As I’d mentioned before, this past weekend was a house full of visitors. And not just any ol’ visitors, but the in-laws. Now, some of you may shriek at the thought of your in-laws visiting, or perhaps at the thought of even spending time with them. What about cooking for them, and two of their best friends who have come along for the road trip? Would that make you want to crawl into a deep dark cave and rock back and forth with your knees to your chest screaming, “mommy! mommy!”?!
I suppose I’m a little different than you, then. I find myself extrememly fortunate in having awesome in-laws. They are a wonderul pair these two, and for a ‘retired’ couple they are highly active. My father-in-law, Barry, has been planning a huge 5-week road trip for the past few years, and clearly stated he’d go alone if need be. But he didn’t have to – his wife, Susan, and one of their favorite couples, Jack & Joan, volunteered to accompany him from North Carolina to Montana, the Rockies, and eventually over to Canada and many spots in between. Now that’s a trip to look forward to! Luckily for us, Chicago was one of those “in-betweens” and so for a weekend, we got to play host to all four of them.
Not only are the in-laws pretty cool, but their friends don’t suck either. They’re all pretty knowlegable about food and were quite excited about having a ‘chef-in-training’ whip up a dinner. Me? I was pee-in-my-pants excited! I get giddy enough about making dinner for the two of us, let alone for a group of visitors! And visitors who know and appreciate food? Holy heck yes!
But let’s push that excitement to the side for a second: I don’t really cook for ‘foodies’, and I don’t cook for (in most cases) groups larger than 2 and max, 4. So I had to strategize for a minute. I knew we’d be eating out, and eating heavily for most of the weekend. [ps, if you haven't been to Hot Chocolate and live in Chicago, get your ass over there now! And you better eat dessert.] I also knew a plank-grilled salmon and rice was too easy for this crowd. So I dove onto epicurious in search of a somewhat fancy fish dinner, and decided on a recipe I couldn’t stop clicking back to. I was not misled.
If you’re in ‘the market’ for a fun, inexpensive fish market, head on over to Isaacson & Stein. My friend, Caroline, posted about that market and I’d been wanting to go ever since. You walk into a large factory-like building, grab a pair of gloves and a baggie, and peruse the fish to find your match. Then you bag it yourself, get it weighed, pay an ungodly cheap price for the size and grade of fish you’re getting and head home with a smile. A big smile.
Everything turned out great, and I was pretty darn pleased with the end result and the flavors in this concoction. The fish was perfectly cooked and went really well with the curry broth, which had flavors of lemongrass, coconut, and lime. It was surprisingly light, refreshing, and not soupy in the slightest. The bok choy was crisp, slightly wilted, and a perfect accompaniment to the main attraction. I did feel the need to add some starch to the dish though and tossed some glass noodles into the bottom of the bowl to help sop up the lovely lemongrassy broth that I literally could have drank from the bowl, like the milk after eating a bowl of Cookie Crisp. On a negative side, this dish is definitely one for the skilled multi-tasker; I think at one point I had 3 burners going and the oven at 400 degrees, and timing was crucial. But if you can get it right, you might find it to be, in Jack’s exact words, “the best sea bass I’ve ever had“.
Chilean Sea Bass w/ Coconut, Lime, & Lemongrass Curry Sauce
Adapted from Eric Ripert’s Epicurious recipe; serves 4
1 T butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 lemongrass stalk*, thinly sliced
1-inch knob ginger, roughly peeled & thinly sliced
3 kaffir lime leaves*
1 T Madras curry
3 cups chicken stock
1 can canned coconut milk (do NOT use light here)
4 cilantro sprigs
sea salt, or kosher salt, to taste
fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 T fresh lime juice (or more if not using kaffir leaves – use 1 T for each leaf)
2 T canola oil
4 7-oz Chilean sea bass fillets, 1 1/2 inches thick, skin on
salt and pepper
1/2 stick butter (can omit or add less)
fine sea salt
4 heads of baby boy choy, divided in half
7-8 oz vermicelli style noodles (also called glass or cellophane)