Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grilled Swordfish/Roasted Fennel/Orzo with Feta and Cherry Tomatoes

One of the unique characteristics of the Canteen is that it features an outdoor kitchen with a large gas grill, a significant step up from the portable tailgating model that I employed to minimal effect back North once or twice a summer. Among other things, I was really excited about being able to cook fresh fish - this being Florida, I had visions in my head of regularly buying some sort of sea bounty straight off the dock from a jolly, bearded fisherman and heading right home to slap that sucker (the bounty, not the fisherman) onto a hot grate and direct it into my belly a few moments later. Since I haven't yet identified my local fishmonger, however, the nearby Publix has to stand in for the Gorton's guy. Fortunately, this wasn't an issue as I ingredient shopped for my first grilled fish recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence, a grilled swordfish with lemon aioli and roasted fennel. What was a problem was the price of the swordfish, an astounding $32/pound, meaning that I would have been able to buy a pretty fair meal out (prepared by professionals, no less) for what I'd need to spend to get the 1.5 lb of fish that my recipe needed. Recognizing my dilemma, the nice man behind the seafood counter made an alternative recommendation; that is, use red grouper instead (a relative steal at $18/pound), which he assured me was a wonderful grilling fish.

Back home, I followed Chef Florence's instructions on how to oil up the hot grill grates (use a folded paper towel doused in extra-virgin olive oil) so as to minimize the amount of stickage that the delicate fish flesh experiences during cooking. The fish itself also needed to be generously rubbed with oil before going on the grill. Although some of the filets did adhere in places, all in all, I was pretty pleased with the end result. Turns out the Publix man was right - the red grouper was terrific, with a rich yet subtle flavor enhanced ever more by the lemon aioli. The oven-roasted fennel made a fine vegetable side (I skipped the part about finishing the roasted fennel pieces on the grill for the sake of simplicity), as did the orzo salad with feta cheese and cherry tomatoes, a recipe I'd tried a few years ago and was able to easily duplicate (I didn't toast the pine nuts, by the way - the dish was fine without that step). Even Hackknife Jr. and Hackknifette were gaga over the orzo salad, which incorporated a number of items that they're known to actually eat from time to time (pasta, cheese, and tomatoes). For now, I can safely say that grouper will be my go-to grilling fish unless one of my fellow Tampatriots has a different favorite for me to try.

Tyler Florence's Grilled Swordfish (or Grouper) with Lemon Aioli and Roasted Fennel

2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt/freshly-ground black pepper
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 c. mayonnaise
4 swordfish or grouper filets, totaling 1.5-2 lb.
Handful of fresh basil leaves

Preheat over to 400F. Toss fennel in a bowl with a drizzle of oil and salt/pepper. Dump fennel on a baking sheet and roast until tender, 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put a large grill pan over two burners and heat to medium-high (or preheat an outdoor grill until very hot). If using an outdoor grill, take a few paper towels, fold them over several times to make a thick square, blot a small amount of oil on the square, then carefully and quickly wipe the grill grates to make a nonstick grilling surface.

Stir lemon zest and juice into mayonnaise. Add a drizzle of oil and salt/pepper to taste.

When the grill is ready, rub fish filets with oil and sprinkle with salt/pepper. Lay fish on the grill and cook for about 4 minutes per side until just barely translucent in the center. Add roasted fennel to grill and cook a few minutes on each side to add grill marks. Put the fish on a platter, scatter fennel on top, and garnish with basil leaves. Serve with lemon aioli.

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