While it’s still unseasonably sunny and just below 70F here in the usually overcast Pacific NW, the wind has been up in arms, swirling around at 20+ mph shifting the 190lb hubby laterally on his bicycle as if he were a a kite, whistling ominously through the vent chimney and putting the pooch on DEFCON 3. Combine all this with lows in the 40s and dire threats of the 30s (Oh, faithful cherry tomato plants, thanks so much for the bountiful harvest and um, good luck with the frost warnings, ‘K?) and I officially pronounce it Snuggling Weather! So grab your DS (designated snugglebunny) it’s time to bust out some hearty food to put you in a food coma, erm, make you want to nest. Did I mention that the pooch spoons for kanpachi?
勘八 or kanpachi is one of my sashimi favorites and is often used as a substitute for hamachi (魬) or yellowtail as they’re both in the same family and share the same qualities: firm flesh with an unctuous richness (they have ~30% fat but don’t worry, it’s the good omega-3 kind). So when our local fishmonger has kanpachi, I do the happy dance all the way to their little shack with pooch prancing in tow. Here in the US people also call them Almaco jack, but they’re also labeled yellowtail or amberjack at the grocery store or sushi counter and they usually come from off the shores of Hawaii. The creamy braised beans and tangy tomatoes in this dish make the perfect backdrop for the toothy, succulent kanpachi but truthfully, any firm-fleshed white fish like halibut, albacore, or even snapper will do. Searing the fish gives you a delicious brown crust to give your mouth a little textural variety against the velvety sauce. Add a side dish of sautéed green beans and you’ve got yourself a meal.
1) Can’t I just use the tomatoes out of the can, what’s with all the alchemy? While they are convenient and inexpensive, canned tomatoes are also sadly lacking in flavor as they are picked before they’re fully ripe so they don’t fall apart during the commercial canning process. Adding cider vinegar and tomato paste adds back that tanginess and tomatoey flavor making them taste like something that was alive before they sprang de novo from the can.
2) Ideally your fillet should have a fairly uniform thickness otherwise the thinner parts will be overcooked and the thicker areas underdone. Next time you order fish at a restaurant you might notice how square and uniform in thickness your fillet is because they usually cut off the really thin belly edge and use it elsewhere, like in chowder or fish stock. I like to trim off the thin belly flap and cook it separately.
3) If you cook your fish at too high a heat not only do you run the risk of overdone flesh on the outside and underdone on the inside but also the proteins will bleed out of the flesh, looking like thick white clumps, due to the muscle fibers contracting violently from the heat.
4) When is my fish cooked? Raw fish is translucent and turns opaque when fully cooked with the usual rule of thumb being about 10 minutes total for a 1-inch thick fillet. Another good test of doneness is to insert a sharp knife into the flesh, it should go through easily with no resistance when fully cooked. Some people like their salmon (and tuna) opaque outside and a little translucent in the center so the knife test is best for this where in this case you’ll want to feel a little resistance halfway into the fillet. I would not wait till the flesh flakes easily. Not only does it mangle that lovely fillet you’ve been lovingly preparing but it also means that your meal will be overcooked by the residual heat as it continues to cook off the stove.
2 4-oz yellowtail fillets, pin bones and skin removed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A pinch of dried thyme
2 + 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c sweet onion, finely diced
1 tsp (1 clove) crushed garlic
1/4 c dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
1/2 c low-salt chicken broth
2 c cherry tomatoes or 2-3 large ripe tomatoes or 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes + 1 tsp cider vinegar + 1 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tbsp fresh (1/4 tsp dried) thyme
1 14.5-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
Season fillets on both sides with salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat 2 tsp oil in a small pot on medium heat until aromatic but not smoking. Sauté onions till translucent and soft ~4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté till golden, ~1-2 minutes. Deglaze with wine then mix in broth, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and thyme.
Simmer for 10 minutes till tomatoes are very tender (the cherry tomatoes will burst open on their own). Add white beans to tomatoes and simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes. This will reduce the sauce by about 1/3.
While tomato mixture is simmering, heat remaining oil over med-lo heat in a large skillet till aromatic but not smoking. Cook fillets till opaque halfway up from the skillet ~4-5 minutes (depending on how thick your fillet is–the rule of thumb is ~10 minutes total for a 1 inch thick fillet) then turn over. Cook for another 4-5 minutes. Serve each fillet over braised tomatoes and beans. Makes 2 servings.