Chef-inspired: Swordfish with cauliflower puree


I take notes when I dine out to inspire my home cooking. These days those “notes” usually involve a camera. A quick scroll through my favorite restaurant photos prompted a trip to the fish market. Inspired by a recent dinner of swordfish with pureed cauliflower at Underbelly in Houston, the dinner menu that follows proves impressive despite simple ingredients and everyday techniques. It’s especially inspiring as we emerge from winter eager for spring vegetables and garden-fresh herbs.

I start dinner by transforming cauliflower, oft considered a boring staple, into a light, whipped side dish. Trick is to boil the cauliflower in plenty of salted water to dissipate the strong cabbage aroma. Then a quick puree in the blender with sesame oil and canned chick peas to make a kind of hummus. I save some of the tender florets to brown in oil for a golden garnish.

I plan to serve the hummus underneath the roasted fish to absorb any deliciousness. However, this cauliflower hummus is so good, it’s become a favorite dip to serve with crackers or toasted pita chips.

Most fish taste great sitting atop cauliflower this good. I’m partial to meaty fillets, such as wild-caught swordfish or sea bass. Halibut works too. Here, I’m seasoning the thick fish fillets with sweet spices and herbs. A drizzle of olive oil just before cooking will ensure moist results.

I usually prefer to grill fish rather than cook it indoors. But a superhot broiler drastically reduces the timeline to dinner. Simply turn the broiler to high and let it heat. Then turn on the exhaust fan before you slide the fish 6 inches from the heating element.

A lemon-chili relish, made from grated lemon rind, lemon juice, hot green chili, chopped parsley, garlic and salt, gives the finished fish easy restaurant sophistication. Serve with toasted pita and a romaine lettuce salad.

Always on the lookout for new vegetables, a crisp, bright bunch of dandelion greens reminds me that spring is imminent. Wild dandelion greens exude bitterness; so I much prefer the organic cultivated selection available at large grocery stores. Sauteed with sweet shallots and a bit of oil, the greens make a vitamin rich, stunning side to the pale cauliflower and fish entree. I always make extra greens to gently scramble into eggs the next day.

When dinner turns out this good, you can bet we’ll be back in the kitchen soon.

LEMON, CAULIFLOWER AND GARLIC HUMMUS

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Makes: about 3 cups, 4 servings

I use light sesame oil here, not the toasty dark oil I like in stir-fries. Light, fruity olive oil makes a good substitute.

Ingredients:

1 large head cauliflower, about 2 pounds, cored (or 24 ounces cauliflower florets)

1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo peas (chick peas), drained, rinsed

2 large cloves garlic, crushed

4 tablespoons light sesame oil or olive oil

Finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon

1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Separate the cauliflower into small florets. You will have about 8 cups. Cook until nearly fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out half of the florets to set aside for garnish. Cook remaining cauliflower until tender, 2-3 minutes more. Drain.

2. Puree the tender cauliflower, beans and garlic in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons oil, lemon zest and juice, and salt. Puree again until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl.

3. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high until hot. Add reserved cauliflower florets (cutting them if necessary into bite-sized pieces). Cook and stir until golden, 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle over puree. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Mixture can be refrigerated covered up to 3 days; let come to room temperature before serving.)

ROASTED FISH WITH LEMON-CHILI RELISH

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Boneless skinless chicken cutlets (made by sliced boneless chicken breasts horizontally in half) make a fine substitute for the fish. So do scallops; reduce cooking time to a total of 4 minutes.

Ingredients:

4 portions of meaty, boneless fish, such as swordfish, sea bass or halibut, each piece 8 to 10 ounces and 1- to 1 1/4-inches thick

1 teaspoon each, dried: oregano, marjoram

1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, allspice, salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Lemon chili relish:

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 small serrano chili, stemmed, halved, seeded, very finely chopped

Finely grated zest and juice of half a lemon

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt

Olive oil for drizzling

Lemon cauliflower and garlic hummus, see recipe

Parsley sprigs

Sauteed dandelion greens with crispy shallots, see recipe

Directions:

1. Rinse fish; pat dry. Mix oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Coat fish on all sides with mixture. Let stand at room temperature, about 30 minutes. (Or refrigerate covered for a couple of hours.)

2. Meanwhile, for lemon-chili relish, mix parsley, chili, lemon zest and juice, garlic and salt in a small bowl.

3. Heat broiler to high. Place fish on broiler pan or wire rack set over a drip pan. Drizzle fish lightly with olive oil. Broil fish, 6 inches from heat source, turning once, until fish nearly flakes, usually about 8 minutes total.

4. Divide cauliflower hummus among 4 serving plates. Make a well in center of hummus. Top each with a portion of fish. Spread with 1/4 of the lemon-chili relish. Garnish with sauteed cauliflower and parsley sprigs. Serve with sauteed dandelion greens.

SAUTEED DANDELION GREENS WITH CRISPY SHALLOTS

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 6 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 bunch (12 ounces) organic dandelion greens, ends trimmed

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 large shallots, very thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon salt, about

Crushed red pepper flakes

Directions:

1. Rinse dandelion greens well. Spin dry or wrap in a clean towel and pat dry.

2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high until hot. Add shallots; cook until golden, 3-4 minutes. Add greens; cover skillet. Cook over medium-high, 2 minutes. Uncover; cook, stirring, until greens are barely wilted, 1-2 minutes more. Season with salt and crushed red pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

 

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