I’m thinking that this October French Fridays with Dorie is running an “ugliest vegetable” pageant. Two weeks ago, it seemed clear that celery root was a clear winner, but with this week’s introduction to Jerusalem artichokes, there’s some competition! (And dare I mention that I have some kohlrabi bulbs in my fridge?)
Jerusalem artichokes are the tuber (or root) of the helianthus tuberosus, a native sunflower that grows along some of my daily dog walking routes. The sunflower provides the origin for its nickname, sunchoke. In the back of my mind, if I wasn’t able to find this vegetable in the store, I considered digging some up, but fortunately, I found some on my first try. It came from California, so not as native as down the street, but organic, and probably a little safer to eat than whatever I might have dug up from the side of the road.
This plant has been eaten as far back as the Native Americans, who taught early settlers to eat the roots as well. For me, this was the first time I’ve eaten it. The roots resemble gnarly, warty ginger roots. In fact, the cashier initially rang it up as galangal, another rhizome related to ginger. They were hard to peel because of all the bumps. I did my best, as Dorie counseled, and didn’t worry about it too much.
The preparation was simple. Jerusalem artichokes, quartered lengthwise, were tossed with slivers of garlic (done with the vegetable peeler because I was sure doing it with the mandoline would result in a hospital visit), olive oil, sprigs of thyme and rosemary, and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. This roasted in the oven for 45 minutes, until tender, tossing it once halfway through.
The flavor was nutty and earthy, definitely reminiscent of an artichoke. They added a touch of the homemade to a meal of leftovers from a restaurant meal. Though we enjoyed this new taste, I’m not sure I’d make a point of making these again. Peeling them was a pain, and at $5 a pound, I’m not sure I like them that much more than potatoes or other root vegetables. It was fun to try something new though.
Another week of French Fridays with a recipe that I found uninspiring on the page: Monkfish and Double Carrots. I even postponed making it until Friday’s dinner. I just wasn’t sure about carrots in a carroty sauce topped with fish fillets topped with crumbled bacon.
I’m not a big fan of monkfish. I had it once before, long, long ago. In college, I went to a fancy dinner before a big dance. Dances weren’t really a thing at my school, and though the occasion must have been special, I have no idea what it was for. I do remember having dinner at one of the fanciest restaurants in Boston at that time, Maison Robert. It was a classic French restaurant, and I felt rather intimidated. I also felt adventurous and ordered lotte (monkfish) which I’d never had before. (Dinner is the only thing I actually remember about the evening. How fitting that I grew up to be food-obsessed.) My meal was so rich that my stomach was upset for most of the evening. Maybe it was just the sauce, not the fish itself, but I’ve never been tempted to eat monkfish again. So enough about something that happened over 30 years ago. On to tonight…
Food phobias aside, monkfish is not a fish I often see at the fish counter, so I knew I’d be swapping in a different fish or seafood. From the array of choices, I opted for some wild cod.
The double carrots come from carrots cooked in carrot juice enriched with some butter and olive oil. I was rather skeptical as it simmered on the stove. The fish is fried in the bacon fat rendered from the bacon bound for the top of the fish. I’m not sure cod was the best choice for pan-frying as it was fragile when I was flipping the fillets.
The sauce was very runny, so rather than serve on a plate, I used a pasta bowl. This makes a gorgeous presentation, just like a restaurant. To my surprise, it tasted like a restaurant meal as well. So much for being uninspiring on the page. Howard loved it too. “With bacon on top, how could it be bad?”, he said. I served this with roasted potatoes on the side.
This one is a winner, and company-worthy to boot. I learned from my first attempt, but there are so many possibilities to perfect it. As I said, a different fish might have worked better. Or, as Howard suggested, maybe we could sous-vide the fish and then sear it just before serving. Also, the suggested bed of mashed potatoes would have been a better way to go than roasted potatoes. Mashed potatoes would have acted as an edible sponge for the carrot sauce.