Culinary Architecture

Romesco. No, it isn’t the style of church you saw in that small town in Provence. It is a sauce from Catalonia, Spain, made by fishermen to be eaten with fish. It was the inspiration for today’s post.

Romesco is a very pungent sauce of roasted bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, bread, nuts, olive oil, and vinegar that pairs perfectly with grilled fish.

However, I planned to serve a grilled herbed fish (thanks to my sister-in-law, Becky, for the marinade recipe!) with a 2016 Commanderie de Peyrassol rosé, and the intensity of Romesco gave me pause. For more thoughts on the wine, head over the Provence WineZine.

Like any good architect, I started redesigning the sauce to make it work with my recipe. Of course the garlic went out the window...

The olive oil was just right. The perfect foundation on which to build my flavor profile.

Siding with tradition, I liked the use of bell peppers and tomatoes, but opted to roast them both (not just the pepper) to get a hint of smoky flavor.

The idea of nuts appealed but I didn’t want my version to have the traditional gritty feeling of ground almonds. So I ransacked the fridge and cupboards where I came upon a pistacchio paste brought back from Sicily.

While the paste was sweetened to be used in desserts, I somehow felt a little sugar might be nice. A smooth almond or hazelnut butter would work, too.

I also wanted some piquancy, but not over the top - no cayenne, no Hatch chile — so I dipped below the equator for some puréed ají amarillo... a bit of heat with nice flavor.

Again, to achieve the texture I desired, I decided to omit the bread. I think it makes the Romesco too thick for what I envisioned.

Finally, I did think it needed some zing — an architectural ornament, if you will— but nothing as intense as Sherry vinegar. A squeeze of lime is exactly what it needed.

So redesigned and rebuilt, I present you with grilled Herbed Chilean Sea Bass with Romesco-esque. Isn’t culinary architecture fun?

~ David

Grilled Chilean Sea Bass, Romesco-esque

1 large red bell pepper
3 large Roma tomatoes
1 tablespoon ají amarillo purée (or 1 teaspoon hot paprika)
1 tablespoon pistacchio paste, or other nut paste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/4 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sprigs fresh basil
10 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon culinary lavender buds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 pounds Chilean sea bass, 1-inch thick, in four pieces

chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Romesco-esque: heat your grill to high. Blacken the pepper on all sides. When fully black, remove from the grill and place in a paper bag. Close and let pepper steam for 10 minutes. While pepper is steaming, grill the tomatoes on all sides until blackened and split.

Cut tomatoes in half and remove the blackened skin and any seeds. Place tomato pieces in a blender. Remove pepper from the bag, then peel or scrape off blackened skin, remove ribs and seeds. Place pepper in the blender.

Add ají amarillo, nut paste, olive oil, lime, and salt. Purée until smooth and light in color, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

The fish: trim the fish into equal 6-ounce portions and place in a shallow baking dish. Finely chop the basil, thyme, and lavender buds together and place in a small bowl. Add the salt, pepper, and olive oil. Spoon over the fish, turn to coat, and marinate for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat grill to medium-high - about 400°F/200°C. When hot, oil the grates then grill fish for 4 minutes on the first side and three minutes on the flip side. (You will see the fish becoming opaque as it cooks.)

Spoon a couple of tablespoons of the sauce onto the plates, then top with fish and garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 4.

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