Turbot for Beginners

So there was some nice looking wild turbot on sale at Whole Foods Market. It was a fish that I didn’t know anything about, but I was game.
Research for turbot lead to a highly complementary article in LaRousse Gastronomique
from which I discovered the highly prized turbot is “a flatfish living on the sandy pebbly beds of the Atlantic” with a long culinary history. It’s been nicknamed roi du carême, king of Lent. Turbot à l’impériale, cut into slices, poached in milk, arranged with crayfish tails and coated with a truffle sauce, was prepared for Napoleon. Although it has many famous recipes, many considered it best cooked simply grilled or poached. The caution is to make sure it is not overcooked or it will lose its flavor and texture.
For fish Rick Stein is always the guy to look to. In Rick Stein’s Complete Seafood he gives three turbot recipes, all of which sound amazing, but for this first time going with the simplest one, Myrtle’s turbot, seemed best to really taste the turbot itself. The recipe originally calls for a whole turbot with the skin on both sides. I had a half pound fillet with the skin on one side so I had to modify the cooking times, and unfortunately I didn’t have the chives he called for in the original recipe.
Not to worry. The turbot was delicate and rich at the same time with a firm flaky texture that dissolved like buttered mousse in the mouth. The butter, herbs, and cooking juices add a touch of flavor without overwhelming the dish and would compliment boiled potatoes on the side. Delicious.

Myrtle’s Turbot
serves 2

8 oz turbot fillet
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
A few sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Season fish with salt and pepper. Place fish in roasting pan and pour in enough water so that it comes halfway up the sides of the fish. Bake for 12 minutes until the internal temperature is 145F.
In the meantime mince the herbs. Gently melt butter in a small pan, stir in the herbs, and set aside.
When fish is cooked remove it from the pan and transfer to a warmed serving dish. Reduce the remaining cooking juices to a few tablespoons and add to the herb butter.
Pour the sauce over the fish and serve.

Adapted from Rick Stein.

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

This dish is a classic that contains all the contrasting flavors that make Thai food so great: spicy, sweet, salty and sour all in the same bite. I’ve had it so hot I had to drink a glass of milk (or go into some sort of chili shock) and I’ve had it as a refreshing side dish to cut the heat of a jungle curry.
Peanuts work great for cutting the heat. Thais serve pulverized roasted peanuts to sprinkle over dishes that are otherwise too hot to eat.
Green papaya can be found at Asian markets (along with fish sauce, palm sugar, and tamarind).
This version is from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey.

Serves 1
1 small green papaya
1 teaspoon palm sugar
Pinch of chopped garlic
Pinch of finely chopped red bird’s eye chili
5 x 10 cm pieces of snake bean or 5 French beans, halved lengthways
A few roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Pinch of chopped dried shrimp
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind water
4 cherry plum tomatoes, halved
Juice of 1 lime

Peel the papaya and shred it using a mandoline, shredder or a large, sharp knife. Work your way round the fruit until you get to the core and seeds, which you discard. Moisten the palm sugar with a little cold water.
Put the garlic, red chili and green beans into a mortar or mixing bowl and lightly bruise with the pestle or the end of a rolling pin. Add the sugar, peanuts, shrimp, fish sauce, tamarind water, tomatoes and lime juice and bruise everything once more, turning the mixture over with a fork as you do so.
Add a good handful of the shredded papaya, about 50g, turn everything over and bruise one last time. Serve straight away.

Combine fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar in a bowl. Add chilies and use a pestle to pound chilies. shred green papaya. Mix with sauce.

Tamarind Water

This recipe from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey is useful instruction if you’ve never made tamarind water before. After you learn the technique it’s easy to make a small quantity as needed for recipes unless you find yourself going through lots of it.

Take 60 g tamarind pulp (about the size of a tangerine) and put it in a bowl with 150ml hand-hot water. Work the paste with your fingers until it has broken down and the seeds have been released. Strain the slightly syrupy mixture through a fine sieve into another bowl and discard the fibrous material left behind. The water is ready to use and will keep in the fridge for 24 hours.