Monday, May 11, 2009

Frizzy Halibut on Eggplant Couscous

Luckily I’ve never been asked what my top 10 favorite cookbooks are because I don’t think I could narrow it down to only 10. However, earlier today, I decided that Happy in the Kitchen by Michel Richard would have to be in that list. This book is full of food that is as quirky and fun in presentation as it is delicious. I mentioned a little more about the book the first time I cooked from it. This time, I was drawn in by the photo of this dish, and since halibut season will be over before you know it, I wanted to take a stab at this now. Halibut fillets are nestled into a messy coating of katafi and thinly shredded collard greens and then fried until crisp. Katafi is shredded phyllo dough, and I found some at Phoenicia which is a Middle Eastern deli and bakery. The collard greens were in my CSA pick-up last week.

The couscous preparation was actually more involved than the fish. Richard recommends tomato water for cooking the couscous. Tomato water is made by pulsing five pounds of tomatoes in a blender and then letting the liquid drain into a bowl through a strainer while sitting overnight. Fresh tomatoes aren’t quite there yet for perfect flavor, so I used canned tomatoes. To begin the couscous, diced, peeled eggplant was cooked in olive oil in a large saute pan with turmeric. Minced garlic was added and then so was cumin and cayenne. Once the eggplant was softened, the tomato water was added, and the mixture was brought to a boil. The couscous was stirred into the eggplant, the heat was turned off, it was covered, and it sat for 10 minutes. When ready, fresh diced tomatoes were added along with Tabasco, shredded parmiggiano, and salt. This was such a well-flavored dish from the spices, Tabasco, and cheese, I’m not sure the tomato water was critical. It was fantastic as prepared, but plain water would probably have worked fine.

Now for the fun part. The halibut was seasoned, dusted with flour with Madras curry powder in it, dunked into a beaten egg, and coated with the mixed together shredded collards and katafi. Each fillet was lowered into 350 degree F vegetable oil to cook for 30 seconds. Based on the photo in the book, I realized that a good depth of oil would be necessary for the frizzy coating to float upwards from the fish inside it. So, I used a two and a half quart saucepan with straight sides. It’s necessary to fry one fillet at a time, so a smaller pan uses less oil and fits one piece fine. Using a metal, slotted spoon, a fillet was lowered into the oil and held down below the surface with the handle of a wooden spoon. This was a little scary because the oil bubbled up and spattered a lot due to the water content in the fish and greens. I was sure I was going to burn the house down, but I was also sure it was worth it. It was fine. There was no grease fire, and the oil calmed down before the 30 seconds had elapsed. After frying, each fillet was drained on paper towels and then placed in a 300 degree F oven for 10 minutes. Only 30 seconds in the oil and only 10 minutes in a warm oven made me a nervous nelly for a second time.

I worried for nothing because the timing was exactly right. I think that struck me as much as the flavors and textures of this dish. The fish was cooked just positively perfectly. It was cooked through but just cooked through. The coating broke nicely as we cut into it, and the crunch surrounding the tender fish was pure delight. The greens offered just a hint of earthiness and shattered when bitten. The spicy flavors in the couscous were a nice little accompanying jolt. These fried nests were so fun, I started thinking of other things to hide inside them or set on top of them. And, that’s the great thing about Richard. He gets you thinking about fun things to do with food, and I look forward to trying more of his ideas.



30 comments:

  1. i looooooooooooove michele richard! that is easily one of my favorite cookbooks too. have you tried the onion fettucini? it is so shocking how much i did NOT get indigestion from it. it was a super tasty and easy recipe. I also love the crabcakes in there. and everything else :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am not familiar with Richard's book, will have to seek it out.
    The presentation of this dish is beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This looks so fun and unique! I've had shrimp prepared in a similar way, but in a restaurant. I definitely want to try this at home.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love Michel Richard and while I have not tried this recipe, but do have the cookbook, so I can hazard a guess as to how good this dish is. You're making me hungry, good thing my rice is cooking for dinner, or 'd be in trouble.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That looks so cool! I haven't heard of that book. I may need to make a trip to the book store very very soon. Delicious

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've never used that katafi. Is it tricky to work with. You make me want to go seek out that Michel Richard book.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Heather: I haven't tried the onion fettuccine, but I have a childish thing about not liking onions. The crab poppers look incredible, and those will definitely be in my future!

    Stacey: The book is great because all of the dishes look amazing in the book, but they're pretty simple to prepare.

    Sara: Shrimp would be great with this coating. I'll have to try that with the leftover katafi.

    Oysterculture: (I just realized I don't know your name. Sorry!) Since you have the book, you can see how his came out so nice and vertical while mine's a frizzy mess!

    Jenn: Story of my life. Trips to the bookstore.

    Linda: The katafi was incredibly easy to work with. You thaw it in the refrigerator as you would phyllo or puff pastry. For this I just cut off a 3-4 inch chunk and pulled it apart into separate strands. It wasn't sticky or anything.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I walked in at the wrong time....

    ReplyDelete
  9. We have yet to sample Michel Richard's cuisine - this recipe sounds wonderful! I love the idea of the eggplant couscous.

    ReplyDelete
  10. That's so fancy and looks so yummy! I should look out for the book!

    ReplyDelete
  11. you know, i've never seen "frizzy" refer to anything but hair. specifically, my hair. :)
    seriously, lisa, this is great. i think i'm most smitten with the couscous, even though the frizzy part is completely fun and new. :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. I love the addition of the katafi. It makes it all look so artsy, and gives it that wonderful crispness that's irresistible.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Ah Katafi, I only use it for dessert or sweet stuff. Good to know that can be use for savory dishes!

    Look gorgeous, and pretty professional. I am sure it tasted fabulous too!

    ReplyDelete
  14. MMMMMM....Lisa!!! This dish looks lovely!! What a lovely presentation!! yum yum yum!!

    ReplyDelete
  15. You know how to make a delicious dish look even more delish with your presentation skills!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Beautifully presented. Looks smashing! Bet it tasted amazing too!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I love this! I've never seen anything like it. I was so curious when I saw the title. I would of never guessed there was anything hidden inside the nests. This is so creative and I bet it was just delicious!

    ReplyDelete
  18. This looks amazing, Lisa. I love Michel Richard, luckily for me he has chosen to plant his rear in our fair nation's capital and open up multiple restaurants. I will have to check out this book.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Lisa, this is such a creative dish. I've only used kadayif (katafi) for desserts. It gives the halibut a very unique presentation.

    ReplyDelete
  20. What a unique and beautiful dish! I'm going to have to check out that cookbook!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I've never heard of Michel Richard. I will have to look if my library has it. This is a delicious dish. I wish I add a store like this in my town.

    ReplyDelete
  22. This looks fabulous! Great presentation!!

    ReplyDelete
  23. This is so unique & fancy! now i will go look for the book:-)w

    ReplyDelete
  24. I love this presentation, so catchy! First, I couldn't understand what katafi is. Looked up the dictionary, but couldn't find. Then when Niahl from Mediterranean Turkish Cook says "kadayif", I realized what it is.

    This is so creative and unique. We, as Turks use it only for desserts, but this one sounds great.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Tigerfish already said what popped out of my mouth, and out loud as I sit here in my office alone 'Wow, a piece of art', and your food always is! Im frizzled :)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Wow... it seriously looks so delicious. Like the way of the presentation on the plate :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. This looks absolutely amazing! Must try this soon.

    ReplyDelete
  28. This dish looks so fun (in final presentation if not in the course of execution!) I'm petrified of hot oil so in my case, Happy in the Kitchen would refer to avoiding 3rd-degree burns from splattering oil or a major fire!

    ReplyDelete
  29. Lisa, I love your use of kataifi in a savory dish. It's usually reserved for sweets but it's use is widening.

    Bravo!

    ReplyDelete

Blogging tips