Cook Inlet Dinosaur (July Daring Cooks)
Two months ago I joined the Daring Cooks. Now I am like a little crackhead jonesing for a fix every month come the 17th. That is the reveal date for the following month’s challenge. Well last month was one hell of a surprise. Sketchy from Sketchy’s Kitchen came up with a doozy, skate with traditional flavors powdered. This is a Grant Achatz recipe from the Alinea cookbook. Molecular cuisine in only my second month as a Daring Cook, you gotta love it.
Well the first hurdle was finding skate. That turned out to be the most fun. The very weekend following our reveal date, I was headed to Cook Inlet for some halibut fishing with my cousin Greg. We decided to launch out of Ninilchik (yes that is an actual town/beach) as opposed to our normal fishing grounds.
It turned out to be a flat calm day. We headed Southwest from the beach for about 15 minutes and dropped anchor in about 90 feet of water. The first hole was really slow. Just a couple of bites and no fish to speak of. So before we burned up all of our slack water, we moved another 10 or so minutes to the Southwest. While moving we spotted a large group of humpback whales at least a couple thousand yards to our North. Thinking this was a good sign, we quickly dropped anchor and got to fishing. The tide slowed to nothing and the bite was on. Nothing big but we started catching some halibut, a couple angle tooth flounder, even a pollack. Greg was the first to catch a skate.
Well I was not going to let an oppurtunity like this go by. This guy went right into the fish cooler for the challenge. Throughout the day we ended up pulling in 3-4 more skate and all were bigger than this. Not knowing if I was going to like it, only the first one was kept.
As the fishing continued, that group of whales starting getting closer. They would surprise you with their distinctive deep blows upon surfacing. Here is a video I took while on an ocean kayak expedition in Southeast Alaska that will give you an idea of that sound.
At one point two whales were frolicking within 20-30 yards of the boat and headed right at us. One went under and the other veered to the stern. I think I pooped a little on that pass. The whales know that you are there. I have also never had any kind of bumping or anything crazy like that, but let me just say, this time it was a little too close for comfort.
Now on to the dirty work. I just cut off the wings and froze until I had the opportunity to filet.
I feel the need to stress this part, these things are downright creepy. Their skin feels like sandpaper. Long after they are dead, the wingtips will flutter. They have a line of spikes/bumps down their spine. I kept getting the heebee jeebeez while cutting it up. They are definitely not like any fish I have ever cleaned. Prehistoric is the first word that comes to mind.
Alinea at Home provided lots of help on this one, along with Sketchy’s challenge post. My interpretation of the recipe is something like this.
- beurre monte poached skate topped with banana and browned cream powders
- beurre monte poached green beans
- banana slices
- caper powder
- onion powder
- simple syrup poached lemon peel powder
- parsley/cilantro powder
Now back at home I got started on the powders. I went with oven drying at 170F. All of my powders were dried on parchment paper, over a wire rack, over a cookie sheet. The herbs were poached and shocked in ice water. Then towel dried before dehydrating.
Then lemon peels were triple poached in simple syrup ( I took that to mean quickly dipping in the boiling simple syrup 3 times). Everything was chopped to a small uniform size to facilitate even drying.
After drying, I thoroughly ground in a spice/coffee grinder. Then passed everything through a fine mesh strainer.
Starting bottom left in the tupperware (clockwise): ‘brown butter’ toasted banana(I used dehydrated banana chips from the store) and dehydrated milk, lemon peel, shitake mushroom, and red onion
Starting at the bottom in white ramekins(clockwise): parsley, caper, sage, and basil
I made a couple of extra powders to play with later. The process of making the powders was fairly straightforward. It seemed a little overwhelming the first time I read through the challenge recipe but it really wasn’t. Just a few minutes of prep and then the oven does most of the work.
Now for the meal. As with any meal, get your mis en place all ready. That means have everything chopped, fileted, whisked, etc…. before you start the meal in earnest. The green beans were finely sliced and I fileted across the grain of the skate wing.
I quickly made the beurre monte by boiling a very small amount of water ( about 1/8 cup) and then whisking into that cold butter (3 sticks). It makes an emulsion if done properly. This is then doubled by whisking in warm water. Not too hot or your emulsion can break. Mine worked the very first time.
Divide the beurre monte, 1/4 for the beans and the remaining for the fish.
In the fish portion I added several Tbsp of green peppercorns and a couple of bay leaves.
The beans take about 7-8 minutes after the sauce is warm. The directions say cook all the water out of the sauce but that results in overcooked beans in my opinion. Just keep an eye on them and pull out with a slotted spoon when ready.
For the first attempt I decided on replacing the banana with something more savory. Not that I don’t enjoy bananas, it just didn’t seem like the fish dish matched well with that flavor. I still may try that combo but for now the bananas were nixed. I went with slices of potato browned gently in butter and olive oil.
After giving the beans a head start I put the skate pieces into the warmed, not boiling, beurre monte. About 2 minutes on the first side and then flip. I turned off the heat and let it go about another minute.
Here is the first attempt. Be sure to season everything at this point. Salt and pepper are a must.
Plating was beans, potato, then the skate topped withthe ‘brown butter’ powder. On the side was the lemon, onion, parsley, and caper powders arranged in a swirl pattern. I was very happy with the skate itself. The beurre poaching adds lots of richness and keeps everything deliciously moist. I loved how the skate looked like the bleached out spine of a long dead creature. It kind of communicated in the final dish some of my very first impressions of the live fish.
However I think on this attempt, the potatoes were sliced too thick and the beans were just a little past perfect. Most would think they were fine but I wanted everything in this meal to be perfect. Daring Cooks are a talented bunch and I can’t just say “that should be good enough”. Besides, I have one more skate wing in freezer and plenty of powders to play with.
So 3-4 days later I had worked up a new plan with just a few changes. I had consulted “The Flavor Bible” to see what it thought about skate. Eric Ripert is referenced recommending sage with skate. Other chefs also like mushroom pairings with the skate. Hence the above extra powders of shitake and sage.
This time I cut the skate with the grain of the meat. It makes for a different presentation. I also switched out the potato with cooked, set, then pan fried slices of polenta.
Sometimes I forget just how much I love polenta cooked this way.
Plating this time was very simple. I wanted the fish to be center stage and not overshadowed by the powders. The fish is the star and the powders should be thought of as just a sauce or condiment. I also kept the powders seperate so that each could be sampled individually or combined to taste.
This is not a dish I would have found by myself. It was surprising how the powders affected the enjoyment of the other items. They are not dry at all. The flavors are strong and make your mouth water providing a rush of flavor that was unexpected. I probably won’t cook this again but I have definitely taken from this recipe many lessons. Just last night I used the beurre monte poaching method on halibut for a version of Poor Mans Lobster that was much better than the same dish poached in court buillon. The powders are also a new tool in my cooking arsenal. Thank you for that Sketchy.
While you are here, check out some of my other posts. Also check back soon because more cooking is in store. A cuban style pig and lots of fishing are all on tap for the weekend.