My cooking challenge for last week was to prepare a fresh and flavorful fish dish. My husband wanted this dish to reflect the bounty of the season and to be tasty, because he generally thinks fish is bland. (I don’t agree, but that’s another story.) He suggested a flavorful sauce.
The combination of fresh and flavorful got my mind working, and I came up with a salad. But not an ordinary salad. Rather, I wanted a composed dish that would showcase tasty produce surrounding a really nice piece of fish, all dressed with a tasty vinaigrette, which works really well on both fish and vegetables. I hit upon doing a version of a salade Niçoise, but with a twist: no olives (because I don’t really like olives). Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home has a tuna Niçoise recipe that is both gorgeous and easy to make; that would be my template. Leafing through Ad Hoc at Home‘s many vinaigrette recipes, I spotted the one I wanted: bacon vinaigrette! The bacon would taste great on a thick tuna steak and on the vegetables I wanted to accompany it: new potatoes, green beans, cherry tomatoes and avocado.
The vegetable platter.
The best part about this dish is that it is very easy to prepare. The most important step is the shopping, as this dish relies on finding the freshest, tastiest produce and cut of tuna available. It can also adapt to the season. I suggest visiting the farmers market or local co-op and buying whatever looks fresh and beautiful. As for cooking the vegetables, I simply blanched the green beans and steamed the potatoes until they were tender. I then cut everything up and apportioned it on a pretty platter.
As for the tuna, this challenge gave me a chance to explore the best local markets for buying fish. While my regular co-op does a great job of supplying local, organic chicken, bacon and sausage, it doesn’t stock a large selection of fish, and they never have tuna. The grocery store I usually shop at has a fish counter, but I am suspicious of their sources. Their tuna in particular often tastes a little fishy, and it’s a little too red, if you know what I mean.
That meant I had to go further afield. Because I left my shopping so late in the day, I chose to head over to Whole Foods rather than trying out Fresh Market, which is a little farther away. I normally avoid Whole Foods, because the experience of shopping there could easily be the tenth circle of Hell, in my opinion. Starting with the parking lot, which is poorly designed and always jammed with cars fighting for the spaces. Once you’re inside, the food is so gorgeous and artfully laid out, but you have to contend with people jamming the narrow aisles with huge carts and cutting across your path. I feel like a bumper car whenever I go inside. I could stand it just enough to go back to the fish counter and pick out a gigantic, gorgeous tuna steak. I couldn’t even handle ducking over to the bakery for a loaf of bread before my patience snapped. (I do have to give kudos to Whole Foods’ cashiers and fishmongers, who are just as friendly as they can be, unlike their clientele.) The trip was worth it, though, because just take a look at this fish.
Fish this good only requires a little salt and pepper for seasoning and a brief pan-searing in a thin film of olive oil. To judge doneness, watch the edges. You want just a thin sear on both sides. Remove it from the pan and slice thinly for serving. A one-pound steak was plenty for my husband and I, with leftovers. (My toddler refused to partake, of course.)
All that’s left is the dressing, which is also very simple. For two servings, cut 2 slices of bacon into 1-inch pieces. Fry over medium heat until crisp on the outside, then transfer to paper towels to drain, reserving the bacon fat in the pan. Combine 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and ¼ cup olive oil with salt and pepper to taste in a blender. Pour off the bacon fat into this mixture and blend until it is well emulsified. Stir in the bacon pieces and spoon the vinaigrette over the vegetables and fish to serve.
The whole salad.
I feel like this wasn’t too much of a challenge, since it was so easy to prepare. But I think this only goes to show that even the simplest dishes can be the most rewarding, if you take the trouble to find truly excellent ingredients. I would definitely make this salad again and again.
For the next challenge, I am tasked with making an Asian noodle dish. Since I’m still on a light and flavorful kick, I’m thinking Japanese. I hope you’ll join me.