Super Simple and Sustainable
“Super simple!” says Chef Mark Dommen as he plates the pan-seared Black Cod on a bed of peas & carrots with a curry mint vinaigrette. He whipped up this dish in about 20 minutes at the 2011 Cooking for Solutions demo kitchen on the back deck of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Chef Mark of San Francisco’s One Market Restaurant certainly made this handsome dish look easy, despite the gusting wind off the bay that made consistent heat on the outdoor stovetop more challenging than in a regular kitchen. Super cool to observe from just a few feet away a Michelin-star winning chef producing this pretty dish featuring sustainably-harvested fish from a protected and recovering Central Coast fishery. [View slideshow below]
Sustainable Central Coast Fisheries
Chef Mark used trap-caught Black Cod for this demonstration, a sustainable choice locally sourced from the the no-trawl zone established off the Central Coast. This protected area of 3.8 million acres stretches from Point Conception to San Francisco and includes several sea mounts and the Channel Islands. Trap-caught fish are a sustainable choice because trapping fish rather than netting them eliminates by-catch because the fish are captured alive.
This effort, the Central Coast Groundfish Project, supports effective collaboration among fishing families and the Nature Conservancy protecting nature and livelihoods at the same time. The fishing restrictions imposed in Morro Bay since 2006 have had the desired effect: healthier populations of fish and seafood to sustain fishing families and the wild populations upon whom they depend.
- Central Coast Groundfish Project
- Images from the Central Coast Groundfish Project
- San Luis Obispo Sustainable Fisheries
Lots of Love and Just the Right Spice
What makes a chef a chef and a cook a cook? Love. As he ladled thyme and garlic-infused melted butter over the fish as it finished cooking, Chef Mark encouraged us in our own kitchens to exercise patience and attentiveness and to “treat it with a lot of love.” He cooks with tenderness balanced with a laser focus on flavor. Tasting all the way through the process of cooking is another way to become intimately engaged with the meal under production: “You taste at the beginning, middle, and end” recommends Chef Mark. “You can never taste enough when cooking.”
Chef Mark circulated among the three components under development: the Black Cod searing in neutral grape seed oil (which he prefers for its high smoke point), the curry mint vinaigrette bubbling away, and the brightly colored peas and carrots. Even with the wind, the pleasant savory aromas of this recipe are strong: blooming thyme and garlic, a simmering curry sauce, and the richness of vegetables caramelized in butter. He chose seasonal carrots and peas for this dish because they both taste and look great.
Curry usually contains fennel power and ginger so, to fortify these flavors and aromas, this sauce enhances the building blocks of curry spice with fresh ginger juice and chopped fennel. Chef Mark fortified the vinaigrette with these fresh ingredients to “kick up the spice in it,” especially the ginger juice. After sweating the shallots and fennel in grape seed oil, he added the curry powder to the oil in the shallot/fennel saute, which toasts the spice and blooms the spice flavor. When adding vinegar (acid) and honey (sweetness), work to balance these components and adjust with the stock, as needed. Chop or microplane the ginger if you don’t have a juicer. Again, “You always have to taste and season along the way.”
While Chef Mark worked on pan-searing the cod, Chef John Fink of The Whole Beast grilled some fillets to demonstrate another preparation option for this dish. Chef John certainly knows his way around grilling fish, having just the night before grilled a huge halibut. Holy cats!
Note that the recipe for this dish calls for Pacific Cod which tends to be more moist than Black Cod, thus the breading step in the recipe should you use Pacific Cod. Both Pacific and Black Cod are recommended choices by Seafood Watch (and Halibut, too).
I look forward to crossing paths with these chefs again. Their commitment to sustainability and flavor, whether it’s using the whole beast from nose to tail or locally sourcing organic produce and producing outstanding dishes with sustainable seafood, aligns with the values of CentralCoastFoodie.com.
Here’s another recipe from Chef Mark for Dungeness Crab Cakes with Saffron Aioli, which sounds fantastic. Dungeness Crab is another species on Seafood Watch’s best choices list.
halibut photo: The Whole Beast