Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Corned Swordfish and Cabbage: A New St. Patrick's Day Classic?

So, I write this piece on corned beef at Iowa Meat Farms and get a note from a friend who works with Sea Rocket Bistro. "You know, Chef Tommy Fraioli is making corned swordfish for St. Patrick's Day. Want to try it?"

Hmmm, it sounded both intriguing and a little off putting at the same time. Until I realized that I had grown up with and loved pickled herring. So, really, what's the big deal?

Today, I drove over to the restaurant and watched Fraioli, Sea Rocket Bistro's new executive chef, prepare the dish in its different stages.

First, he pulled out a glistening 10-pound piece of swordfish filet from Catalina Offshore Products. He trimmed it into smaller pieces that will sit for four days in a brine of water, pink salt, sea salt, brown sugar, and pickling spices. (Tough beef brisket, on the other hand, needs to be broken down--think six weeks bathing in brine.)

Fraioli mixes up the brine, brings it to a boil, then lets it simmer. It cools and is poured over the fish.

The fish bathe in it in the fridge for the four days. Then, Fraioli explained, it's rinsed off, placed in a pot filled with water that's brought to a boil, then reduced to a simmer. The fish cooks for an hour or two--until it's fork tender. Then it's removed from the pot and Fraioli adds sliced carrots, cabbage, and hunks of potato to cook.

The dish is plated and served with a whole grain and Dijon mustard mix that Fraioli is still messing around with. He's going to add some kind of beer to it, probably Rey Knight/Butcher's Brewing's Mucho Aloha Pale Ale, which has cloves and allspice in it to complement the pickling spices.

When Sea Rocket Bistro serves the dish ($16) on St. Patrick's Day, it'll be accompanied by Fraioli's freshly baked Irish soda bread, made with whiskey-soaked raisins, and whiskey butter. He's thinking of making soda bread pudding for dessert.

As for the flavors? Surprisingly delicious. The swordfish is moist and tender, with a hint of cloves and a slightly pickled flavor. I ate it with whole grain mustard and the strong rustic, almost spicy, tones of the mustard married beautifully with the mild fish. And, the vegetables, which also cooked briefly in the pickling liquid, had a terrific sweet salty spice-laden flavor. Altogether, it's a great meal and a nice alternative to heavy and more caloric corned beef. It's really a dish all its own.

In addition to the corned swordfish, Sea Rocket Bistro will be serving a variety of Irish-themed small plates.

Sea Rocket Bistro is located at 3382 30th St. in North Park.

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