Poaching fish in olive oil is a genius technique. It’s something Paolo Begnini did all the time. The oil keeps the fish moist but doesn’t make it taste watery, as poaching in water sometimes does. When I got back to the States and started cooking at Osteria, we were getting in these big, beautiful black bass in the spring. They had gorgeous, clear flesh and a clean briny aroma. I knew exactly what to do with them. With spring onions, peas, and first-of-the-season tomatoes, this is very much a springtime dish. But if you can’t find black bass, you could also make it with branzino, wild striped bass, or even snapper. It helps to start heating both the oil and the blanching water at the same time, so the overall timing of the dish works out.
|4 black bass fillets, skin on, about 6 ounces (170 g) each||1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided|
|3 cups grapeseed oil||4-6 spring onions, trimmed and julienned|
|1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil||Salt and freshly ground black pepper|
|10-15 sprigs fresh thyme||1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice|
|3 bay leaves||2 teaspoons torn fresh tarragon|
|1 1/2 pounds English peas, shelled||2 teaspoons torn fresh chervil|
|2 cups baby grape or pear tomatoes||Maldon sea salt for garnish|
Rinse the bass, and pour the oils into a deep sauté pan big enough to hold all of the fish. Roll the thyme and bay in cheesecloth and wrap and tie with kitchen string. Add the sachet to the poaching oil and bring the mixture to 220°F (105°C) over medium heat.
Add the bass; the oil temperature will drop. Adjust the heat so that the oil temperature stays at 190°F (88°C). Poach the bass at 190°F until just a little moist and translucent in the center, about 130°F (54°C) internal temperature, 7 minutes or so.
Carefully transfer the fish to paper towels to drain.
Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the peas and blanch for 11⁄2 minutes. Transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, use your fingers to slip the peas from their skins. You should have about 11⁄2 cups (218 g) shelled peas.
Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water and blanch for 10 seconds. Transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, slip the tomatoes from their skins. Set aside.
Heat 1⁄4 cup (60 ml) of the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and cook until soft but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the skinned tomatoes and warm through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
In another pan, heat the remaining 3⁄4 cup (175 ml) of oil and the lemon juice over medium heat. Add the peas and herbs and warm through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the onions in the center of each plate. Place the fish on top and the tomatoes around the fish. Spoon the peas over the top and garnish with sea salt and black pepper.
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