Fish, Italian, Quick Meals, Salad, Vegetables

A crude effort.

After the holidays, most people seem to think about eating less, to make up for the feasting season between Thanksgiving and New Year. Resolving to eat less and exercise more, they dust off the gym membership, re-join Weight Watchers, place a call to Jenny Craig. But consider this: when you cook at home, you control what goes into your food. You can adjust the amount of fat (within reason); you can eliminate unnecessary sugar. Cooking at home is a great way to eat well in the New Year while keeping a lid on the calories. Additional bonuses: you’ll save money, and you won’t be the killjoy who orders a salad at the restaurant, dressing on the side.

We had a fun holiday season, and now it’s back to some more sound eating habits. Yesterday, while picking up some duck at the H Mart (more on that later this week), I decided to stop by the sushi station, where a couple of guys will sell a block of sashimi-grade fish if that’s what you want to take home. I asked for hamachi, and was handed a block of US-farmed yellowtail. This is a delicious fish – it’s rich and buttery, and has a faintly smoky taste. US-farmed yellowtail also is a “good alternative” according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which provides buy/avoid recommendations on seafood based on sustainability and other environmental issues. You can download a mobile guide for your iPhone here, which is handy when you’re shopping for fish or eating out.

When I got home with the hamachi, I realized I didn’t want to do something Japanese – right now, the refrigerator is packed with arugula and fennel, and tons of citrus. This crudo is the result: a nearly-raw meal, with smoky grilled lemon to complement the smoky taste of the fish but cut through its richness, and a peppery olive oil to finish. The fennel salad is light and crisp, and comes together in minutes with the help of a Japanese ceramic slicer.

We finished off the meal with a simple salad of arugula, shaved
Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a few drops of balsamico tradizionale.

Hamachi crudo with grilled lemon and fennel salad

If you do use mushrooms in the fennel salad, do not substitute mushrooms ad hoc for the white button mushrooms specified. Cremini are fine, but many mushrooms are mildly toxic if eaten raw and most of the cultivated speciality mushrooms (often erroneously termed “wild” mushrooms) should not be eaten raw. Others simply do not taste good unless cooked to emphasize their savory, umami quality. I didn’t have any button mushrooms last night so I opted out.

1 lb hamachi filet, sashimi grade – most likely you will receive the dorsal filet as the belly is quite expensive
2 lemons, sliced about 1/3″ and seeds removed
olive oil, preferably a peppery, slightly bitter oil from Umbria or
southern Italy
bitter greens, such as radish sprouts or watercress, optional
sea salt and pepper (I use a Pondicherry true red peppercorn because I like its fruity and warm spice quality; Pondicherry is almost impossible to find and black peppercorn is fine)

Remove the skin from the hamachi if the fish purveyor has not already done so; remove the bloodline by slicing through the hamachi along the margin where the dark flesh (the bloodline) meets the rest of the fish. Discard the bloodline, unless you have a peculiar taste for it.

Slice the hamachi at a 30 degree angle. Slices should be less than 1/4″
thick. The more connective tissue is evident in your filet, the thinner
you should slice. Arrange on a plate.

Drizzle olive oil on both sides of the lemon slices. Place a grill pan
over high heat. When searingly hot, grill the lemon slices, a minute or so on each side, until well marked but not burned. Transfer to the plate with the hamachi.

Drizzle olive oil lightly over the hamachi, finish with sea salt and pepper, and serve with the fennel salad and bitter greens, if you like. Squeeze the juice from the grilled lemon over the hamachi as you eat it, not before (to avoid cooking the fish ceviche-style).

Fennel salad

2 fennel bulbs, washed well
1/4 lb white button mushrooms, washed well [optional]
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

Shave the fennel bulbs as thinly as possible using a mandoline or a Japanese ceramic slicer. If using white mushrooms, do the same. Toss with lemon juice in a small serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and finish with salt and pepper.