Cooking Our Favorite Restaurant Dishes at Home
Gothamist wonders whether the Upper West Side will ever be a restaurant destination for the rest of the city. Even with all of the well documented improvements to the UWS dining scene and gossip of a new Daniel Boulud bistro coming next year, it’s hard to picture throngs of downtown dwellers rushing uptown for a meal beyond Columbus Circle any time soon.
That may spell trouble for a restaurant like Neptune Room. While it has picked up some buzz and acclaim, it’s clearly overshadowed by higher profile chefs and restaurants at its price range not only on the UWS, but by new fish restaurants in hipper areas (Lure Fishbar, Pace, etc). As a result, it’s been half empty every time we’ve peered in.
This is a shame, as Gothamist had a fantastic meal at Neptune Room recently. What captured our attention (beyond the perfectly prepared fish) were the sides to the entrees. Crispy gnocchi was a favorite, as was the creamy, cheesy pea risotto that acted as the base for a crispy monkfish fillet wrapped in prosciutto.
On a night when we weren’t interested in making a time consuming risotto, we satisfied our creamy pasta fix by crumbling a tangy goat cheese into a steaming bowl of orzo and peas, and taking it over the top with buttery, earthy chanterelles to add a further depth of flavor, as Neptune did with the prosciutto.
With a few techniques taught to us from master chef Thomas Keller, we then seared two bass fillets to a crispy moistness to prop on our orzo in under 15 minutes.
Crispy Striped Bass
with Creamy Goat Cheese, Pea and Chanterelle Orzo
This dish needs to be made right before it’s served, which isn’t a big deal since it’s not very time consuming. You can prepare and sauté the mushrooms in advance. Making the orzo is a breeze – you can have it ready and waiting as you sauté the bass. Done.
This recipe is for two - just scale it up for a larger party. A light appetizer preceding would be a bonus. With the mushrooms and creaminess, we’d consider Pinots, Merlots or Rhones beyond the obvious Chard.
Ingredient Shopping List
2 eight ounce cleaned bass fillets, skin on (cod, red snapper, halibut all work here)
1 box orzo
1 small log or disk of fresh goat cheese
1 bunch fresh rosemary
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 bar of unsalted butter
extra virgin olive oil
1 box frozen peas
3 large handfuls (1/4 lb) of chanterelle mushrooms (crimini are fine)
Estimated cost of ingredients: $30 at Fairway
Shopping for the Ingredients
It’s important to try and get fillets of bass or other white fish with the skin on. This is a good excuse to choose a small whole fish and have it cleaned for you on the spot. You’ll get two nice fillets and you’ll know it was freshly prepared for you.
Gothamist loves frozen peas. They are one of the few vegetables that we think stay in top shape when frozen. They are pre-blanched, so try not to reheat them for long or they’ll turn grey.
Chanterelles are a treat for Gothamist and go particularly well with the creaminess of the goat cheese orzo. You can find them at virtually all high-end markets, including Whole Foods, Citarella, Fairway and Garden of Eden for starters. If you are looking to save a few bucks, criminis are totally fine.
Clean and Sauté the Mushrooms
With a damp paper towel, carefully wipe down and clean each mushroom. You do not want them soggy or absorbing mass quantities of water, but you need to make sure they are dirt free. If they are particularly dirty, you can soak them for a minute in cold water.
Dry the mushrooms thoroughly with paper towels –the drier the better.
Finely chop one whole sprig of rosemary, removed from the stem.
Take a medium sized sauté pan and place on medium high heat. After a few minutes, add two pats of butter and a glug of olive oil to the pan and swirl to cover. When melted, add all of the chanterelles and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper. Add a pinch of the minced rosemary. Sear on one side to get a bit caramelized, about 3 minutes. Shake the pan and flip the mushrooms. Sauté for another two minutes. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and two or three table spoons of water and cook until soft, yet still whole and slightly firm. Put the mushrooms in a bowl and set aside.
Make the Orzo
Get a large batch of salted water up to a boil and add about 1/3 of the orzo box into the liquid. Cook for about 3 minutes. When just about to drain, add 1/3 box of the frozen peas. Drain into a colander or strainer. Place back into your drained pot and while hot, add a few pinches of salt, grind some pepper and add about three tablespoons worth of crumbled goat cheese, one pat of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. Mix it together vigorously with a wooden spoon or spatula. Taste and season. If it is not creamy enough for you, mix in another pat of butter. Sprinkle a pinch of your chopped rosemary on the orzo and set aside.
Dry the Fish
Lay two layers of paper towels onto cutting board and place fish on top. Gently (yet thoroughly) dry the fish with another set of paper towels until both sides are as dry as possible.
A brilliant trick via Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook (http://frenchlaundry.com/store/cookbook.htm) is to flip the fish skin side up and with the back of our knife (dull side), against the grain of the skin (opposite direction that scales are going). Scrape from left to right across the skin slowly a few times. This pushes some of the moisture out to help the skin crisp. Place on to a dry plate and season both sides with kosher salt and pepper.
Saute the Fish
Put a medium sized pan (that will easily fit two fillets) on medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil. Add three pats of butter. Swirl to incorporate them together. Let it get very hot, but not at the point where the butter is browning.
Add one fillet at a time to the pan skin side down, letting go of the fish away from you to avoid splatter. You are going to let the fish cook on the skin side for roughly the entire time to get the crispiness you are looking for, about four minutes. You’ll be tempted to shake the pan, but don’t. Once you see that the fish is cooking through (the fish will begin turning from opaque to white) flip the fish with a spatula and add a squeeze of lemon, another small pinch of rosemary and a few tablespoons of water to the pan. Leave on the heat for one minute and then turn it off.
While the fish pan is still hot, add the mushrooms to warm and coat in the pan sauce. Check to see if it needs salt, pepper, etc.
Make sure your orzo is warm at this point.
Finish the Dish
Place a mound of the orzo in the middle of plate. Drape your fish over the orzo, skin side up.
Place your mushrooms around the orzo and spoon any of the pan juices on top of fish.