Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Julia Child Moment with Whole Grilled Bass


When I first started this blog, I naively thought that I would post both my successes and failures…it is real life, after all, and there are bound to be plenty of experiments gone awry. What I quickly realized though is that it is WAY too much work to take and edit photos, write up a recipe and think of something (hopefully) entertaining to say about a dish when I’m not even happy with the end result.

Trust me when I say there have been plenty of dishes gone wrong. Most recently it was a bland turnip soup with weird unidentified woody pieces that didn’t puree and had to be fished out of our mouths. There was a fava bean puree that tasted like it looked (which was not good) and oddly chewy shrimp puffs that either needed more egg or less egg. Baking disasters are even more common; the worst being a miserable version of an upside-down apple dessert labeled in my notebook as “Awful Cake.” That one went directly into the garbage. I could go on. But I don’t want daily reminders of these things and I certainly don’t need them enshrined on my blog.

That brings me to this dish: a whole striped bass, stuffed with aromatics, bursting with flavor, grilled and ensconced in its crispy skin. Well, that’s what was supposed to happen. I’ve made this dish several times before and it worked perfectly each time. But this time I wanted to take photos and you know the saying about the best-laid plans…


Normally I wouldn’t post something that I don't deem cosmetically perfect. However, I’m making an exception because this fish was so tender, so juicy and so flavorful. The problem, as you can see, is that when I flipped it over on the grill, all the skin pulled off. The grill was oiled, the fish was oiled…it’s the same technique I’ve always used. Sigh. As I started to throw my temper tantrum on the patio for all the neighbors to hear, I thought about one of my favorite episodes of The French Chef.

Julia Child was making apple tarte tatin in this particular episode, but the apples didn’t caramelize the way they were supposed to and the whole thing was way too loose. She knew it wasn’t going to work, but carried on anyway saying, “If everything doesn’t happen quite the way you like, it doesn’t make too much difference because you can fix it” with emphasis on the YOU CAN. She was chuckling to herself as she moved forward, and as she turned the tarte tatin onto a plate in a messy heap proclaimed, “That unmolded VERY badly, but…it’s not going to make too much difference because it’s all going to fix up…” She was absolutely unperturbed by it all and it made me love her even more.

Somehow I channeled a little bit of that energy when all the skin disappeared between the grates of the barbecue, much to Andy’s surprise. He was preparing for an all-out fit. Truthfully, I surprised myself a bit too, but I picked a little piece of fish off the barbecue and knew that it was still going to be perfect. So what if it didn’t look just right. Julia Child flubbed a dish on TELEVISION, for goodness sake, and she didn’t seem to care one bit! In fact, she was laughing. What did it matter that I had skinless fish?


Whole Grilled Striped Bass with Lemon, Garlic and Thai Chili Peppers

Serves 2

1 whole striped bass, cleaned and dressed, about 1 pound 
3-4 slices lemon
4 cloves garlic, crushed
6 Thai chili peppers, crushed
6-8 sprigs of thyme
salt
pepper
olive oil

Remove fins from fish. Liberally oil, salt and pepper the entire fish, including inside the cavity. Stuff the cavity with lemon slices, garlic cloves, chili peppers and thyme sprigs. Close the cavity by threading a skewer (or toothpicks) though the skin.

Prepare a grill to medium heat (about 375 degrees). Grill fish over indirect heat for 10-11 minutes per side, flipping once very carefully.

(Alternatively, I’m sure you could roast this in the oven and probably have a better chance of not losing all the skin.)


So there it is, in all its glory. I know it’s not the most beautiful dish I’ve ever made, but I will stand by its greatness. The fish is so tender it’s almost buttery, with hints of lemon, garlic, thyme and the slightest pinch of spice that lingers on your tongue. We devoured it, pretty or not.


At the end of the day, Julia Child said it best: “This looks perfectly alright.”

(Watch the apple tarte tatin mishap here at about 17:30.)

27 comments:

  1. Mmmm, I love that you stuffed it with lemon, too! The thai peppers must add such a vibrant flavor accent. Looks to die for!

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  2. I absolutely love this story! And skin or no skin, this fish looks GORGEOUS!

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  3. Oh I just loved this post...so many times I feel the same way! I do like to see failures, but I think mostly the ones when you can "fix it up" or when it might look bad, but tastes great! At least you took that gorgeous before picture of the fish. I made a cedar plank baked whole fish the first time a few weeks ago. Funny what we'll do... :)

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  4. I watched the julia Child video and that part made me laugh so hard! Such a cute lady! Julia Child moments are what makes life fun, and cooking an adventure! Way to go for tackling such an intimidating dish!

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  5. Perfect fix up job, I still think it looks good. I need to make fish this week, might tackle this one. Karen I didn't know you were in the Bay Area, me too. Small blog-o-sphere huh. Hope the rest of the week goes better.
    -Gina-

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  6. This was a great post. Its nice to know that other people don't always have picture-perfect results, either! This is very timely for me: yesterday I made a cabbage soup for dinner, but I used red cabbage because that's what I had and it needed to get used. Unsurprisingly, the finished soup was purple and slightly unappetising-looking! It tasted good though!

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  7. Oh, I had my misfortunes in cooking more times than I care to count but I guess this comes with the territory. And I totally agree regarding the photos and editing and posting about a recipe, a lot of work indeed. But I think that this fish definitely was worth every minute you spent making it and posting about it! Looks delicious!

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  8. Wow! This post made me so hungry. Delish fish is always a welcome treat for us!

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  9. My mom always says your stomach doesn't know what it looks like! As long as it's yummy, it doesn't have to be beautiful. I've had a few recipes like that on my blog...not supermodel pretty, but so yummy! I think we all can relate...like the time I baked something and ended up with batter in my hair and the kitchen :lol:!

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  10. I can't believe you don't think this is pretty-it is gorgeous!! This sounds wonderful, thank you for sharing!

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  11. This looks like an incredible fish dish..so fresh.

    As for making mistakes in the kitchen, it happens to it all. It can be so annoying though!!

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  12. yum! A light variation without the lemon, i add shredded ginger and soya sauce, dash of shaoxing rice wine and spring onions to the mix and steam it for 8-12 minutes (depending on fish size). one tip my mother gave me is that seafood always continue to cook after you've taken it out of the oven/pan/steamer, so always take note not to overcook it!

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  13. Hey, I always tell my kids that it doesn't matter what it LOOKS like as long as it tastes good! Same goes for your fish! Try putting aluminum foil down on the grill that you rub with olive oil. Poke holes in it with a fork to let the smokey flavor come up!

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  14. Wow this looks so delicious and such a gorgeous presentation! I can't eat fish without lemon so this is perfect! If you haven't already, feel free to check out the $50 Williams-Sonoma gift card giveaway going on right on my blog! xoxo

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  15. Although you may not think so, I think this looks gorgeous!

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  16. I dunno what you're thinking about but I think that fish looks fabulous! So yummy, I can just picture it! Buzzed!

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  17. Yeah, Julia Child is my hero. The fish looks beautiful. We are always are own worst critics.

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  18. I don't know...it looks great to me. I know what you mean, though. I've experienced making something and it coming out blog worthy but when I actually intend to share it, something goes wrong. Oh, well. Glad you shared this one.

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  19. Sometimes we just have to roll with the punches. And it ended up tasting great, so all is well in my book =) Looks great Karen!

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  20. Sorry it didn't come out the way you wanted, but it still looks tasty. Fish can be tricky on the grill. Have you tried to make a "bed" of lemon slices on the grill to lay the fish on? That way its not in direct contact with the grates and you won't lose the skin.

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  21. I think it look amazing, many of my post never happen but only becasue we eat it all before I can even think about taking pics, lol.. thanks for pushing ahead to share this great recipe with us!!

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  22. You made a good work making that fish look pretty!

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  23. Yum, this looks so delicious! I love all the lemon you used, to me it's the best ingredient for seafood!

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