Ash Wednesday this year also happened to be my birthday. I felt like going to Ruth’s Chris for dinner, but the ‘no meat’ thing would have diminished the fun somewhat. I opted to make dinner at home after work instead.
I stopped at Dan’s Seafood on the way home and picked up some fresh Pomapano., along with a dozen oysters. I shucked the oysters, slurped down a couple, and popped the rest into a very hot oven to broil after topping with a little grated Pecorino Romano, Gruyere, and chopped parsley.
I prepared the fish very simply. After rinsing and drying it with paper towels, I seasoned it with ground sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. I then let it sit for a few minutes while I heated some peanut oil and a little butter in a 12″ nonstick skillet. As the oil heated in the pan, the salt brought some moisture to the surface of the fish. Immediately prior to putting the fish into the skillet, I dredged it in some flour. The moisture on the fish served to help the flour adhere. I sauteed it quickly in the hot skillet- the most common error in cooking fish is to overcook. Don’t hammer it!
In a word, unbelievable! The unanimous consensus of the family was, “the best fish any of us could remember.” So good, in fact that I called the seafood market the next day to thank them. Pompano is unique; it is white-fleshed, like gulf fish, but slightly meatier and definitely more moist, sort of like Chilean sea bass. I no longer eat sea bass, as it has been overfished to oblivion (see the excellent “Hooked“, by Bruce Knecht), but Pompano is a worthy replacement. Pompano en papillote (roughly translated, Pomapano in a paper bag), was a classic at Antoine’s in New Orleans, but I sometimes found it to be a bit oily. That was not the case with this fish/preparation, and I look forward to trying it again very soon. A couple of nights later I prepared fresh trigger fish the same way, and it was quite good, but not as good as the Pompano.
I made a ‘tropical rice’ dish to go with the fish, with peppers and coconut water. I started by sautéing a diced red bell pepper, a diced poblano chile, and a couple of thinly sliced shallots in olive oil. Once they softened and browned a bit, I added 2 cups of Mahatma rice and stirred until the rice was coated and slightly opaque. I then added 3 cups of coconut water, 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. I brought it to a boil, covered, reduced the heat to low, and cooked for 20 minutes. The rice was good- a solid accompaniment, along with some steamed snow peas.