Ok. I’m going to get right to it and list the ingredients that went into this dish, in the vain hope that you won’t immediately click away, that you’ll trust me that not only is this dish delicious, it’s not in anyway over-the-top, that it’s actually quite subtle, even with the coconut sauce, crab, curry, fiddlehead ferns, and hazelnuts that went into it.
It may seem like an odd combination, fiddlehead ferns, lemongrass, and hazelnuts, but I promise it isn’t. The coconut sauce that covers the dish is light, airy, and very mild. The toasted hazelnuts add warmth to the crisp flavors of fiddleheads and crab. The sea bass, which is really interchangeable with any fish you can find, lends a touch of crispy brownness from the skin. All in all, everything works.
The recipe made more coconut sauce than we needed, about half too much, but I’m looking forward to trying it as a base for a chowder this weekend, and you could certainly sub it in for the coconut milk here.
If you can find fiddlehead ferns, grab them up for this dish. It would also work with green beans, but not nearly as well I think. Fiddlehead ferns have an astringent brightness that’s not quite comparable to green beans, or anything else for that matter. Contrary to what the lovely, wonderful people I met this week think, fiddleheads are totally not overrated in my book. ; ) I like to steam them for about 10 minutes, to break down the fibrousness but make sure, however you cook them, to rinse them in a good lot of water two or three times, to get all the dirt that’s clinging in the tendrils.
And while I find this next statement thoroughly pull-your-hair-out, I don’t think you should bother with this dish unless you have a good source of crab. Now by good source, I don’t mean you need to live in Seattle, or Maine, but it means that you should probably have a fish-monger, one in his very own storefront, not in the supermarket (well, some supermarkets are fine) and your crab should not come in a can. While I think canned crab is fine for cakes, or cooked dishes, this crab is practically untouched, not cooked at all, and needs to taste like crab, not tin. If you don’t have a good fish guy, and you live in my area, my favorites are Buckingham Seafood and Heller’s. And Nassau Seafood in Princeton is great, too.
If you can find good crab though, this is as good a preparation as any for it. The curry lightly scents the crabmeat, whose sweetness is offset by the fiddleheads. And the toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil add a fatty, crunchy bite. After this dinner, I’m starting to believe that anything would benefit from toasted hazelnuts. After this dinner, really, I’d believe anything. It’s one of those happy-feeling meals, when you end it a little high, smiling, and excited; an out-of-the-box kind of meal that makes you start wildly wondering where you next meal will go. Any ideas?
Black sea bass with fiddlehead ferns, curried crab, and hazelnuts
for the crab salad
1/2 pound fiddlehead ferns, cleaned
1 pound freshly-picked crabmeat, picked over for shell pieces
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 tsp Madras curry powder, or to taste
2 teaspoons lime juice
for the coconut sauce
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 stalk lemongrass
1 dried bird’s eye chile
1 two-inch piece of ginger, sliced
for the completed dish
6 fillets black sea bass, seasoned with salt and pepper
handful of hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed off with a kitchen towel
Steam cleaned fiddlehead ferns for 10 minutes of so, until tender. In a medium bowl, combine crab, scallions, curry powder, and lime juice. Add fiddleheads. Season to taste with salt; set aside.
In a small saucepan combine coconut milk and stock, bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Add lemongrass, chile, and ginger and bring back to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside for 40 minutes. (Can be made ahead.) Once rested, run sauce through a sieve and discard solids. Season with salt and pepper and heat back up on the stove for completed dish.
Add a touch of oil to a skillet and heat pan until almost smoking. Add sea bass, skin side down, and cook for 4 minutes, pressing down on the skin for the first three minutes and then covering with a lid and steaming for the last minute. (You may need to do this in batches.)
Chop toasted hazelnuts.
Arrange crab salad on plates. Place sea bass on top of crab salad and spoon warmed coconut sauce all over dish. Top with toasted hazelnuts and a drizzling of hazelnut oil. Season to taste with salt and serve.