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Branzino, Meyer Lemon Tart

2010/04/06

It was with a lot of excitement (and luck) that I stumbled across branzino at the market. Initially I was looking for a nice piece of halibut with which to prepare this meal. Unfortunately the day’s going rate was a ridiculous $28/lb and there was no way I was going to pay that. Working my way around the counter, I found many gorgeous whole fish including bream, red snapper, and the aforementioned branzino. I immediately knew what would be on the menu that night.

Branzino is a European seabass about twelve-to-fourteen inches in length with a delicate, sweet flavour to its meat. The last time I had branzino was in Italy a few years ago in Venezia. It’s not my favourite city in Italy, but I have fantastic memories of this particular meal during my time there.

I asked the fishmonger to scale and fillet a couple branzini that would be seared in a cast iron skillet with clarified butter. It made for much less work at home and I can guarantee they filleted the fish better than I would be able to.

It’s important to use clarified butter in an application like this because the fat can achieve a higher smoke point, meaning that the fish (and skin in particular) will crisp very nicely in a very hot pan without the fire department showing up. The fish was topped with a Meyer lemon gremolata (Meyer lemon zest, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and a little of my cousin’s olive oil from Italy to loosen it up and allow the flavours to mingle).

A couple of simple sides included Brussels sprouts with double-smoked bacon and fondant potatoes with saffron. The fondant potatoes in particular were excellent and will be in the regular rotation. Butter, chicken stock, saffron threads, a good amount of salt, and a bit of pepper were brought to a simmer in a skillet. One-inch thick slices of Daisy Gold potatoes were added in a single layer, allowing the butter/stock/saffron mixture to come about halfway up the side. Think bain-marie for potatoes. Daisy Golds are particularly good for this preparation as they are a waxy potato that holds up well to roasting. The skillet was covered and placed in a 325F oven for approximately 35-40 minutes or until cooked through, flipping the potatoes every ten minutes or so. They end up with a delightful, creamy texture with subtle hints of saffron and makes for a nice contrast to the sweet flesh of the fish.

Pan-seared branzino with Meyer lemon gremolata, fondant potatoes with saffron, Brussels sprouts with double-smoked bacon

Pan-seared branzino with Meyer lemon gremolata, fondant potatoes with saffron, Brussels sprouts with double-smoked bacon

I was thoroughly pleased with how this dish turned out. If it was prepared for a group as part of a dinner party, I would probably replace the Brussels sprouts with blanched haricots verts sauteed in butter. I like bacon, however, so this was just fine!

A crisp, steely, mineral-laden 2007 Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis 1er Cru Vau de Vay was an excellent pairing for the fish. Lemon, musk melon, and a bit of chalk on the palate and finish rounded out this nice bottle.

Meyer lemon tart with meyer lemon whipped cream

Meyer lemon tart with meyer lemon whipped cream

The branzino was followed by an excellent Meyer lemon tart that a friend made. The shortcrust pastry recipe came from Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon cookbook. The pastry portion of the tourtiere recipe works equally well for sweet and savory preparations and its simplicity has made it the go-to shortcrust at this point. More on tourtiere in another blog entry. It was rolled out to about a quarter-inch in thickness, then used to line a rectangular tart tin with a removable bottom. Finally, the dough was pricked all over with the tines of a fork and brushed with egg wash before being blind-baked at 375F to a light golden brown.

The filling was adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook, with an extra couple egg yolks for a richer custard. Whole eggs, light cream, lemon juice, and the extra egg yolks were whisked together with a little sugar and then passed through a very, very fine mesh sieve. This is a critical step and will ensure a silky-smooth custard by removing any egg bits not incorporated. Meyer lemon zest was added and the custard mixture was poured into the baked and cooled tart shell. The tart was placed back in the oven for 25 minutes at 325F, just until the custard was set. Over-baking a custard is one of the worst possible things to do. It will curdle and you get a scrambled egg tart instead of a lovely dessert. Best to err on the side of slightly under-baking.

Served with a quenelle of whipped cream with Meyer lemon rind, the tart was absolutely fantastic. Silky, rich custard with just the right amount of lemony pucker!

From top to bottom, this meal was excellent. When things like this come together on the regular, why bother going to over-priced, mediocre restaurants that are so prevalent in Toronto?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 2010/04/06 9:07 PM

    YUM!

  2. 2010/04/08 12:08 AM

    Oh boy – I want to come eat at your house. Is it always so tasty looking? I really like the blog you’ve created here – very informative, yet approachable. And the wine ain’t too shabby itself – wow! Felicitations – bon travail. (Yikes that makes me sound like a French school teacher!)

    • futronic permalink*
      2010/04/08 8:57 AM

      Hi Kim,

      I’m glad you enjoy the blog! I always try to eat and drink as well as possible. I take a lot of joy in the process, from shopping for ingredients through to prep, cooking, and eating. Naturally, there is always a glass of wine nearby while making supper!

      Keep reading, and I’ll be sure to check out your blog as well.

  3. Patrick permalink
    2010/07/11 9:43 PM

    Wow, this looks delish.. I totally relate to your comment on the mediocre restaurants that are so prevalent in Toronto; and to add insult to injury, they are commonly marking up affordable wines (retail less than $50 from the monoploly) by 300% or more. Like you, a gourmet meal isn’t complete without a nice glass or 2 of fine wine and if you can cook like this for you and yours, so much the better.

    Cheers!

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