Monday, August 6, 2007

"Fish & Chips" -- Red Mullet with a Palette d'Ail Doux and Garlic Chips

Growing up, fish & chips was the Friday lunchtime staple in my public school cafeteria during Lent (even though I think we only had three Catholics in the entire school). The lunch ladies also offered it pretty regularly throughout the year, and whenever it had been raining or I had just had a particularly difficult class, there was something so good about fish and chips -- which really was institutional Mrs. Paul's fish sticks and, sadly, actual potato chips. Methinks the lunch ladies never really understood that "chips" are not supposed to be potato chips but french fries. Or, they were just lazy. Poor dears...

But fried fish wasn't just a schooltime fave. I also loved the Fishamajig fried fish sandwich at Friendly's, which came with those awesome crinkle-cut fries, and that squeeze bottle of ketchup so you could pipe out a single, thin line of ketchupy goodness on each individual fry as you ate it. And when I say that "you" could do this, I of course mean me. Because I am probably the only person with such borderline OCD that ever did this in the history of Friendly's.

I was never a fan of the Filet-o-Fish at McDonald's -- mostly because we never really ate there growing up (the closest one was 15 minutes away), and also because their tartar sauce smelled like diapers. My mom rarely made fish, and when she did, it was never fried. That's why it was such a treat to have fried fish at school or at Friendly's... even at that young age, I knew it was bad for me, but I didn't care. It was something greasy and delicious.

But what I knew about fish and chips as a child and teenager changed when I was 15 and went to Europe for the first time. Most of the other kids in my traveling group were 17 and 18, so they were psyched to be overseas in search of whatever alcohol they could find and consume without the chaperones finding out. I was determined to find a way to reunite the original members of Clash, or meet Howard Jones. Or both. Plus the drinking.

During the second week of the trip, we were in London and a bunch of us went to a pub to order a Guinness on a dare, and when I saw the menu of food options, I was transfixed and forgot to order my beer. Neverfear, I drank from everyone else's glass while we devoured the three plates of food I ordered -- Ploughman's Lunch, Bangers & Mash, and Fish & Chips with mushy peas. The fish was fresh, was batter-dipped right before deep-frying and the chips (fries, this time - yay!) were the perfect cut, color, crispness and potato-y-ness. I was hooked, and except for a few months in college when I was poor and had to subsist on fish sticks and mac-n-cheese, I didn't want to eat fish and chips any other way.

Now, everytime I go back to London one of the first things I do is browse the stacks at John Sandoe Books, followed by spending a few hours in a favorite pub in the outskirts of Chelsea noshing on fish and chips and mushy peas. I won't even get started on the mushy peas and how much I love them because I've already gone on long enough about why I was thrilled to see that Thomas Keller had adapted one of my childhood and now indulgent-and-rarely-eaten adulthood favorites for The French Laundry.

A week before I knew I was going to make this dish, I called BlackSalt to order the red mullet (or "moo-LAY roo-ZHAY" as we like to call it). Their fishmonger agreed to clean and fillet it for me, which was a huge help. You'll see photos of the fish in the final plating. It's gorgeous, I promise.

Following the order of prep steps in The French Laundry Cookbook, the first thing to make were the palettes. These are little discs of garlic mash with eggs, cream and butter, that looked awfully yellow during prep but were wonderful. Here's the mise:

I put the fresh, hand-peeled garlic cloves in a saucepan, covered them with cold water, brought them to a boil, drained and rinsed them under cold water, then repeated the process two more times. On the third and final go, I boiled the cloves until they were soft, tender, and ready to be mashed:

I took a little over a quarter-cup of the mashed garlic and blended it in a small food processor with the egg yolks, butter and salt until it was smooth. I spread the mixture onto a plastic wrap-lined baking sheet:

It was supposed to be a half-inch-thick layer, and I think mine was between a half inch and a quarter inch. Ooops. I covered this and put it in the freezer for a few hours. When it was solid, I cut six 2" discs out of the sheet and dredged each one in flour, cream and bread crumbs before putting them back into the freezer until right before final prep and plating:

With the palettes done, I focused next on the parsley coulis.

I started with four cups of flat-leaf parsley, which I blanched and gave an ice bath. I squeezed out all the excess water and put the blanched parsley into the blender with just a little bit of water to aid in the purée process. When it was fully puréed, I spread the parsley onto a tamis and let it drain its excess liquid for about 5-10 minutes:

Then, I discarded that liquid and pushed the purée through the tamis, leaving me with about a half-cup of coulis:

The last thing I needed to prep was the garlic chips. Those of you who know me well in real life know I have an irrational fear that the garbage disposal in my sink will turn on by itself while my hand is mashing stuff down the drain. Just like my garbage disposal phobia (which, again, I know is stupid and unfounded), I also think my mandoline is out to kill me. Don't get me wrong, I love my mandoline. I use it all the time, and I have only cut myself on it twice in the many years I've been using one. It's just that when I least expect it, I get these odd visions of slicing my knuckles off. And of course, when I brought it out to make the garlic chips, I had a moment of terror -- envisioning my hands, my fingers, those tiny cloves of garlic sliding over that sharp, sharp blade... and I knew I had to do something. So, I ran to the market to pick up some elephant garlic because it's bigger and there would be less of a chance that I would amputate a part of my body doing something I am not insured to or get paid to do.

I know elephant garlic is to garlic what leeks are to onions -- not quite the same thing, but sharing many qualities. I know from using it before that elephant garlic is sweeter and a little less garlicky than actual garlic, so I was fine with the substitution and made adjustments along the way to compensate for the flavor change.

I thinly sliced the garlic (tried to to paper-thin, but it wasn't happening. So, I sliced them as thinly as I could. I put them in a small saucepan, covered them with cold milk, brought it to a boil, drained and rinsed with cold water, and repeated. The French Laundry Cookbook says to do it three times, but since I was using a less intensely flavored garlic, I only did it twice.

After the second milk-blanching, I patted the garlic slices dry and put them in hot oil to make the crispy garlic chips. I didn't know it until I started heating the oil that my thermometer had gone kaput -- the mercury was separated into thin chunks up and down the tube, so I had to guesstimate the temperature I was boiling them, knowing that they were done when they turned a certain color and there no longer were bubbles forming at their sides:

I took them out of the hot oil and drained them on paper towels. Now, it was time for the final prep before plating. I brought the palettes out of the freezer and seasoned the mullet with salt and pepper before putting them into a skillet with some canola oil to cook. I put them skin side down first, and cooked them for just a minute or so, then turned them, allowing the flesh side to "kiss" the heat (as Ruhlman so deftly writes) and cook through. I removed the mullet from the pan and let them drain on paper towels and quickly cooked the palettes for a minute on each side in that same pan of canola oil.

Here's the final plating. First in the dish? A spoonful of warmed (and butter-infused) parsley coulis:

Next, a palette:

Then, criss-cross (jump!jump!) mullet fillets:

Atop that? A little parsley salad (parsley leaves, minced shallot, olive oil, salt):

And, last but not least, the garlic chips:

I gotta say, this was a really good dish. The garlic chips need work, though. If any of you have ever made the version from The French Laundry Cookbook or a similar iteration, I'd love to hear what worked and what didn't. Garlic (along with bacon and coffee) is one of my very favorite foods, and I was disappointed that these garlic chips did not meet my expectations. I'm sure it's a combination of using elephant vs. regular garlic, the slices being a tad too thick, and not regulating the temperature of the cooking oil as closely as I would have liked to. But still. I feel like they were the biggest disappointment of the dish. They didn't suck; they just weren't what I wanted them to be. While I would very much like to blame Stephen Durfee (hello, Durfee) for my failure on this particular aspect of this dish, I know that in all fairness I cannot. It just wouldn't be right.

The parsley coulis was delicious -- in fact, all the flavors really complemented one another quite nicely. The parsley salad cut the fishiness of the fish, and the palette was creamy and really stood up to the fish and parsley elements and added a nice touch and texture. This is something I would definitely try again, and it made me yearn for a cold, dark, smoky pub and a plate of hot fish & chips and mushy peas. Is it a bad thing that right after I loaded the plates into the dishwasher I looked up flights to London and tried to convince myself that it would be adventurous (instead of frivolous and wasteful) to fly over for lunch and fly home in the same day just to have those traditional fish & chips again? Off to go check the status of my Amex points and frequent flyer miles...

Up Next: Heirloom Tomato Tart with Nicoise Olive Tapenade, Mixed Field Greens, and Basil Vinaigrette

Special Thank You: Blayne Candy of BSL Productions for the sweet VIP passes this weekend at Virgin Festival, and to Blayne's lovely girl and my friend, Amanda, whose sister owns Vine Floral Design. So, if you need lights, camera, flowers -- now you know where to go.

Brands Used:
All-Clad and Le Creuset cookware
Mullet from BlackSalt
Garlic and parsley from Whole Foods
Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm
365 organic butter and canola oil
King Arthur flour
Organic Valley cream
Homemade bread crumbs using an old loaf of Spring Mill bread
Shallot from my awesome neighbor Linda

Music to Cook By: Helio Sequence; Com Plex, and Love & Distance. These guys are on the iPod playlist I listen to when flying. It always seems they are in the rotation (along wtih Sigur Ros) when I'm flying over the Grand Canyon, making that approach to the west coast. I hadn't listened to them in awhile, so I booted them up during the prep for this dish and had a listen. I'm glad I did. It's music that makes the time go by -- that's the only way I know how to describe Helio Sequence. It's great background music, and it sounds so familiar, even if you've never heard it before.


Anonymous said...

You weren't the only one who did that with the fries at Friendly's. How else could you avoid making a mess by getting ketchup on a fry you weren't about to eat?

pdxblogmommy said...

This looks almost delicious enough to make me forget about the Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Oyster gelee. Fech.

This looks simply marveyeux. Is that how to spell that? I forget.

Oh, and incidentally...I TOO am a Fishamajig fan and I TOO eat each krinkled fry individually with just a stripe of ketchup from the squirt bottle. But I think you know that already.

Anonymous said...

Hoohoo! I finally have a tip for you.

Try using a truffle slicer for the garlic. There's a screw that allows you to make the slices as thin as you want, and it isn't dangerous at all. It's small, not expensive and should a truffle come your way, you'll be ready.

Anonymous said...

Just want to tell you that I love your blog! I keep the French Laundry cookbook on hand for all my food porn fixes, but so far have only made the parmesan cups with the goat cheese mousse. (I'll have to keep your tip for the cups in mind by the way! I had similar problems forming those blasted cups.)

I hope to hear others chime in on the garlic chips. I've always been curious about these because it seems like such an amazing amount of work for something so small. It's hard to believe that the pain-in-the-butt-to-satisfaction ratio is high enough to justify the painstaking work. But then again, that's what makes the FL what it is!

Cheers, and thanks for all the great writing and pictures! I have you in my RSS feed and in my blog links. :-)

french tart said...

garbage disposal phobia!! i thought i was the only one! i think it stems from an episode of "emergency one!" that i saw as a kid where some dude gets his hand stuck in the blender while it was on. anything with a motor on the bottom, i fear my hand will get stuck in it somehow. which is why i am so glad that someone invented the boat motor blender-stick blender thingy.

Jim said... made a Kriss Kross reference in the middle of a lengthy post about cooking a French Laundry Cookbook recipe.

This is the best blog ever.

Anonymous said...

As if I wasn't impressed enough by this dish..Then I scroll down and read the suggestion to use a truffle slicer to slice garlic! How much food knowledge can a person take in for one day! :)

LUX said...


This is simply the most fantastic blog on interweb!


...Thank you.

p.s. You should think about tallying up a cost for each of these dishes. It would be cool to know what these adventures might cost me when I attempt them.

Anonymous said...

Ketchup from a squeeze bottle onto crinkle cuts is child's play. My Thai wife squirts it out of packets onto skinny little mickey d's fries without spilling a drop, and while driving. Me? I can't dunk without getting it on my shirt.

This is the most seriously cool foodie blog going. I am absolutely dying waiting for my dream kitchen in our new home when we move in Nov. For now I'm getting by on food porn. Thanks for your great writing!

Unknown said...

Now when you reference "criss cross,jump jump" is that the Rap artist:.... "I'll make ya Jump Jump wiggle and shake your rump
Cause I'll be kicking the flavor that makes you wanna Jump
How high? Real high
Cause I'm just so fly
A young loveable, hugable type of guy"
..or is it the school yard game?

'cause if it is the rap dude , you're even cooler that I had hoped!!!!!!!!!!

Great entry...again

The Foodist said...

Just like to say that while Ive been watching this blog Ive noticed that your skill in presentation and uniformity have really come along.

This last dish looks right out of a professional kitchen, congrats on a job well done!

Anonymous said...

looks delicious... again. i applaud your incredible patience -and willingness to clean up after making these amazing recipes...

Anonymous said...

On the garlic chips, I've never been able to get them right. I thought it was just me. So I made them again today for comparison and am still not impressed. I sliced them paper thin and did the milk thing but as always it takes seconds, not 12 minutes, for them to start to go brown. So there you are, I don't think I'll make them again.

Carol Blymire said...

Truffle slicer!!!! What a great idea -- thanks, Judith. :)

And yes, Jim. It was a Kriss Kross reference. "Daddy Mack'll make ya (jump jump), Mack Daddy'll make ya (jump jump)..." you don't get better lyrics than that.

Anonymous said...

I used to make the garlic chips daily in my restaurant, and was able to perfect them. There are a few things the FLC doesn't mention.

1. Elephant v. Regular is not so much an issue.

2. The blanching in milk sometimes requires as many as four or five blanches. Never do less than three, and always with fresh milk. I never rinsed with water. Save the milk - it makes prety good mashed potatoes.

3. The frying: I can tell from the pics that these are badly overcooked, and probably tasted bitter and wrong. Here's the key: they should never brown, ever. Look at the FLC pics: the chips are snowy white. You will need an accurate thermometer, and the oil temp must be under 300, and pref. 275. They should fry very very slowly, and it will take a while for the little bubbles to dissapear. Wait until the bubbles stop, like the recipe says. Even a few bubbles means there is still moisture in the garlic.

Read your Harold McGee: sugars caramelize at temperatures above 300, hence the browning.

Hope this helps.

michael, claudia and sierra said...

a truffle slicer...
i was wondering how that one was going to be solved

michael, claudia and sierra said...

while you were languishing on the beach, i was here sweltering in 100+ temps, wondering if i could remember being 39... i've got a solid 7 on ya. anyway - i decided to go make some ice cream and was perusing the machines at williams sonoma and i saw a gadget specifically for dealing with your garlic situation. it's called a "rotary garlic slicer" and it's $18. i'm thinking keller's got one of these... here's the link - long as it is

dc365 said...

I'm going to assume you've been to Eamonn's, in old town, yes? An Dublin fish and chips shop, which also features mushy peas?!