Friday, March 16, 2007

Swordfish for 40

Catering is not something I enjoy doing for strangers, but when it comes to family and friends, I simply love it. The event I am currently developing the menu for is particularly special -- it's the rehearsal dinner for my brother's wedding in the end of May. As it turns out, there'll be 35-40 people at this dinner, which is bigger than any event I've ever done in the past. The wedding is in Baltimore, so I won't have the luxury of my own kitchen or all my favorite stores. I am also part of the wedding party, so everything has to be prepared way in advance. And did I mention that I'll be 8 months pregnant? Ok, so maybe there are a few challenges here, but it wouldn't be fun otherwise, would it?

A braise is my usual fall back for large parties. Braised meat can sit in the oven for hours waiting for guests to arrive. It stays warm nicely once on serving platters and tends to be a huge crowd pleaser. The trouble is that a braise is not very spring like, which put me back to the drawing board. A roast? Maybe a leg of lamb? That sounded tempting, but I ruled that one out pretty quickly. Roasts are too time sensitive. I have a hard time producing a perfect roast for 10, let alone 40. I think caterers do them so often because big hunks of meat look very impressive. But since my goal is to make it actually taste good, I ended up getting back to what I do best -- fish. But for 40 people? All my favorite high heat cooking methods (grilling, searing, broiling) won't scale. And baked fish is just not that exciting.

That's when I remembered a trick I learned in Casablanca, the restaurant where I interned. We were catering an 80 people event and one of the courses was grilled halibut with oregano vinaigrette. I was curious how the chef will grill 80 portions of fish all at once. Of course, she was much more clever than to attempt something like that. We marked the fish on the grill in advance leaving it still raw inside. Then put all the fillets on baking sheets and popped them back in the fridge. At the time of service, the baking sheets went in the oven for about 8 minutes and we were done.

I did a dry run of this method the other day and it worked like a charm. I marinated swordfish in the morning for about an hour. Then marked it on the grill (about 2 minutes). You have to make sure the grill is extremely hot as you need the fish to brown fast. Since the swordfish I got that day was cut a little thin, I only grilled the presentation side worrying that I'd overcook it. If yours is cut at least 1 inch think, you can mark both sides on the grill. I let it cool, then covered and put in the fridge until dinner time. I removed the baking dish from the fridge for 30 minutes to let it come to room temperature. Then topped it with Bagna Caoda (Anchovy Garlic Butter Sauce) and baked at 450F for 9 minutes (that's about 10-12 minutes per inch of thickness as my piece was 3/4 inch thick). It turned out to cook longer than I expected (my usual estimate is 8 minutes per inch). I guess I rarely bake fish. Even when I finish in the oven, it's because I am pan searing or broiling and the fish is already in a hot pan. I topped the sword with gremolata (mix of chopped parsley, lemon zest, mashed garlic and salt) and served it to my quality assurance department -- Jason.

The sword was as juicy and flavorful as always and Jason heartily approved.

Now the question is where do I get 20 Lb of high quality sword in the Baltimore area?

p.s. no recipe today because all the components of this dish have already been posted on Beyond Salmon earlier. The recipe for Bagna Caoda sauce is part of the Halibut Basted with Bagna Caoda recipe. And here is a basic recipe for grilled swordfish. You can vary the flavoring in the marinade to suit your taste. Just make sure the marinade has plenty of oil to keep swordfish moist.

10 comments:

Monika Korngut said...

What a brilliant idea with broiling the fish first. Very clever. Good luck to you throwing the party.

Terry B said...

I can't decide if you're a rock star or insane, Helen. But my porkpie hat is totally off to you. The only tip I would offer is don't let the fish cool before refrigerating it. Current wisdom is straight from the stove to the fridge. You want to be remembered as the amazing woman who pulled off this incredible meal while eight months pregnant, not the person who sent several wedding party guests to the emergency room.

Helen said...

Hi Terry,

Thanks for the tip on refrigerating the fish right away. That's essentially what happens as it cools in about 5 minutes. When grilling for only 2 minutes, it retains very little heat. But I don't believe even 5 minutes are necessary. It's fine to put it straight into the fridge as long as you don't cover it until it's cool.

Cheers,
-Helen

Toni said...

You are one brave woman to take so much on in your 8th month of pregnancy. Do have a back-up plan, just in case your doc. says "bed-rest" sometime between now and then. Also, while pondering your problem of making fish for 40, I thought that fish en papillote might be a good way to prep fish for a big group. But your idea sounds delish.

Helen said...

Hi Toni,

It's so sweet that you guys are concerned about me :) This whole thing sounds way more dramatic than it actually is. I'll have plenty of helpers to assist me with shopping, carrying bags, prep work, plating, etc. So I am definitely not singlehandedly cooking for 40. I'll give your idea of fish en papillote some thought. It's always good to start with more ideas than with less.

Cheers,
-Helen

joey said...

Could have spent the entire evening eating your yummy blog, Helen ~

Just wanted to let you know how talented you are. As a 'novice' blogger, I realize how much I have to learn.

Good luck with the wedding (and the baby). Some how, I know you'll pull it off!

Dianka said...

I'm sure you'll do great, your brother is very lucky to have you!

Dianka said...

I'm sure you'll do great, your brother is very lucky to have you!

Anonymous said...

Was not sure how to reach you Helen, to let you know I cannot manage to open your archived recipes from 2006 or 2005. Nothing happens and since this seems like a wonderful collection of recipes I would very much like to finish going through them.

Helen said...

Hi Anonymous,

Try clicking on the arrows next to 2005, 2006 in the blog archives section on the left hand side. It seems to have worked for me.

Cheers,
-Helen