Yeah, that’s right. Three. Here it is the end of May – the fifth month of the year – and we’re not exactly keeping pace with my foodie New Year’s Resolution to attempt a restaurant-quality meal each month. Sure, we started off strong with two recipes from Jose Andres…but that didn’t happen until February. March came and went without a follow-up, but then we came back with some killer seasonal recipes from Tom Colicchio for Barry Koslow’s ‘Favorite Five’ ingredient list.
Now it’s May, and I’m proud to say that we’re back with a third attempt. This month, in honor of the soon-to-open Blue Ridge, I took a crack at a pair of seafood dishes from Chef Barton Seaver. Taking the recipes from a feature in the June 2008 issue of O, the Oprah magazine, I went shopping for the ingredients required for grilled calamari with minted red pepper and prosciutto-and-herb-wrapped halibut with blackberry salad.
The recipes seemed straightforward but high-end, exactly the kind of meal I had in mind when I made my resolution.
Cooking steps, photos…and an unexpected result…after the jump.
With two recipes to work on, I made it a point to read through both before I got started to figure out the best way to time everything out. Originally, the plan was to grill the calamari and the peppers outside, but the weather conspired against us. The rain was coming down, so we would have to work with the broiler in place of the grill.
Roasting peppers under the broiler is no great feat – we’ve done it several times before. So we cut three peppers (one red, one yellow, one orange – the recipe called for three red) into segments and then set them to broil for 20 minutes or so, until their skins were crisp and bubbling, ready to be peeled. While the peppers charred, we mixed one grated clove of garlic, one tablespoon of olive oil, and three teaspoons of Kosher salt. We tossed about a pound of calamari rings with this mixture and put them in the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes.
After peeling the peppers, we chopped them into roughly 1-inch square sections and combined them with two teaspoons sherry vinegar, one tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. We set the bowl aside and put the calamari rings onto a wire rack to cook under the broiler for about three minutes. When the rings were just firming up (and some were starting to brown), we pulled them out and plated them atop the marinated pepper mixture with some torn mint leaves thrown in.
And while all this was going on, we turned our attention to the main course. We chopped a bunch of parsley, a bunch of chervil, and put them in a bowl off to the side with a pint of blackberries. For the salad’s dressing, we mixed the juice from one lemon with one chopped shallot and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and let their flavors meld for five minutes before whisking in two tablespoons of olive oil and some ground pepper. The dressing, like the salad, was set aside to wait for the main course.
For the entree: two thick halibut filets (the substitute recommended in the recipe if sablefish wasn’t available…which it wasn’t). We sprinkled the fish with 1/8 teaspoon of Kosher salt, 1 sprig of thyme leaves and 1/3 cup of chopped parsley. Then we wrapped each filet in two slices of prosciutto, tucking the cured pork under the fish. Heating one tablespoon of canola oil in an oven-safe pan, we placed the halibut into the pan and then set the pan under the broiler for about twelve minutes.
While the fish was cooking, we tucked into our appetizer (the calamari). The sweetness of the peppers, the savory flavor of the sherry and the mint’s distinctive taste all came together nicely. Unfortunately, they were absolutely shouted down by the overpowering saltiness of the calamari. Apparently the squid rings greedily sucked up the three teaspoons of salt they were soaking in while refrigerating, and they offered it all up on the plate. Elizabeth couldn’t finish it, and I only got through mine with some effort. The main course would have to salvage the meal.
The halibut filets came out of the oven looking perfect…the prosciutto was slightly crispy, and it sealed in the juices of the fish as it cooked, resulting in a steamy, flaky interior that was exactly what we were looking for. This was the kind of presentation you might expect from a chef like Barton Seaver – simple, elegant, and certainly attentive to the natural flavors of the key ingredients.
That blackberry salad? Unfortunately, it also suffered from a severe case of oversalting. The dressing was briny to the point of bitterness, ruining what could have been a light, refreshing herb salad that would have been a nice counterpoint to the rich, savory flavors of the entree.
This one wasn’t a home run…but it taught us an important lesson. From now on, I’m going to make it a point to leave out salt whenever possible in chefs’ recipes, only adding it in after tasting the dish and then tasting until I get it right. I know, I know – that’s exactly what I should have been doing from the beginning. Lesson learned.