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Monday, June 28, 2021

Crispy "Black Thai" Bass

Crispy "Black Thai" Bass

Black sea bass is a beautifully colored and textured fish, with alternating black and white spots along its stunning flesh. Mastering the technique of obtaining perfectly crispy skin on a black bass serves as a sort of “rite of passage” for young cooks under the leadership of the legendary Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York City. 


An even, deep golden-brown crispy layer of skin sitting atop the gently cooked and succulent meat provides for a sublime textural sensation. The most exquisitely executed examples of perfectly cooked black bass always begin before oil even hits the pan. Season the fish with salt on both sides and pat completely dry. Trapped within the flesh is a layer of moisture which—if not removed—would diminish any chance of obtaining consistent crispy skin. To remove the excess moisture, begin by positioning the fish on a cutting board with the tail to your right, and gently scraping the skin from left to right, intermittently drying the knife with a towel. This process creates a “squeegee” effect on the flesh, in preparation of the cooking process. Once all visible liquid is removed, dab the fish with a clean towel, then rotate the fish in the opposite direction and scrape across the flesh once to open the crevices of the flesh and also ensure that no scales remain. This will allow oxygen to flow through the fish, completely drying out the flesh. 


Pour enough oil in the bottom of a heated non-stick pan, dredge the bass in Wondra flour and place it in the pan, away from you to prevent hot oil from splashing on your hand. Instantaneously, upon impact with the hot oil, the skin naturally curls upward. Gently shake the pan to ensure it doesn’t stick and begin to press the flesh with a fish spatula in a few brief attempts to “reset” its heightened disposition. Then continue pressing and holding the fish flat in the pan, eight to ten seconds at a time, until it remains flat without pressure. Be careful not to apply too much force on the flesh as the skin may “split” causing a tear in the skin, allowing the hot oil to damage the beautiful meat. Once flat, increase the heat and remove about half of the oil, as excess oil would only become absorbed by the skin, eliminating the possibility of dry crispness. Continue swirling the fish in the pan to evenly distribute the heat. Lift the fish from the pan and quickly check the progress of caramelization of the skin. Adjust the motion and heat within the pan based on your observations. As the skin side continually browns, the steam from the coagulating proteins also allows the flesh to cook through slightly. Once the skin reaches Maillard magnificence, give the flesh side a quick kiss in the pan to eliminate an off-putting raw taste, but maintain a medium rare internal temperature for maximum moisture and optimal texture. This process represents an incredible balance of heat, pressure, and time, all dependent upon the experience, discipline, and instinct of the chef. 


At all three of the Michelin-starred restaurants in which I trained, I witnessed the application of Asian ingredients and/or techniques in the interest of heightening the experience of French cuisine. In this case various components receive such treatment, geared towards the achievement of exceptional flavor and  


Parsnips are a wonderfully delicate and aromatic root vegetable that shine when made into a smooth puree. Peel and roughly chop four parsnips, then simmer in coconut milk with chopped ginger until tender. While blending the parsnips slowly add a few chunks of cold butter to create a smooth emulsification. Once smooth, pass the puree through a fine chinois in order to eliminate any lumps or impurities. The ginger and coconut milk will bring about an incredibly aromatic brightness to the puree. 


Dashi is an extraordinarily powerful tool in the Japanese culinary repertoire. Season the broth with soy sauce (for salinity and umami), mirin (for sweetness), and sake (for balance). Reduced veal jus, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, and dashi combine to create a delicious savory sauce to marry the flavors of the dish as a whole. 


Sautéed spinach is not only great for color contrast but also serves to soak up the delicious broth. Prepared with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil, the spinach will add a great depth of flavor to the dish. The final component is a yuzu and ginger foam. The yuzu is a Japanese citrus, close in flavor to lime, and is combined with ginger juice, sugar, cream and lecithin in this case. The foam will bring a necessary acidic component to the dish. A shallow bowl is the ideal vessel for this dish to allow for a substantial portion of the sauce. The coconut parsnip puree graces the right half of the bowl, while the rich veal Dashi pools around the left half, creating a yin and yang effect to represent the overarching theme of balance in the dish. The crispy bass is elevated atop the sautéed spinach and whimsically adorned along the edges with the ginger yuzu foam. A few small leaves of fried mint and basil as well as a scattering of finger lime “caviar” stand out amongst the pristine ivory parsnip puree. 

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