This is one of those cool restaurant dishes that has "New American" written all over it. I am glad "vertical" food bashing is not as in-vogue these days. The thing is, I love this sort of food. It captures my imagination and palate with the layers of flavor that I can peel off one by one as if undressing a lover.
I had this striped bass dish at Perdix -- a Boston restaurant in the South End. While most Bostonians consider South End to be a culinary Mecca of Boston, I think most of its restaurants are too chic for their own good with noise level and prices higher than I am willing to tolerate. But who can resist an occasional venture into the yuppieland.
Tim Partridge, the chef at Perdix, knows his fish. His seared striped bass captured the very essence of the sea in the juicy snow-white flesh under the crispy skin. The fillet sat on top of creamy celery root -- smooth and slightly astringent, not as ladenly heavy as potatoes, and a perfect match to the weight of the fish. The whole thing was surrounded in a pool of puréed asparagus touched with cream -- thicker than a sauce, but less substantial than a side dish. A few asparagus tips and sliced almonds balanced all the creamy layers with a little crunch. Ah -- what a dish!
There was no need for a recipe -- all the flavors were so well pronounced that I reproduced it without any trouble the very next weekend. It has since become one of my favorite fish dishes, and cooking it at home has the added benefit of not having to deal with parking, stressed out waiters, and a headache from a loud party at a nearby table.
Fish substitutions: Red Snapper, Salmon, Halibut, Sable, Black bass
Celery Root Purée
1 Lb asparagus
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice
2 Tbsp cream
4 striped bass fillets with skin, 6-8 oz each
1 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sliced almonds
Salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Prepare the celery root.
- Trim the tough ends of asparagus. Cut 2 inches off the tip ends, and reserve. Slice the leftover stems crosswise into 1/4 inch thick pieces. You should have about 1.5 cups.
- Bring 1.5 cups water (or the same amount as the volume of your sliced asparagus) to a boil in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt), or to taste. Add the sliced asparagus (but not the tips), cover, and cook until tender, 2-3 minutes. Add lemon juice and cool 5 minutes. Purée in a blender until smooth. Pour back into the saucepan. Stir in the cream, taste and correct seasoning.
- Dry fish fillets well with paper towels and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Set a large non-stick or well seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp butter. When foam subsides, add fish fillets skin side down and sear without disturbing until browned, 3-4 minutes.
- Cover celery root and place it in the oven to warm up. Flip the fish, and place the skillet in the oven. If your skillet is not oven safe, move the fish skin side up to a shallow baking dish before moving to the oven. The total cooking time (searing + baking) should equal 8 minutes per inch of thickness. To test for doneness, bend the fillet with a fork as if to fold it in half. If the fillet breaks, it's done (don't worry -- the skin will keep it together so it will still look good). Since the fish will continue to cook once it's off the heat, it should be almost opaque in the center, but not quite.
- Turn off the oven, but don't remove the celery root so that it stays warm. Remove the fish to a plate skin side up and let it rest while finishing side dishes.
- Set the skillet where you cooked the fish over high heat. Add asparagus tips and cook stirring occasionally until browned, 3-5 minutes. Take off heat and stir in the almonds.
- While asparagus tips are cooking, bring asparagus sauce to a simmer while stirring over medium heat. As soon as the sauce is hot, take if off the heat.
- Divide celery root among 4 plates. Spoon asparagus sauce around it. Top with fish, keeping it skin side up, then with asparagus tips and almonds.
Note: Celery root and asparagus sauce can be prepared up to a day in advanced and stored covered in the fridge. Warm up celery root in the oven and asparagus sauce on the stove top.