots. “The clients want it like at Trader Joe’s, all packaged and clean,” he says. (Don’t get me started on Trader Joe’s.) I picked up some basil to make pesto and some broccoli. There’s that diet again. It would be a green dinner.
Usually I’m a stove-top kind of guy. I broil occasionally, but rarely do I put something in the oven and go read a book. Thirty to forty minutes of work, splash in some wine or vermouth at the end, and dinner’s ready; that my MO. Sure, boeuf bourguignon might simmer in the oven for hours, and I’ve been known to roast a chicken, but I’ve never baked a cake, or made a chicken potpie.
I was in the mood for roast fish, though. I scanned a couple of cookbooks for cooking temperature and ideas, and settled on Marcella Hazan’s: 400° for 20 to 30 minutes. Her recipe was for bass with artichokes, but I didn’t have any artichokes. So I spread the gutted fish belly wide out to each side, so it sat up like a trophy, on a bed of thin lemon slices, having slathered it with olive oil and, as per Hazan’s recipe, sprinkled the pan and the fish with rosemary.
My wife was at yet another publishing party in Manhattan (‘tis the season, it seems), so I held off starting the fish until she called to say she was heading for the subway home. The fish was just out of the oven when she arrived a half-hour later. All I had to do was carefully separate the fillets from the body, spoon pesto sauce onto the pasta, and remember my favorite delicacy, the fish cheeks. I put a few of the lemon slices under it for looks. A modest Macon-Villages from Heights Chateau, our favorite local wine merchant, added a tart backdrop to the dinner. The bass was terrific, delicate and flavorful, with strong hints of both the lemon and the rosemary.
- 1 whole striped bass, about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs, cleaned but with the head and tail.
- 2 lemons, sliced thinly sliced in rounds
- Olive oil
- 1 tbs Rosemary
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with the lemon slices.
Coat the fish with the olive oil and sit it on the lemons with the flaps of the belly spread out in both directions.
Sprinkle the pan and fish with the rosemary and the pepper.
Roast for twenty to thirty minutes.