Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snapper with orange-fennel salsa, lemony quinoa and salad

On my usual Saturday morning grocery excursion I noticed them back in season: blood oranges. Ooo!! Then I remembered I had half a fennel bulb in the fridge leftover from a Mario Batali recipe last week and instantly put this on the menu.

Suffice to say I made mimosas out of most of the blood oranges, but you only need a couple for this recipe. And of course, you can use regular old oranges as I do most of the time. But aren't they cool?? I found this recipe on a few years ago after receiving a fennel bulb in my farm share one week and having absolutely no idea what to do with it. It's one of the only recipes I follow to the letter - I wouldn't even know where to begin on improving it, it's pretty much perfect. It's quite elegant too, making it great for company, especially since you can have your salsa and sides ready to go and all you have to do at the last minute is grill your pretty fish.

I've made this recipe with all kinds of fish - tilapia, sea bass, snapper, any nice white fish will do - the original recipe calls for rockfish. Usually I just peruse the fish counter for what looks great, is in season, and on sale (often these line up) and just go with it. If you're unsure, just ask the fish guys what's good today. They'll be nice. This time, I got a large snapper fillet and halved it for the mister and I.

This is raw quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah). Quinoa is ridiculously good for you - it's a complete protein. I've always found it in either the healthy section of the grocery store or with the bulk stuff. It comes in a couple of varieties, the most common being the plain natural colored ones above but I've seen red quinoa a few times too. It's gluten-free, making it a great alternative to couscous and you can use it in place of rice as well. It's also stupid easy to cook. Hail quinoa!

And a little salad to round it out. I like to keep a couple of cucumbers and avocados and a carton of cherry tomatoes in the fridge for whenever I can't figure out a veggie side. I dress mine with a simple French vinaigrette, Allan dresses his with Season-All. Vive la difference!

2 oranges, cut into supremes (here's a little video if you've never done this, it's quite simple)
1/2 a fennel bulb, cut into very thin matchsticks (save the tops, I have a great recipe for a Tunisian steamed couscous from Jeffrey's book that uses them. And dice the other half into your next batch of spaghetti sauce)
1/4 a red onion, sliced finely (I used a shallot because it was all I had)
1 heaping tbsp of chopped cilantro
1.5 tbsp white wine vinegar (I used champagne vinegar because I'm damn fancy)
1 tsp soy sauce (I use low sodium)
1 tsp ginger, minced or microplaned
1 tsp granulated sugar

~ 1lb snapper fillets (or whatever fish you like)
1 garlic clove, minced or microplaned
1 tbsp soy sauce

1/3 cup quinoa
2/3 cup chicken stock (or water)
juice of 1 lemon

1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

Marinate your fish while you get everything else together. Alternatively, you can get your fish marinating and make your salsa a few hours ahead of time, just bring the salsa to room temperature before serving. I wouldn't do it much earlier than that, you want the fennel to stay crisp. Anyway, combine the garlic and soy sauce with a splash of extra virgin olive oil in a shallow dish and coat your fish. Set aside. 

Combine the white wine vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, and sugar in a bowl with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and slowly whisk in a stream extra virgin olive oil until an emulsion is formed (it shouldn't take more than a tablespoon or two of oil). Add the orange supremes, fennel, red onion and cilantro and stir gently to combine. Don't break up the pretty supremes you made. Set aside. 
In a small pot with a lid, heat the chicken stock. Add the quinoa, lemon juice and a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook covered, stirring every few minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender but still has bite, around 15 minutes. If it soaks up all the stock but is still crunchy, add more a splash at a time and let it become absorbed. When it's done, simply leave it covered and turn off the heat until you're ready to serve.

Assemble your little salads and bring them to the table with your dressings of choice.

Now you are ready for fish. Season them with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper right before you cook them. In a hot large non-stick skillet with a drizzle of olive oil, cook your fish (skin-side down, if it has skin) for a few minutes, depending on the thickness - obviously thicker fillets will take longer to cook than thin ones. Basically you want the fish to be cooked, or opaque looking, three quarters of the way up the thickness of the fillet before you flip it. Once it looks like it's there, give it a flip and continue to cook another few moments until it is completely opaque and flakes easily. Don't cook the crap out of your fish, especially if it's a nice expensive species. I'm considerably less annoyed about overcooking my everyday Sam's Club tilapia than I am my occasional Whole Foods sea bass. Anyway, once the fish is cooked through, take it to join the quinoa and top with your gorgeous salsa. Plate up a pile of lemony quinoa next to it and enjoy.

Serves 2, takes about an hour.


  1. YUM! I need to try that fennel/organge salad. The other night I made a baked cod (usually a less favorable fish, but it was fresh and BEAUTIFUL)with creamy polenta, a bacon, corn and zucchini hash with fresh thyme and simple lemony arugula salad to top the fish. I was SO YUMMY and totally made me think of you! I should have taken a picture but it was devoured too quickly :)

  2. You know, I have never made polenta. Isn't that weird? I need to. It's on my list! The hash sounds delicious. I have to blog my pork schnitzel for you - at the end you saute a little shallot in the pan you fried the pork in, then add lemon juice and turn the heat off and toss arugula in so it coats and wilts just slightly and then you top the fried pork with it. Unbelievably good!