Today, something new for Fork on the Road: a book review! At the beginning of April I became part of a food bloggers’ book review, The Kitchen Reader. Each month this group reads and writes about a book of interest to the food community. The most recent selection is On the Line: The Stations, the Heat, the Cooks, the Costs, the Chaos, and the Triumphs. So here goes, let’s see what’s “on the line” at Le Bernadin, a famous three star restaurant in New York City known for its fish dishes (and don’t worry, there’s a simple, dinner-with-friends-worthy recipe for swordfish – or halibut – tucked in at the end of the review).
Taking a look at Le Bernardin’s menu, I realized that dining there would be torture. I couldn’t bear the thought of actually having to decide what to order at this famed seafood restaurant. Maybe the Pan Roasted Red Snapper with Crispy Papadam and Preserved Tomato Chutney; Thai Basil infused Kaffir Lime Broth? No, wait, make that the Baked Langoustine and Striped Bass; Confit Tomato Agnolotti; Bouillabaisse Consomme and Curry Emulsion. But then there’s also the Florida Grouper. Maybe I could just order one of everything? The flavor combinations created by the chefs at Le Bernadin are breathtaking and inspirational.
Why spend time with this particular book, when there are plenty of other fish in the cookbook sea? While I wouldn’t use it for its complex and time-consuming recipes, I appreciated the layout and organization. It’s a combination restaurant memoir and step-by-step guide to the many pieces that make up this cooking machine. On the Line first tells the reader a bit about the history of this famous institution whose doors opened in the 1980′s, started by a brother-sister team from a seaside community in Brittany, France. It then dives into the inner workings of this complex business, the financials, the staffing, and even a minute-by-minute look at what it’s like to work “on the line” grilling a piece of fish and plating it. There is gorgeous food photography and lovely writing by Christine Mulhke, too.
If you’re thinking of opening a restaurant, read this book. Even if you’re not aiming for three stars in Michelin Guide, it’s a reminder of the realities of the business; managing a million details and dollars, the picky customers, the outrageous requests, constant quality control – as Chef Eric Rippert reminds the reader: ”you’re only as good as your last meal” – and keeping your concept – not just your food – fresh.
Foil-baked Swordfish (or Halibut) with Fennel, Olives and Orange
Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin believes that an excellent seafood dish needs acidity, spice and texture. This dish fits those criteria. Though the following recipe isn’t from Le Bernadin’s menu, it is reminsent of the flavors I read about – and salivated over – in On the Line. My friend Anna shared it with me several years ago and I’ve made it many times since. Swordfish is very pricy and hovers on an off the endangered list. So if you want to try this flavor combination but are reluctant to cast out all the cash in your wallet, try substituting halibut instead. This is adapted from a “Gourmet” cookbook – though I’m not sure which one. It works just as perfectly if you multiply it by four (to serve eight) and it’s scrumptious served with rice and fresh spinach. One more thing: this dish can be prepared ahead through Step 3, refrigerated and baked later, making it perfect for entertaining or delivering to friends.
1 fennel bulb (about 1/4 pound), trimmed and cut into thin strips, reserving 2 tablespoons of the fennel sprigs, chopped, if desired
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 oil cured Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced thin
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
two 6 ounce swordfish (or halibut steaks) – about 3/4 inch thick, seasoned with salt and pepper
Foil for cooking
1)Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2)In a heavy skillet, cook the fennel strips in the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 8 minutes until they are crisp-tender. Add the olives, the zest, the wine, the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. or until the liquid is reduced slightly.
3) Fold 2 pieces of 20 x 12 inch foil in half, unfold each piece and arrange a swordfish steak in the center of each piece. Top the swordfish with the fennel mixture and sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds. Fold the foil over the fish and enclose them making little sealed foil packets.
4) Place the packets on a baking sheet and bake for 10-14 minutes in oven. Transfer the packets to plates and slit them open at the table. Or, for a more formal presentation, open the packets carefully and transfer the fish and fennel mixture to plates, pouring the juices over the top.