Trout Roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (kinda, sorta)
I missed trout roe season by two days. True story. A few months ago, I spoke with Steve Stallard at BLiS to plan when I needed to order certain products over the coming months to make sure I could get what I needed when I needed it. He told me a specific week to call for the trout roe, and I procrastinated (I'm not sure why), and instead, called the Monday of the following week.
Carol: Hey, Steve... It's Carol Blymire.
Steve: Oh hey, Carol. How are you?
Carol: Great, thanks. You?
Steve: I'm good. What can I do for you?
Carol: Well, I'm calling to see if you can ship me some of your trout roe. I just checked my calendar, and...
Steve: I shipped out my last batch on Friday. Sorry.
Carol: Well, shit.... (muting the phone and beating head against desk because procrastination rarely bites me in the ass, but this time it did)
Steve: Hey, tell you what... in two weeks, I'll have some smoked char roe. Let me send you that instead.
Carol: (pouting on the inside, but being professional and cheerful on the outside) That sounds fantastic, Steve. Thanks so much!
I already knew I was going to do some serious edits on this recipe and swap in and out a lot of the steps because I can't eat coconut, and 3 of the 5 components are coconut-based. And now, I was going to have to swap out trout roe for smoked char roe, which, is such a first-world problem, I really need to STFU.
So, I plotted and planned and thought and thought, and tried to figure out how I could still make this dish work and be true to the original recipe. And then, I thought: why in the name of Don Knotts am I making this so hard?
If nothing else, this dish was a gentle reminder that, sometimes, I just need to get out of my own way.
The roe arrived, I did some shopping, and made what might be one of the best dinners I've ever made. Twenty minutes, start to finish. Seriously. If you have the Alinea cookbook, give this a shot. If you don't, TOO BAD FOR YOU. Kidding. (only sort of)
I decided I was going to make the licorice syrup from the original recipe, because you can almost smell it when you read the ingredients and instructions, and it drew me in and ka-powed my palate just from what was on the printed page.
I toasted some peppercorns and star anise in a dry saute pan for a few minutes until their fragrance filled the kitchen:
Then, in a small saucepan, I combined the peppercorn and star anise (which I crushed in a mortar/pestle) with some dry licorice extract (you could probably use liquid extract if that's easier to find), unsulfured dark molasses, white wine vinegar, sugar, and water, and brought it to a simmer:
I cooked it until it reduced a bit, then poured it through a strainer into another small saucepan and reduced it by half:
While the liquid was reducing to a syrup, I peeled, cored, and diced a fresh, whole pineapple, and sauteed some of the fruit in a little butter and some vanilla fleur de sel until the edges of the pineapple turned golden brown.
I let the pineapple rest and stay warm in the pan while I seared a lovely piece of char (a tiny bit of canola oil in pan, salt and peppered the fish on the fleshy side -- 3 minutes skin side down, 1 minute flesh side down, done):
To plate, a bit of licorice syrup, then the pineapple pieces:
Then, atop that, the char, topped with the smoked char roe and a few pieces of Thai basil:
After taking the first bite, I danced around in my chair, bobbing my head side to side as I chewed, and reached for my Blackberry to text a chef friend: Just made best dinner ever. His reply: What did you make? Me: arctic char, caramelized pineapple, licorice-molasses reduction, Thai basil, smoked char roe. His reply: Sounds amazing. Send photo!! Then, when I did, his reply: WOW. You made this just for urself? Me: Yep. Him: You're insane. In the good way.
I think he wonders why I'd make something like this when it's just me, eating here at home. People are funny like that. Like when it's just dinner for one, you're supposed to eat cereal or order takeout. Please.
You guys, this was goooooooooooooooood. Really, really good. So freakin' good. Almost as slap-somebody-worthy as the pork belly. The licorice and pineapple together was beautiful and fragrant and really delicious with the perfect balance of sweet and salt, and then the perfectly-cooked fish and smoky roe on top with the openness of the Thai basil? I couldn't get enough. I was sad when the plate was empty. Full, but sad. I didn't want that dinner to end. As I was rinsing the remaining molecules of sauce from my plate and loading the dishwasher, I wondered how I might do it differently, or what else I could serve with this next time. Jasmine rice? Amaranth? A small twist of greens? A rice and mixed greens salad on the side? And, you know what: I'm not sure I'd actually change a thing. It was so good on its own, just like this. And the fact that the entire dish took just twenty minutes to make? Even better. In fact, I had plenty of leftover roe, so I bought more fish and made it for dinner a few nights later for friends. So easy, and so flavorful, and such an unexpected surprise.
I guess procrastinating on some things can be worth it in the end.
Up Next: Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb
Resources: Char from Whole Foods; star anise and peppercorns from my pantry; Terra Midi white wine vinegar; licorice extract from HerbalRemedies.com; Domino sugar; Wholesome Sweeteners molasses; Thai basil and pineapple from HMart; smoked char roe from BLiS.
Music to Cook By: Laurel Canyon Soundtrack; Various Artists. Mercury Rev, Steely Dan, Eartha Kitt, Butthole Surfers -- what's not to love about this album?
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