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THE CALIFORNIA COOK

It's white magic

A life-changing technique? Salt-roasting reveals profound, pure flavor.

October 31, 2007|Russ Parsons | Times Staff Writer

3. While the fish is cooking, put the parsley leaves on a cutting board with the half garlic clove and chop them together fairly fine. Place this in a bowl and add the olive oil. Whisk in 2 tablespoons lemon juice from the lemon and adjust seasoning for salt and lemon. The mixture should be savory and slightly tart.

4. After 20 minutes, remove the fish from the oven and let stand 5 more minutes to finish cooking. With a sturdy metal spoon or chef's knife, chip a crack around the base of the salt crust and carefully lift off the top. Use a dry pastry brush to brush away any salt on the surface of the fish.

5. Using a long spatula, carefully lift the fish onto the serving platter, turning it over in the process so you can brush away the salt on the underside. If you prefer, you can skin the fish -- the skin will be quite loose and come up easily.

6. Using a sharp knife, make a cut the length of the fish along the backbone. Carefully work the knife down the backbone until the fillet is freed. Make another cut right behind the head to free the fillet. Carefully lift the fillet to a warm serving platter, skin-side down, and remove any loose bones that are still attached.

7. Lift the tail of the fish, and the spine and ribs will come free. Cut behind the head again to free the second fillet. Transfer this fillet to the platter, skin-side down, and remove any loose bones. Spoon some of the sauce over the fillets and pass the rest at the table.

Each of 6 servings: 331 calories; 35 grams protein; 1 gram carbohydrate; 0 fiber; 20 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 62 mg. cholesterol; 638 mg. sodium.

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Salt-roasted spiny lobster with saffron aioli

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Servings: 4

2 (1 1/4 -pound) spiny lobsters

3 teaspoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 egg yolks, at room temperature (if necessary, warm the whole eggs briefly in a cup of hot tap water before cracking)

1/2 cup olive oil

Pinch of saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water

1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

12 cups coarse salt

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Hold a lobster securely against the cutting board, wrapping your hand in a kitchen towel to protect you from the spines. Kill the lobster by piercing the head well behind the eyes with a heavy chef's knife and then slicing down, essentially cutting the head in half lengthwise. Set the lobster aside for a minute until it is still. Repeat with the other lobster.

2. Meanwhile, make the aioli: Place the garlic in a large, heavy mortar along with the salt and pound with a pestle into a smooth, sticky paste. Using the pestle to stir, beat in the egg yolks and stir until the mixture is smooth and lemon-colored, about 30 seconds. (Alternatively, the mayonnaise can be made with a whisk. In a medium bowl, mash the garlic using the back of a large spoon. Whisk in the egg yolks, stirring until the mixture is smooth and lemon-colored, about 30 seconds.)

3. Switch to a whisk and stirring constantly, begin to beat in the olive oil, adding just a drop at a time, until the oil begins to emulsify with the egg yolks. Do not attempt to rush the process by adding the oil too fast. After you've added about one-fourth cup this way, you can increase the flow to a thin stream. If at any time you see oil beginning to gather separately from the yolks, immediately stop adding oil while continuing to stir vigorously. Very shortly the mixture should come back together.

4. When you have added about one-half cup of olive oil, and the aioli is quite thick, stir in the saffron threads and the hot water, which will loosen it considerably. Then begin whisking in the vegetable oil, starting again with a drop at a time.

5. When you've worked in about one-fourth cup of vegetable oil, whisk in the lemon juice and taste the sauce. The texture should be creamy, not stiff and sticky. The flavor should be very garlicky but sweet, with a balance of garlic, olive oil, lemon and saffron flavors. If it's still too garlicky, stir in a little more oil. Add more salt and lemon juice if necessary. (If the sauce breaks -- the oil and yolks separate and won't come back together -- it can be easily fixed. Add a whole egg to a blender and puree it until smooth. Pour the broken aioli mixture into a measuring cup and, with the blender running, slowly add it to the blender. When it is completely incorporated, slowly add more oil with the blender running until you have the texture and flavor you prefer.)

6. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use, but allow it to return to room temperature before serving. Aioli should be made no more than a couple of hours in advance.

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