Fri Aug 29, 2008
I'm not sure if it's a mystery, but in case you don't know already, I do not like seafood. I'm on a quest to stomp out all of my annoying food aversions—making great strides in most—but seafood is a pesky one that doesn't seem to want to go away. I've come to tolerate some fried variations (calamari and fish and chips), but beyond that, my taste buds are not having any of it. Deep down I do want to be a seafood eater, so I thought the best way to get my feet wet was to take this dislike straight to the grill.
From the start, I wanted this foray into fish to be as successful as possible. I started by going to a reputable fish monger in the neighborhood and clearly stated my aversion to him. He recommended a striped bass as a good place to start. He said it had a mild taste, great on the grill, and sustainable (the last part I had to figure out myself based on research before heading to the market). With my "steak" in hand, I headed home feeling good.
The next ingredient in this recipe for success was a dry rub. I knew I didn't like the flavor or texture of fish, and a dry rub would remove one of those obstacles. Every piece of meat I've taken a barbecue rub to tastes...well...like barbecue. I didn't see why the same equation wouldn't apply to fish, so on went the rub and immediately it smelled and looked like something I couldn't wait to eat.
In case the rub was not enough, I added a little more insurance that I would like this fish. I made a roasted salsa as a topper. A bunch of roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cilantro, and garlic went into a foil packet, then grilled until tender. After a quick spin in a food processor, I had a nice salsa which would add another agreeable layer of flavor to the fish.
Not being a seafood eater also meant I didn't know my way around the grill with fish, requiring some additional homework. I don't know if all the reading paid off, or if grilling fish is just easier than people make it out to be, but it went off without a hitch. I let the fish sit over the hot fire for 5 minutes, after which it flipped with no resistance. Then I let it cook on the other side for another 3 minutes, until it was just flaky and not totally opaque inside. Coming off the grill, it looked so delicious I wanted to dive right in, but I let it rest for five minutes before topping it with the salsa and starting consumption.
The first bite left me exclaiming, "Why haven't I eaten this more often?!!?!?" I knew I'd made a mistake my whole life, this was good food. It was light and fresh, something I don't get much from my regular grilled and barbecued meat. I kept going with enthusiasm, until about 2/3 the way through that pesky aversion in my brain took hold and convinced me what I was eating was not right. I tried to battle it, but the aversion was stronger than my will and won, leaving me feeling gross in the end.
At least I know now that it's not really the taste or texture that keeps me from seafood, since I did think this dish was delicious. Instead, like almost all aversions, it's purely a mental block, which, unfortunately, being rooted in my system for almost 30 years now, will be a huge ocean to cross. Even so, I'm already plotting the next point on this voyage.
Striped Bass with Roasted Salsa
Adapted from Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The Art of Cooking With Live Fire by Jamie Purviance.
For the rub
2 teaspoons pure chile powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 striped bass steaks, cut 1 inch thick
Extra virgin olive oil
For the salsa
4 medium plum tomatoes, 3-4 ounces each, cored and quartered
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro
1-2 jalapeños, stemmed, quartered, and seeded
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon pure chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper
Mix the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Lightly coat the fish with the oil and season evenly with the rub. Refrigerate until ready to grill.
In a large bowl mix all of the salsa ingredients. Pile salsa ingredients in a large sheet of aluminum foil and then fold in the edges to make a sealed packet.
Light 1 chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread coals out evenly. Place the foil packet with the salsa ingredients directly over the coals and grill until the tomatoes are soft and the chiles are crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the packet from the grill, open the foil, and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Pour the contents of the packet into a food processor or blender and pulse just enough to make a chunky salsa. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Clean and oil the cooking grate of the grill. Place the steaks directly over the coals, cover and let cook for 5 minutes. Carefully flip the steaks and continue to cook until fish is just opaque in the center, another 2-3 minutes. Remove the fish from the grill and let sit for 5 minutes. Top steaks with the salsa and enjoy.