Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pistachio-Crusted Arctic Char and English Peas with Mint

My first experience with peas was in a casserole that my grandmother prepared.  I want to say that she made the same exact chicken casserole every single time that we visited her; it was something that I began to associate with visits to her house at an early age.  I wouldn't be surprised if there was a nice can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup in there too, but I'm not judging.  I don't think that I had a single fresh pea until I moved to NYC.  They weren't something that we ate at my parents' house.  But I saw fresh English peas at Trader Joe's and thought in the spirit of the season we should get some.  Actually, this dish probably also marks the first time that I had peas as more than a minor component of a dish.  I know you sometimes see peas in chicken pot pie and I generally throw it in there when I make pot pie, but I can't think of a single time that I have ordered or eaten peas by themselves as a side.  I am on a mission to try to expand our vegetable repertoire.  You could say this was something of an experiment.  We eat asparagus and arugula all the time.  They are our go-to vegetables.  When we decide to mix it up we usually move on to some baby spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, green beans or sugar snap peas (only recently have we begun to play with sugar snaps).  But I really want to add some new veggies and veggie recipes into our catalog.  While I have spent the majority of this post talking about the peas, what I really should discuss is the arctic char.  Char is a fish that I first experienced in NYC.  It's fairly similar to salmon in taste and fat content, although I believe it is a trout.  I'm no fish expert, but I know that I like it.  I found a recipe on Epicurious for Pistachio-Crusted Arctic Char that sounded delicious so I decided to make that along with our peas.  The recipe for the peas was a combination of several recipes I came across, including the one on the label of the peas.  I knew that mint was a natural choice for seasoning peas, but having never made them before I needed some guidance as to cooking time, etc.

So the real winner of this meal was the arctic char, and not the peas.  The basil in the crust got really nice and sweet while roasting in the oven.  The shallot probably contributed to the sweetness too, but what I really tasted was the basil.  The pistachio gave the crust some texture and body - without it the crust would have basically been a sweet basil butter.  While not an amazing fish dish, it was really solid.  The peas on the other side were a little bland and boring.  I guess we didn't use enough salt when we first simmered them and after that nothing we did really gave the peas enough flavor.  In the bites with fresh mint you would get a sense of what the peas would or could taste like if properly cooked and seasoned.  They were also a little starchy, which I guess means we didn't cook them long enough.  Oh well.

Recipes after the jump!

Pistachio-Crusted Arctic Char
July 2003

1 cup shelled pistachios (not dyed red; 4 ounces)
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 pieces arctic char fillet (1 to 1 1/4 inches thick) with skin (6 ounces each)
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Coarsely chop pistachios in a food processor, then add basil, shallot, salt, pepper, and 6 tablespoons butter and purée until mixture forms a paste.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Remove any bones from fish with tweezers and pat fish dry.

Heat oil and remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then brown skin sides of fillets in 2 batches, 3 to 4 minutes per batch. Transfer fillets as browned, skin sides down, to a lightly oiled shallow baking pan (1 inch deep).

Divide pistachio paste among fillet pieces and spread evenly in a 1/8-inch-thick layer over top of each.

Bake fillets in middle of oven until just cooked through, 9 to 11 minutes.

English Peas with Mint

1 small shallot, minced
2 tbsp evoo
10 oz. English peas, shelled
6 mint leaves, torn

Saute the shallot in evoo over medium heat until softened, about 1-2 minutes. Add the shelled peas, a generous pinch of salt, and enough water to barely cover. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, then add the torn mint leaves. Continue cooking until the peas are tender, a few more minutes. Season to taste with s&p.


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