Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Butter Me Up

How did I get here? I began this particular culinary journey with an itinerary for health and somehow I ended up in a big vat of creamy fat. There were signs along the way, of course. There always are. The first indicator was my initial impulse to buy leeks. I have, in the past, made vegetable soup from bits of carrot and celery and cabbage that I find in the fridge. It’s a great lunch time meal for those days when I work at home—easy to heat up, filling, healthy, and it gets rid of leftovers.

Instead of leaving well enough alone, though, I had to take it up a notch. I went shopping for soup ingredients, suddenly inspired to make it fancy. I was determined to cook myself some leek soup. Leeks, when prepared right, can have a pleasingly subtle, buttery flavor. How can anyone turn down a vegetable that tastes like butter?

Wait. Scratch that. I have always turned my nose up at vegetable oils masquerading as butter. Are you there, Margarine? Yes, I’m talking about you. When I was a kid, my mother bought margarine instead of butter. This was back in the day when butter was the devil, and margarine was “heart-healthy.” But I always saw through Parkay’s charade. I can believe it's not butter! Especially when it's an unholy, yellow, unctuous substance that leaves a tang of plastic on the tongue!

Sure, Crisco and its kin do make especially flakey biscuits and crusts. And cake-mix cakes, with their partially-hydrogenated fats, do stay moist longer. But butter is better. Modest butter merely seeks the appropriate means of transmission: baked potatoes, fresh bread, and corn on the cob all make friendly devices.

I’m not ashamed to admit that at the impressionable age of 11, I played the King in a theatrical performance of A. A. Milne’s poem “The King’s Breakfast.” Surely it was a character-forming moment to portray a monarch who only wanted a bit of butter for his royal slice of bread.

As you may discern, we’ve taken a slippery detour from leeks (that merely taste like butter) to buttery butter itself. I never made the soup. Instead the leeks aged a few days in my bin, waiting patiently, but never letting me forget them. So while planning my dinner menu the other night, I thought it was merely serendipity that I encountered this yummy recipe for Leeks and Sea Bass in The Zuni Café Cookbook. It’s perfect, I thought. I can put my neglected leeks to use in a healthy dish for DH and me.

It wasn’t until I bought the fish that I noticed that we’d also be consuming almost a whole stick of butter.

Sea Bass with Leeks, Potatoes & Thyme

from The Zuni Café Cookbook, translated by me

For 4 servings:

4 pieces of sea bass fillet, about 6 ounces each and 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick


¾ pound yellow-fleshed potatoes, cut into bite size pieces

1 and ½ Cups diced or thinly sliced leeks

A few sprigs of thyme

1 and ¼ Cups chicken stock

A splash of dry white vermouth

6 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, sliced and chilled

A trickle of white wine vinegar

Season the fish lightly and evenly with sea salt, cover loosely,
and refrigerate, a few hours before cooking.

Preheat the broiler: position the rack 6 inches from the element.

Place the potatoes in cold water to cover, set over medium heat, add plenty of salt. The water should taste as you would like the potatoes. Cook at a simmer until tender and soft around edges, about 5 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and place them in a large oven-proof skillet. Add leeks, thyme, one cup of stock, and splash of vermouth. Set on medium heat and swirl until it simmers. Add 4 Tablespoons of butter, and swirl until it melts. Taste for salt, reduce heat to low, and add the fish. Swirl to baste the fish in the broth.

Making sure no leeks are on the fish or sides of pan, place the pan under the broiler. Cook until potatoes and fish are lightly gratinéed, about 5-6 minutes. The liquid should be bubbling. Turn oven to 500 degrees. Cook until the fish is medium-rare, another 1 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile warm the serving plates.

Transfer fish pan to the stovetop, lift out fish, and keep on warm platter. Swirl the pan, letting the sauce thicken as it simmers. Taste, add remaining butter, and adjust the salt. Let sauce reduce, adding either vermouth or vinegar if needed.

And then we add a load of rich creamery butter

Hmm. Butter. It’s what’s for dinner.

1 comment:

Mary Louisa said...

You had me at Land o' Lakes.