After all that creamy soup last time around (Elia’s Mushroom Crème), I thought it was time for something that just screamed healthy! I poured through the Top Chef Cookbook and found Harold’s steamed Red Snapper. Not only was it a steamed fish, but it was served with some of my favorite veggies: chanterelle mushrooms, Brussels sprouts leaves, and roasted butternut squash! Yum!
Although there were a few steps to this dish, it really was quite simple to make.
The Roasted Butternut Squash Puree:
First I picked a nice medium to small sized butternut squash, that make a nice “thump” when I tapped it, gave a little upon pressure, but was still firm.
I peeled the squash, cut it in half, and scooped out all the seeds and “gunk” leaving just the squash flesh.
I cubed up the squash.
Then I tossed the cubes with some olive oil and salt and pepper.
Then, into a baking pan went the cubed squash, for roasting.
As you can see from the photos, after the roasting (about 45 minutes to an hour), the squash significantly decreases in size and loses a lot of water, thereby intensifying the flavor of the squash.
The roasting process also slightly caramelizes bits of surface area, adding an extra hint of sweetness to the squash as well. While the squash is cooking, there is other preparation to be done, which is explained further below.
The puree is not just pure squash. Stock, shallots and garlic are components as well.
In a sauté pan, I sautéed over medium heat the finely chopped scallion until softened (about three minutes) and then I added the garlic.
The recipe calls for finely chopped garlic. I have to admit I “cheat” when a recipe calls for finely chopped garlic, and just put a clove through a garlic press. I know that there are those that say that just “bruises” the garlic, and finely chopping it is better. I just don’t agree. I’ve used this short-cut my whole life and haven’t found that the garlic tastes any different than when I have gone through the effort of fine chopping. Also, at the end of the day, my fingers don’t reek of garlic, which is a nice dividend. The real key, in my opinion, to not messing up finely chopped (or pressed – or even sliced) garlic, is not overcooking it. I turned the burner down to low heat and added the garlic to the shallots and continued cooking until the garlic was just soft (1 to 2 minutes). Then I added the chicken stock. You’ll see in the photos that the stock looks “gloppy.”
That is because it had been refrigerated and was real chicken stock – not broth from a can – so all of the gelatin in the cold stock made it gloppy. It thinned out as soon as it came to temperature. I added the squash cubes as well, brought it to a simmer, and then covered it, simmering for another 10 minutes to let the flavors blend.
Once the squash and stock mixture was done, I took it off the heat and let it cool enough to work with (about 15 minutes – I worked on the chanterelle mushrooms and the Brussels sprouts leaves at this time). Then, I just put the whole squash mixture in the mini-prep food processor along with a tablespoon of butter and some salt and fresh ground pepper to make the puree.
Preparing the Shrimp:
This recipe technically calls for Rock Shrimp. I didn’t find any. Now, I’ll admit, I didn’t look that hard, but I though normal large shrimp from Florida would be a good substitute and that’s what I used. The shrimp needed to be peeled, cleaned and deveined. As I’ve written before (such as for Harold’s Squid and Shrimp Ceviche), cleaning shrimp is really not that hard. First you just rip off all the little “feet” on the underbelly of the shrimp, and then it’s often possible to get the entire skin off in one piece by getting your finger between the skin and the flesh and giving a nice gentle tug. If you are really careful, you can even pull off the skin to leave behind just a wave of tail flesh. I wasn’t as patient as I could have been to accomplish that. Of the seven shrimp I cleaned, I only managed to save the tail flesh on one. Then the shrimp needs to be deveined. You do this by running a sharp knife along the backside and the underside of the shrimp and pull out the long tubular organ.
On the top — that is the dorsal vein. The underside “vein” is actually not a “vein,” but it’s the elimination tube that carries out the shrimp’s waste, which is really nothing more than dirt and grit. The smaller the shrimp, the less these tubes are noticeable, and often people just skip this process to save time and effort. But when you are using large shrimp the vein and the waste tube will be noticeable upon cooking, and that’s just not a pleasant sight, even if any difference in taste whether you deveined or not, would probably be negligible, it’s nice to devein for aesthetic reasons — deveining, if you dig the knife in deep enough (without slicing the shrimp in half of course), “butterflies” the shrimp, and results in something very pretty once cooked.The Chanterelle Mushrooms:
About one-half a cup of chanterelle mushrooms are needed for this recipe. I got mine at Eli’s and found that they needed little cleaning, and just did a rough chop of them.
The Brussels Sprouts Leaves:
Getting the leaves off the Brussels sprouts was at first an interesting adventure. I thought, “How am I going to do this? Pull the leaves off one at a time?” But then, like a light bulb that switched on over my head, I thought of it! — If I rolled the Brussels sprouts against the cutting board with the palm of my hand (after cutting the ends off of the sprouts), I would loosen up the leaves, and they’d just fall off.
And they did. It was so easy. The reader should note that both the friend I was cooking for and I LOVE Brussels Sprouts — can’t get enough of them. So I actually doubled the amount of leaves the recipe called for. The recipe suggested three-fourths of a cup; I used about a cup and a half.
You’ll see when you view the photo of the finished product how “green” the dish looks.Sautéing the Shrimp and the Vegetables:
First I just put about a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick sauté pan. Then I just threw in all the shrimp, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts leaves to cook together.
I just wanted the shrimp to get opaque but not in any way overcooked or rubbery and the vegetables to get just tender. The recipe says this takes about two minutes — I found it took about four minutes. Steaming the Red Snapper:
This recipe called for two 6 to 8 ounce fillets of red snapper. Again, where do the Top Chef cheftestants get their portions? I went to Eli’s in Manhattan, and the smallest fillet of Red Snapper they had was just over a pound. I got that and figured instead of doing two fillets, I’d do just one big one.
I took a 4-quart pan with flat sides (not sloped sides) and filled it up to an inch deep with water. I got the water to a boil and then “fashioned” my own “steamer.” I had just purchased at Bed Bath and Beyond a non-stick pan with holes in that that is meant to be used on the grill to cook fish or vegetables. I placed this pan inside the pan with the boiling water (the water did not touch the bottom of the “steamer” pan). Then I placed the red snapper fillet in the steamer pan, skin-side down.
Then, I took a “chef’s pan” (which is a slope-sided pan that is about an inch deep with handles on both sides, and put that pan upside-down on my “steaming contraption” as a cover.
I then steamed the snapper until opaque. The recipe says this will take 5 minutes, but since my fillet was over twice as big as what the recipe called for, I found it took about 9 or 10 minutes.
But you definitely do not want to over-cook the fish, and I was careful not to do that.
The dish will ultimately be garnished with minced chives and minced flat-leaf parsley.
“Plating” the Dish:
I plated this dish “family style.” First I took a serving platter (in retrospect, I wish the platter I had used had been a little bigger — as you will see in the photos, everything is a little crowded on this platter. I reheated the roasted butternut squash puree in the microwave and then spooned it diagonally on the platter. Then I place the fish skin-side down on the platter in the opposite diagonal direction. Then, I scattered the vegetables and shrimp all over the fish. Then, I garnished the dish with the freshly minced chives and flat leaf parsley. Finally, I sprinkled the whole dish with a little bit of fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Again, as I had doubled the amount of Brussels sprouts leaves, I tried to make sure that most of the vegetables shrimp were around the fish, so that the beautiful white flesh of the snapper could be seen as well. In the end, I think my plating of this dish was a little “too much” — it was a little “busy.” In retrospect, I would have used a larger serving platter, and perhaps for aesthetic purposes, would have put some of the extra Brussels sprouts leaves either on the side or under the fish.
How to Make this Already Fabulous Dish Even Better
Harold has basically created a perfect dish here. I cannot imagine how to make it better. Obviously because my friend and I both love Brussels sprouts, I was heavy on those, but even if I had followed this recipe exactly as written (i.e., not gone hog-wild with Brussels sprouts), I know this recipe still would have been perfect.
Final Word on this Dish
I loved it. My friend loved it. It was another “clean plate club” and “yes, I’ll have seconds” home-run success. It was healthy. It had incredible balance of flavors — the sweetness of the squash pared well with the slight bitterness of the Brussels sprouts leaves. The texture and slight saltiness of the shrimp contrasted well with the softer and less salty flesh of the Red Snapper. And the chanterelle mushrooms contributed (along with the squash puree) to the richness of the dish. The mushrooms also provided a different texture to the dish from any of the other elements. Chef Tom Colicchio said that this dish was “a real restaurant dish. The flavors were spot on. This was altogether extraordinary.” Tom, you and I completely agree!!! I will definitely be making this dish again.