sauce week continues uninterrupted.
sauces 4, 5, and 6 called for a slight change of pace. sauces 1 through 3 were given the honor of adorning chicken breasts, and i think that may have been a little too easy for me. so tonight i decided that only my favorite fish would do. mahimahi, referred to by the japanese as shiira, has a super fresh white meatiness that is second to none. moreover, it is notoriously tough to cook well. the whiteness of its meat carries a downside; when cooked too much, it becomes heinously dry and nearly inedible.
i decided to challenge myself. for the past few days i had been thinking about which sauces would be able to transform such an already magnificent fish into a masterpiece. i decided on a garlic cream sauce, a shiso pesto, and a spicy mango sauce with mint. i think everything went swimmingly.
feast your eyeballs.
when it comes to sauces, pesto is one of the best. the zest of fresh basil, the freshness of olive oil, and the heat and vigorous flavor of fresh garlic compliment each other for a winning combination. add a little black pepper, some salt, and a little lemon juice, and things only get better.
everybody touts their own version of pesto. some people say it needs pine nuts. some people say it needs parmesan cheese. some people say it needs shaved black truffles and thinly sliced $100 dollar bills. but don’t listen to them. listen to me. the only things pesto needs are some kind of fresh herb, garlic, olive oil, and salt.
notice that i said “some kind of herb” and not “basil.” that is because, in my humble opinion, most members of the mint family and even a few other herbs can be used as a substitute for basil. which is good news, because basil is hard to find in japan.
shiso, however, is not. and it is delicious. i’m sure you can guess where this is going.
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
- black pepper
- 8 to 12 shiso leaves
- olive oil
- lemon juice
- cut the stem off of the shiso leaves. make sure the leaves are rough side up, and then roll them tightly. why rough side up, you say? because most of the aroma and zesty oils of the shiso leave are located on the rough, pale side of the leaf, and we can’t have you going and rubbing all the goodness off on your cutting board. slice the roll thinly, and then mince the leaves as finely as you can. add them to a small bowl.
- peel and slice the ends off your garlic. mince super finely and add to your shiso. i generally don’t worry too much about the consistency of the garlic, mainly because i don’t mind huge chunks of garlic in my food. my dad was all about making me eat raw cloves of garlic with every meal, so that may have rubbed off on me a little.
- add a few squirts of lemon juice.
- douse in a generous amount of olive oil. if you want a very saucy pesto, use more olive oil. if you want more of a paste (which is what i normally make because it tends to work better as a topping for meats and fish), use less.
- follow up with some salt and pepper to taste.
- add the mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. this isn’t so important when using basil, but shiso tends to have a texture that is a little bit rougher, which can be hard to handle for some people.
- spread on toast, thick slices of tomato, crackers, or pasta. keep in mind, this stuff is concentrated, so don’t go slathering your foods in it unless you want to cause world war iii with your breath and body odor.
makes enough sauce for about 2 meals.
garlic cream sauce
if you are like me, you aren’t satisfied with just one garlic-excessive sauce. and while there are some of us that might be down to eat their fish with just straight up pureed garlic, for the sake of preserving the already shaky bonds of society, i vote we steer clear of that plan. instead, let’s go with the second best option. let’s blend garlic with white wine, butter, heavy whipping cream, onion, black pepper, a little salt, and a few other spices i’m sure you’ll recognize.
it might not be as good as a slurry of raw garlic, but trust me. it is still pretty freaking tasty.
- heavy whipping cream
- 5 or 6 cloves of garlic
- olive oil
- 1/4 of an onion
- a few splashes of white wine
- smoked cheese
- black pepper
- peel and cut the ends off of the garlic. mince super fine, and while you are at it, do the same to the onion. add a little bit of olive oil to a frying pan, and add both once the oil gets to about medium high heat.
- it probably goes without saying (because i harp about it all the time), but don’t burn the garlic. it’ll turn bitter, and nobody wants a bitter garlic sauce. this sauce, more than most cream sauces, is all about bringing the out the natural sweetness of garlic. spicy garlic is good, but it can make the smoothness of butter and heavy whipping cream a slightly acrid and gritty if used inappropriately.
- add a few spoons of butter and sautee until the garlic and onion are very soft. medium-low heat will suffice for this stage. make sure to stir constantly to prevent the butter from burning and stinking up the whole endeavor.
- once the veggies are soft and the butter rendered, add a few splashes of white wine and bring up the heat a little bit. once it reaches a boil, bring the heat back down and add the spices. black pepper, oregano, basil, and thyme can be used in whatever intensities you prefer. i tend to favor thyme when i make this sauce, but i will leave the ball in your court.
- after a minute or two of simmering, add your heavy whipping cream. heavy whipping cream immediately increases the risk of your sauce burning, so make sure to be vigilant about stirring. this next part can be a little tricky. grate the smoked cheese into the sauce while the cream is still around room temperature. if you wait for the sauce to get hot before grating in the cheese, it will melt on contact and form big chunks of melted cheese instead of joining the medley of ingredients like it should.
- once the mixture starts to get good and hot, you’ll notice your cheese starting to melt little by little. now you can add your salt in small increments, tasting along the way.
- simmer the sauce over low heat until it reaches close to your desired texture. note that i said “close.” this sauce will thicken considerably once it is removed from heat, so don’t try to reduce it to the point of being thick and creamy while still in the pan. if you do, after about 20 minutes at room temperature, you are going to end up with a creamy brick at the bottom of a bowl instead of a sexy sauce.
- add to a food processor or blender and pulse until slightly frothy. i originally blended this sauce to eliminate the chunkiness (which was caused by failing to mince the onion finely enough). but the airiness caused by the blending has become a unique characteristic of my cream sauce recipe. the garlicky, smoky flavor paired with the creamy, somewhat light texture makes this an excellent sauce for almost all white fish and a solid choice to spoon liberally over freshly sliced roast beef.
makes enough sauce for 3 or 4 meals, or for 2 servings of pasta.
spicy mango sauce with fresh mint
i’m going to be totally honest with you. i don’t really like fresh mangoes. i respect your opinion, especially if you are from a land in which mangoes grow in abundance. i understand why you might like them. they are sweet and beautiful and tangy and slightly sour. i get it. but somehow, i just can’t get past the sliminess. they are just so dang slimy.
any fruit that is slimy enough that it can potentially be dangerous to cut is an aberration, however delicious it may be. so i spent all day yesterday trying to come up with a way to unslime fresh mango while keeping the flavors which make it ideally suited to fish.
what i came up with might seem obvious to most people, but i surprised myself with the results. the flavor of the final product took to pan-seared fish like, well, a fish takes to water.
- the flesh of one fresh mango
- 2 cloves of garlic
- hot chinese (or cayenne) pepper
- heavy whipping cream
- black pepper
- orange juice
- 10 or 12 peppermint leaves
- simplicity is the name of the game. the goal of this sauce was to reduce the textural qualities of fresh mango that i do not like and enhance the flavors that i enjoy. peel the mango, cut off the ends, a remove the flesh from the cheeks of the fruit piece by piece. you don’t need to be beautiful about it if you don’t want to, it is all going to get pureed anyway.
- peel and mince the garlic. add it to a large mixing bowl with the mango. add a splash or two or orange juice. make sure not to overdo it or the acidity of the orange juice can cause the heavy whipping cream to curdle later on.
- add your black and chinese peppers. i chose to make this sauce spicy for exactly the same reason that people sprinkle salt on watermelon and fresh mango. spiciness tends to bring out the sweet. contrast can be one of the most effective ways to strengthen an otherwise subtle flavor, and mango is no exception.
- roughly chop the peppermint leaves, setting aside one or two for garnish. add to the bowl.
- add everything to a blender or food processor and pulse until relatively smooth. don’t full-on blend this sauce into submission or it will end up far too watery. like good guacamole, a few chunks are necessary to remind us of the original ingredients.
- this sauce was made for fish. however, a unique twist of the mango flavor is that it is not restricted to meats and salads. although this sauce contains garlic and hot pepper, it can actually be an excellent complement to ice cream or cheesecake (if you don’t mind a little bit of zing). give it a go, tell me i’m wrong.
makes enough sauce for 3 or 4 meals (depending on whether or not you use it for dessert, too).