Today’s dinner is subtle, spicy, and sweet: a delicately prepared filet of Mahi Mahi, poached in a light, spiced wine, topped off with the tropical flavors of a mango and papaya based sauce.
The holidays have come and gone and now we’re on to that Tuesday/Wednesday part of the year. With the holidays, vacation has also passed.
Despite living in Florida, my wife and I relaxed a little further south in Key West (still Florida) with my family. We had a good time and ate a lot of good food. Fish and the sea were a large part of the entire trip, whether it be the SCUBA, the restaurants, or the sport fishing. Everything had its ups and downs–for instance, much to my surprise, sea sickness is quite common among SCUBA divers, or at least, the ones on the boat with me that day. They don’t teach you what to do when your dive partner chums the waters more times than you can count (ugh!), but swimming up-current seems reasonable to me. I’ve probably said enough (it was the word “chum,” wasn’t it?).
Fishing was also fun, although we didn’t catch a lot of eating fish this year (only one actually, a bar jack, which was tasty meal…compared to the forty something from the prior fishing trip). Instead, we fought sail fish throughout the day, which was a fun and exhausting change from the norm. Given how difficult those ~70 lb guys were to reel in, I really can’t imagine how people manage to catch a marlin, but I’m not exactly, uh, strong, so maybe that plays a part.
When I finally got home, I really had no intention of making seafood–after eating almost nothing but fish all week long, you kind of want to have some land animals, but hey, mahi was very on sale, so how could I not? So in the name of frugality, I opted to have mahi prepared in a manner similar to the style of that lonesome bar jack. Lack of creativity or ode to vacation? The latter sounds better to me.
The bar jack was grilled, but I’m not too keen to fire up the grill this time of year, and since the results were so good last time, I decided to poach the fish to make it fall apart tender with some very subtle spices (cardamom and anise for a tinge of sweet, licoricey notes) infused into the meat. The sauce is where the lively flavors are: mango and papaya (I couldn’t decide and the mangoes aren’t so great around here this time of year) for the major flavor and sweetness (and a touch of honey makes everything better) with serrano to give the sauce some bite. Cilantro gives the sauce some body that compliments the fruit nicely, and this is also my entry for this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Vani from Batasari.
- ~1 lb Mahi Mahi
- Poaching liquid
- 1-1.5 cups dry white wine (I used vermouth)
- 1-1.5 cups chicken stock
- 1 Bay leaf
- a few black peppercorns/papaya seeds
- 4-6 cardamom pods
- 1 star anise
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 mango
- 1 solo papaya
- 1/4-1/2 shallot
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 Tbsp ginger paste
- juice of 1 orange
- 1 Tbsp honey
- pinch of sugar (to taste)
- 2 serrano peppers
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
- 1 Tbsp butter (at the end)
The sauce/salsa is fairly easy to prepare. Begin by preparing the fresh ingredients: peel the mango and papaya, pit the mango, scrape out the papaya seeds (but don’t throw them out!), zest the orange, mince the garlic, shallot, and serrano peppers. In a saucepan, melt down a knob of butter and briefly sauté the shallot and garlic to soften them up. After about 3 minutes or so, throw the serrano peppers into the mix as well.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, juice the orange and throw in all of the remaining sauce ingredients except for about 1/4 of the mango and papaya and the butter. Once the garlic, shallot, and peppers are done cooking, add them to the food processor and pulse things to almost a puree. Add in the remaining fruit and give a few quick pulses just to chop things up a bit smaller while still having a few chunks in there. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and let it simmer on medium/medium-low heat while you work on the rest of the dish.
Speaking of the rest of the dish, we’re poaching the fish, so the next thing to do is to prepare the poaching solution. This is also quick and easy: in a large pan (e.g. a dutch oven is a good size for me), add the orange zest from earlier, broth, white wine, and dry spices. Instead of peppercorns, I used a small handful of the papaya seeds here–they’re milder but similar in flavor (eat one if you haven’t before–they’re soft but crunchy) and what else were you going to do with them? With everything mixed together, heat this up to boiling and then let it simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Once the poaching solution has simmered long enough, drop the heat to low, getting the solution to just below boiling. While you wait for the solution to cool down a bit, skin and debone the fish. Once the solution is at the right temperature, carefully place the fish in, do your best to submerge all of the fish, and press a round of parchment paper against the surface of the liquid (don’t use a cover–it raises the temperature). After about 5 minutes, carefully flip the fish, and about another 5 minutes later, you’re fish is in all likelihood, done cooking, so very carefully remove it from the solution and drain it before plating.
Now surely you’ve stirred your sauce during all of this and ensured its not burning or overcooking, and just before you’re done, add in that last knob of butter and stir it into the sauce until melted and mixed.
Finally, plate your fish and top it off with a respectable serving of sauce. I served this with some coconut cardamom rice and a thin slice of mango and papaya. I meant to garnish with some toasted slivers of almond as well (would have been a nice texture contrast), but forgot until after I finished eating. Woops.