Thursday, February 01, 2007

Feeling a little nutty

I must confess to feeling a little intimidated today. I just read a truly fabulous article by one of my favorite authors: Michael Pollan, the author of "The botany of Desire", and, more recently, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". He's a brilliant writer and scholar, and although I won't spend the entire blogspot singing his praises, I will strongly encourage you to read this superb essay, titled "Unhappy Meals". It is quite possibly the best piece of nonfiction I have read recently: the writing is clear and the logic behind his argument is powerful. If there ever was an author who summed up my beliefs as an environmentalist and foodie together, as well as what I think a perfect writing voice consists of, it would be Michael Pollan.

The process of writing a food blog entry is somewhat more involved than one might think. I spend many hours daydreaming about what I'd like to make for dinner. The initial idea is usually researched on the internet or in cookbooks; often, I just imagine dishes or ingredients in my head and iterate until I find something I'm excited about. I generally don't start writing until after I've already made the dish, taken photos, finished eating, cleaned up and edited the photos. This is when the pressure is on to write something coherent and interesting. I do enjoy writing, but I'm hardly consistent. Some days I'm in the mood to write. Some days I'm in the mood to eat. Some days I'm in the mood to take photos. Food blog days are the days I feel like all three, and after reading such Michael Pollan brilliance, today is not one of them. Feeling thus intimidated, I'll jump to a recipe. Forgive the boring photos.

"Breading" fish in chopped nuts is an idea that I once thought was of my own invention. It turns out that other people have used the same trick (as a quick google search will confirm), but with good reason - it's delicious. The real secret to a nutty-fish success it to pick a fish that matches the nuts when they are chopped to the right texture. I have found that nuts full of oil work better when paired with a moist but firm fish - after frying the fish, they incorporate very nicely into a pan sauce. Don't expect to have crispy fish encrusted with a thin layer of nut flour: what you will get is toasted nuts in a buttery sauce with delicately flaking, moist fish to contrast. I love the texture combination.

Here, I present you with a recipe for Walnut Encrusted Mahi Mahi with Black and White Bean Base. Sounds strange? Certainly. It is unconventional. But it's also great, and like some other recently odd creations, you're simply not allowed to tease until you try it yourself. It's a nice change from oh so traditional flour-egg-breadcrumb scheme. Sometimes I do nutty-fish with lots of spice and a simple butter sauce; today, I wanted a hearty and filling accompaniment to a white bean stew. It was very filling without being heavy. As Greg put it, this is a dish that satisfies you in all ways.

Walnut Encrusted Mahi Mahi with White and Black Bean Base
Serves 2*

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
12 oz Mahi Mahi
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp ground sea salt

1 cup white wine
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
16 oz white beans (not cannelini - look for Italian white beans), well rinsed and drained
16 oz black beans, well rinsed and drained
2 cups stewed, chopped tomatoes
Handful chopped flat leaf parsely

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Start oil, garlic, and half of the rosemary heating over medium heat in a heavy cast iron pan.
  3. Mix breadcrumbs, walnuts, salt and pepper in a dish. Pat onto fish surface. Immediately fry until walnuts take on a golden brown color (approximately 1-2 minutes per side - the fish will not be cooked through)
  4. Carefully transfer fish with most of the walnuts to a foil lined pan and finish cooking in the oven (depending on the thickness of the fish, around 10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the fish or burn the walnuts).
  5. Meanwhile, deglaze pan with wine and scrape up any crispy bits. Add tomatoes, beans, red pepper flakes and remaining rosemary. Simmer uncovered for at least 10 minutes, while the fish cooks.
  6. Serve fish on top of black and white bean base, with chopped parsley to garnish
*This recipe will make extra bean stew, but I'd rather have extra bean stew than extra (somewhat random) amounts of white and black beans. You could also double the fish amount and stretch the stew with some extra tomatoes or stock. I think I'll have the stew on its own for lunch tomorrow : )


Susan said...

I've made nut-encrusted fish recipes for my husband before, but this one sounds exciting!

Oh, and about said boring photos...

Don't think so! I love 'em all!

Susan from Food "Blogga"

Sc said...

Food that makes man stays... Know it? The simple way to keep a man is via the stomach. :)

Rachael said...

susan: Thanks! Do you have a preferred nut/fish to try? I'm so curious - I feel like there are plenty of combinations for this basic idea

sc: no kidding :D I think the way to my own heart is through the stomach too!

Jenifer said...

I love nut encrusted fish! That was actually my first experience when I decided that I wasn't reviled by something from the sea. It was a lovely piece of Tilapia breaded with almonds.

Now, I just need to get over my fear of cooking fish...