Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fish with Star Anise (I Think I Made a Moon-Rock)

They say a cook should never blame their tools when things go wrong.

They don’t say you should never blame your husband though.

Tonight’s dinner was meant to be a nod to his healthy eating. Maybe not the rice part, or the half cup of brown sugar. But certainly the fish part was meant to be healthy.
It's safe to say that mine did NOT end up looking like this (image courtesy Jason Thomas)

Snapper fillets are lightly dusted with cornflour, pan-fried and then steamed in a fragrant sauce made with sesame oil, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, five spice and star anise.

The recipe promised a sticky sweet sauce.

I left my husband in charge and what we ended up with was a burnt disk of aniseed caramel. Except even that sounds so much nicer than it actually was.

It solidfied to the density of a volcanic moon-rock and smelled AWFUL
It’s not really his fault. I had been dragging my feet, as I am wont to do at the end of the weekend. I didn’t really feel like cooking so when he started getting the ingredients out and began mixing the sauce, I was hardly inclined to step in and take over.

I did remember that according to the rules of the Project I was meant to be making the recipes. But I made the damn rules so I feel justified in breaking them. As long as I am present in the room when the recipe is being made, then surely that must count.

He put the sauce on to reduce as I tended to a one year old with a broken leg, a three year old with a grazed knee and a five year old with a sore foot that "was probably broken and so Daddy must X-ray it and make me a cast."

Uh. No.

At this point I realised I had neglected to mention to him that I had only bought half as much fish as the recipe required, therefore the sauce he was simmering was twice as much as we needed. He didn’t dignify my declaration with a response.

The sauce is bubbling merrily away while the kids complain loudly in the background

The sauce had reduced to a thin syrup and was smelling pretty good. At this point he put the fish into the pan, seared it quickly, tipped the sauce in, and turned down the heat.

Except he didn’t turn down the heat.

He turned it up full and began boiling the fish into the same sticky black consistency they make roads with.

What do you mean it doesn't look like the picture in the book?
"The burning smell is just caramelisation," he told me.

"I think it’s just a burning smell," I told him, taking the lid off.

We stared into the pan at our $30 a kilo fish. As soon as the lid came off the syrupy sauce which had been bubbling away merrily only moments before, suddenly began to solidify.

"Quick, grab a bowl and line it with paper towel," he hissed at me. He is remarkably good in a crisis.

We took the fish out and began scraping the sludge out of the pan into the bowl. It was hardening so quickly the spoon almost stuck to pot, and long shards of black savoury sugar set as I tried to scrape it onto the paper towel.

Luckily the stir fried vegetables with pine nuts he had made as a side (and had been tending to lovingly while he was wilfully neglecting the fish) was both delicious and not burned.

Now fish is supposed to flake. It is supposed to melt in the mouth.

I had to get a steak knife for mine. It was a little tough.

This is not the first time this has happened.

My thoughts:

I imagine in the hands of someone more competent with fish than we, this would be a beautiful dish.

Today was not that day.

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