Thursday 27 February 2014

Pan Roasted Monkfish (Plating Practice)

Hello again everybody. None of us are perfect, especially those of us who are more or less amateur in our endeavours. I admit that my plating is not what I'm best known for. For over five years I have been aiming to inspire regular people with regular incomes to cook at home. It has led me on a rewarding personal journey (albeit with no professional tutelage or experience) in becoming the cook I am today. Most of my dishes up until now have been dishes you would make at home or for a group of friends or family. Being that my style of cooking is more along the lines of ethnic and/or homey, I don't delve much into the elegant or refined. One of the results of this fact is that my plating needs improvement. I admit it! It is a serious dream of mine to be a respected chef someday and in order to get there I need to spread my wings more. I wanted to challenge myself in constructing an elegant dish that might resemble a dish you would expect at a five-star restaurant. This is what I came up with. Personally, I think it's one of the nicest looking plates so far in the entire blog. Did I hit the mark on making it 5-star worthy? Well, no. That's fine though. I am taking steps in the right direction. 

For those who may not be familiar, "plating" simply refers to how beautiful or visually appealing a dish is presented. It is the skill of not only making a delicious tasting dish with contrasting colours and textures, but assembling it in a way that takes your breath away. It's art on a plate. It's not as easy as it may sound. I have been an artistic and creative person all my life. I have always been good at drawing and painting. Being someone who loves to cook, you'd think a skill like this would come naturally to me. All too often do I come up with a vision of how a dish will look and it doesn't seem to translate onto the plate. One of my downfalls at my MasterChef Canada audition was my poor plating. I ask that you be patient and forgiving as this is not something I will be able to develop overnight. It will take a lot of practice and failures (otherwise known as lessons learned). Wish me luck!

Of course I was going to put this on my blog. So why not throw a couple of cooking techniques into it? I'll go over how to pan roast a fillet of monkfish and touch on basic vegetable blanching. Strangely enough, in a post devoted to esthetics, I've used one of the ugliest creatures in the world! Take note, although monkfish are not the best looking of fish, they are delicious! Monkfish meat is white, flaky, juicy and firm. Its flavour is mild and has a subtle sweetness to it (earning it the title of "poor man's lobster"). 

So here's what I did...

I got my hands on a fresh fillet of monkfish. I cut it into two equal sized pieces to make searing and roasting easier. We are going to season and spice the fillet, sear it in a hot pan then roast it in the oven. Not before one important step... Monkfish meat has a lot of juices in it. Juices that tend to come out while cooking (which prevents a nice sear on the outside). To take care of that, season the fillet all over with salt. Then leave it in the fridge for about an hour before cooking.

The salt will draw out some of the liquid from the fish and allow it to cook much nicer. After its hour or so in the fridge, pat the fish dry with some paper towel. This will remove the juices that have collected on the surface of the fish and some excess salt. Then season however you like. For my taste, I didn't need to add any more salt, but you may choose to. I did add, however, some freshly ground pepper, Spanish paprika and sumach (which is a ground North African spice that is mild, earthy and slightly sour which works brilliantly with fish). 


In a very hot pan, I added a couple tbsps of oil and seared the monkfish fillets on all sides. It took about four or five minutes total. This will not only sear the fish but will turn the spices into a slightly crispy coating without burning them. 


Then I placed the pan in the middle of a preheated 425F/218C oven to finish cooking the fish through (8-10 minutes). Then I removed the pan from the oven and set the cooked fillets aside to rest for a few minutes. Like steak, the fish needs to rest before you slice into it or else all the flavour and juices will run out. 

That was pretty easy, right? The only other element of the dish that needed cooking was the asparagus and all I had to do was blanch them. Blanching simply means dropping them in salted boiling water just long enough to brighten in colour and soften just a little. Because the asparagus I used were quite thin I only blanched them for about 30 seconds. Thicker asparagus can cook for up to 90 seconds. For best results, drain the asparagus and then plunge them into ice water. This will shock them and stop the cooking process. Otherwise residual heat and steam could overcook the asparagus even after you've drained them. 

When my monkfish had rested and my asparagus was blanched it was all a matter of arranging them on a plate with some halved heirloom cherry tomatoes, broccoli microgreens and some lemony basil pesto I made. For the pesto I toasted some green squash seeds. Usually pesto uses pine nuts, walnuts or almonds. Just trying something new here. Not bad. This version is a little more lemony than you might expect pesto to be and I didn't add any Parmigiano Reggiano. (I'm kind of a snob when it comes to cheese and fish together). That's literally it. This dish was very simple and quick to put together.

So that, in essence, is how you pan roast monkfish, blanch asparagus and assemble a beautiful plate depending on your standards of plating esthetics. I hope this post has inspired you to try the technique, get creative with your own plating or maybe both!

I think this is going to be it for February but stay tuned because some amazingly blog-worthy treats are in store for the month of March. You will not want to miss it!

Until next time,


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