A discovery of any nature is a thrill. For food lovers, a restaurant discovery brings total pleasure.
That's how I felt when I happened into Oceanique, a simple seafood restaurant in Evanston, a suburb north of Chicago. Owned by chef Mark Grosz and maitre d' Ray Thomas, it is a pleasant and satisfying restaurant. (The dinner tab is slightly higher than moderate, to add a practical note.)
I liked the restaurant so well that I asked Grosz to put together a summer fish menu. His room-temperature poached Spanish Mackerel with herbs and colorful vegetables is accompanied by warm parsley-chive potatoes. Any green vegetable--steamed asparagus, tender, slim green beans or young spinach, lightly tossed with oil, herbs, salt and pepper, served hot or at room temperature--makes an appealing, complete meal. The lemon tart with raspberries is the perfect conclusion.
Thomas recommends serving a well-chilled Gewurztraminer with the meal; its light, crisp, spicey taste works well with the menu.
\o7 Here, fish fillets are cooked in a vegetable-and-herb-laden stock, which lends great flavor to a low-calorie dish and creates a vibrant, fresh presentation. Ono or Kingfish can be substituted for the Spanish Mackerel, which is somewhat lighter and sweeter than American Mackerel. The white pearl onions are labor-intensive but they make the presentation perfect.
\f7 OCEANIQUE'S SPANISH MACKEREL WITH SUMMER VEGETABLES
2 large tomatoes, skinned, shells only cut into 1/3 inch dice
1/2 cup thinly sliced white pearl onions
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup thinly sliced, slender carrots
5 cups well-seasoned Quick Fish Stock
6 (5 1/2-ounce) Spanish Mackerel fillets, skin intact
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
Warm Parsley-Chive Potatoes
Place tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots and fish stock in non-aluminum pan. Simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Cool over ice or pour into shallow stainless-steel pan and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. (May be prepared day ahead and refrigerated.)
Rub filleted surface of fish with salt and pepper to taste. Rub oil onto surface of fish and over bottom of shallow non-aluminum oven-proof pan just large enough to hold fish in single layer.
Place fish skin-side-up in pan. Pour chilled vegetable stock over fish. Mix in vinegar, parsley and tarragon. Place sheet of parchment paper over fish.
Bake at 400 degrees until fish is barely cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on thickness of fish. Remove from oven. Fish will continue to cook.
Strain vegetables from stock. Serve fish at room temperature with vegetables attractively arranged over fillets accompanied with lemon wedges and Warm Parsley-Chive Potatoes. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Thin slicing disc of food processor may be used to slice onions, celery and carrots. Vegetable stock may be reserved or frozen for other fish cooking.
Grosz makes fish stock from scratch with fish frames and heads. Here's my quick version, which is a time-saver but has good flavor. Wait until after the stock has cooked to add salt to taste; clam juice is usually salted. For this mackerel recipe, the stock should be well seasoned. Make a double quantity while you're at it and freeze excess in plastic ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop the stock cubes out of the tray and freeze, wrapped airtight. This a great convenience for low-fat fish cooking.
Quick Fish Stock
1 large leek, thinly sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
3 cups bottled clam juice
2 cups water
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry Vermouth
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Place leek, onions, clam juice, water, wine, bay leaf and thyme in 3-quart non-aluminum pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.
Pour through strainer lined with double thickness of cheesecloth. May be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 4 months. Makes about 5 cups.
This tart, tangy potato dish is a great complement to the fish.
WARM PARSLEY-CHIVE POTATOES
12 to 15 small or 4 large red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper
Add potatoes to boiling salted water. Cook until just tender, about 8 minutes. Drain immediately. (Can be cooked day ahead, refrigerated and gently reheated in microwave before combining with remaining ingredients.)
Meanwhile, heat oil in small skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add onion. Cook until tender but not brown, about 4 minutes, stirring often. Transfer to 2-quart mixing bowl.
Add vinegar, parsley, chives, mustard and pepper to taste. Combine well. Gently toss in warm potatoes just before serving. Do not mash potatoes. Adjust seasonings and serve warm. Makes 6 servings.