June 20, 2004
[Tropical Fish and Nectarine Skewers, Matching Chutney]
Yay, it's IMBB time again! Today is the 5th edition of Is My Blog Burning?, the collaborative food blogging event in which food bloggers all over the world unite, and cook something in line with a theme. IMBB is our dear Alberto's brain child, and this fantastic, fun and friendly event has already brought us batches and batches of soup, tartine, cake and rice recipes. This time around, hosting is provided by the adorable Wena, who chose fish as the theme.
As always when I have to cook for a special event, I threw myself in the arms of agonizing hesitations and procrastination, and couldn't possibly make up my mind about what to make. Usually I'll go back and forth between two or three ideas, pondering what the best choice is, but this time my mind was pretty much a blank. The date was getting closer, and I was starting to worry.
And you know what saved me, of all things? The TGV. TGV, or Train à Grande Vitesse, is the pride and joy of France, a technology of high-speed trains that peaks at 300 km/h (186 mph). Last week, for my job, I rode this train to Lille (a city in the North of France) in the wee hours of the morning. As an aside, why on Earth do these people start meetings at 9am when they know for a fact I come from Paris, and have to get up at 5:30am? Is this some kind of sleep deprivation technique to get more out of me? Don't they know that Clotildes get grumpy, irritable and uncompromising when lacking proper rest (or nourishment)? Maybe I should provide them with a user's guide. "Clotildes for dummies" or something.
It being quite early, I had closed my eyes in the wild hope that this would somehow re-energize me and help with the feeling of having just been grabbed and thrown out of bed -- and not cause me, instead, to arrive at my meeting crusty-eyed and sore-necked, with an optional decorative patch of drool on the shoulder of my suit vest. I had fallen into that state of half-sleep where your thoughts wander around idly, taking rational paths then sharp turns into weirdness or fantasy, morphing little things into giant, convoluted versions of themselves, twisting reality into confusing shapes, and leading you along unexpected routes.
It is in this state of mind that, after considering project planning questions for a little while, my thoughts turned to IMBB and my contribution, conjuring up the idea of a dish, which constructed itself out of nowhere behind my closed eyelids. This woke me up with a start : all was not lost! Project planning was a disaster, but at least I had a dish for the fish IMBB!
A few days later, I followed the dream's instructions, and brought these fish and nectarine skewers to life, served with herbed couscous and a nectarine chutney. They turned out to be everything I had hoped for : pretty, summery, and delicious.
Nectarines -- yellow nectarines -- are very high on my list of favorite fruits, and strongly associated with childhood summer vacations in the mountains, where we would buy crates of them, plump and sun-kissed, at the local market. This was the first time I paired them with fish (or anything savory for that matter), and they turn out to be a great match. For the fish, I used a blend of tropical fish (tuna, swordfish and escolar), which I had bought frozen at my Picard store. The chutney was initially destined to be a sauce, poured onto the skewers, but as I was making it I could see that it wasn't really sauce material, so it became a chutney instead, and I served it in my darling mini paper cups.
So I would like to solemnly thank the TGV for the inspiration, and, let's not forget, my client from Lille, who calls meetings so damn early. I'll be going quite often in the coming weeks, so let's hope every train ride is as fruitful culinary-wise!
Brochettes de Poissons Tropicaux à la Nectarine, Chutney Assorti
- 600 g thick fish steaks (tuna, swordfish, escolar...)
- 24 fresh basil leaves
- 6 ripe but firm yellow nectarines, rinsed and dried (4 for the chutney, 2 for the skewers)
- 2 onions
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp piment d'Espelette (or red pepper flakes)
- 3 Tbsp lime juice (one for the chutney, two for the skewers)
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- salt, pepper
-- Nectarine Chutney
Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet. Peel 4 of the nectarines, and reserve four good-looking pieces of skin (see Nectarine Skin Chip). Cut the nectarines in quarters, remove the stones, and dice the flesh and the remaining skin finely. Peel the onions, and dice them finely.
Heat the olive oil in a small skillet, add the nectarine flesh, the balsamic vinegar, pepper flakes, cumin seeds and 1 Tbsp lime juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened and slightly caramelized. If it dries up too much in the process and threatens to burn, pour in just a little hot water. Mush with a fork, and set aside in a small bowl.
Cook the onion for five to ten minutes in the same skillet, over medium heat, until softened. Add in the nectarine mixture and keep cooking for a few more minutes, stirring regularly, until the chutney reaches a chunky/smooth consistency. Set aside.
-- Tropical Fish and Nectarine Skewers
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Cut the fish in 24 even pieces (6 per person). Rinse and pat dry the basil leaves. Quarter the two remaining nectarines (keeping the skin on will help the nectarine pieces cling to the skewers, but you can peel them if you prefer), and cut each quarter in four : you'll get 32 small pieces.
Assemble the 8 skewers : each skewer is made with three pieces of fish (F), three basil leaves (B) and four pieces of nectarine (N), along the following pattern : N-B-F-N-B-F-N-B-F-N.
If you have a large baking dish, you can balance the skewers on both sides, allowing the fish juices to drip into the dish. If you don't have a large enough baking dish, line an oven rack or cookie sheet with foil, grease the foil, and arrange the skewers on the rack. Pour the rest of the lime juice on them, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Put into the oven to bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the fish is just cooked (avoid overcooking, this kind of fatty fish is tastier if cooked rare).
-- Nectarine Skin Chips
Rinse the four pieces of nectarine skin you've reserved when you were making the chutney, rubbing them gently to remove the flesh that may cling to it, and pat them dry with a paper towel. Put these in a small oven-proof dish, and add them in when you bake the fish, keeping an eye on them : they will dry up in a few minutes.
Serve immediately, two skewers per guest, with a side of chutney (ideally served in a tiny little cup or container) and some herbed couscous (here plated with a metal circle) : cook the couscous according to package instructions, adding liberal amounts of dried herbs when you dump in the couscous. Decorate the little mound of couscous with a nectarine skin chip.
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