Many moons ago, I had a friend who I met at my first job in New York. She was lots of fun and we hit it off right away. We’ve since lost touch, but I still look back on those days fondly. She showed me the grittier side of New York, when I was still caught up in an image of New York consisting primarily of my Upper West Side neighborhood. She grew up in a suburb of New York and had endless stories about sneaking into Manhattan as a teenager. She would go to clubs, drink alcohol, experiment with drugs, and get involved with older men. Having grown up in a very small town in Minnesota myself, it all sounded to scandalous and exciting to me. I felt like I missed out on an important teenage rite of passage.
My friend—I’ll call her Sara—was always very encouraging to me on the dating front. She persuaded me to jump headfirst into dating and gave me the confidence to believe that New York men would find me charming. One morning Sara came into the office and said she had someone in mind for me; she wanted to set us up on a blind date. The guy she had in mind worked as a fishmonger in her neighborhood, and apparently he was really nice and very handsome. She said he looked like Tyson Beckford, the male model (remember him??). Of course I immediately felt inept and had a million reasons why it would not be a good idea for me to date someone who looked like a MALE MODEL. But Sara would not hear any of it. She insisted we meet each other and was sure that we would each enjoy the other’s company.
He and I met up at a bar/restaurant in the Lower East Side that I frequented on the weekends. I figured even if we didn’t hit it off, I knew the place had good food and excellent live music. She was right: he was gorgeous and looked uncannily like Tyson Beckford. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much else to offer. He was boring as hell. At one point, we started discussing movies and I started to perk up a bit since I am an avid movie-goer and love talking about interesting films. However, I’ll never forget when he said, “I don’t think there’s such a thing as a ‘bad movie’.” That’s when I knew the date was over. Done. Finished. Check, please!
Dud or not, I guess you could say he was thoughtful, if not somewhat oddball-ish about his thoughtfulness. Because he worked as a fishmonger, he brought me a COUPLE OF POUNDS of swordfish. On the date. He brought it to the restaurant, like it was a box of chocolates. I think Sara must have told him that I liked to cook. At the time I remember thinking: Ok, well this is something. I’ll learn how to make swordfish! But when I opened up the package the next day it stunk to the high heavens. I swear to god that fish was rotten, which means a man brought me a bag of rotten fish on a date. To this day, I can’t eat swordfish. In fact, I can’t really eat any steak-like (white) fish that is reminiscent of swordfish. I’ll eat tuna all the live-long day.
That said, I think it’s curious that I was not able to eat this sea bass that I made the other night. I’ve had sea bass countless times at restaurants in New York and it’s always delicious. I’d never attempted making it before, simply because it is a mucho expensive fish. However, I figured it was worth the splurge since I would be sharing the recipe on my blog. There is absolutely no chopping of anything for this recipe, but you do have to own a food processor, as many things need to be pureed. I loved the chickpea puree and the parsley sauce. I could have eaten 10 bowls of each of these. But the fish was just too evocative of that horrible swordfish experience and I couldn’t get past the texture. If you like meaty fish, you will really enjoy this dish. My husband raved about the fish and couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t eat it. He likened it to me turning down a good burger. Touché.
Roast Sea Bass with Chickpea Puree and Parsley Sauce
Adapted from Food and Wine
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp. hot paprika
Four 6-oz. skinless sea bass fillets (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick)
4 fresh bay leaves
4 small rosemary springs, plus 1/2 tsp. minced rosemary
2 cups lightly packed parsley leaves
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Two 15-oz. cans chickpeas. rinsed and drained
1/2 small garlic glove
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and line and rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium baking dish, mix 1/4 cup of the olive oil with 1/2 teaspoon of the lemon zest and the paprika. Season the fish with salt and pepper.
3. Add the fish to the marinade and turn to coat, then nestle the bay leaves and rosemary sprigs between the fillets. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the parsley with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the water and puree until nearly smooth. With the machine on, gradually add 1/2 cup of the oil until incorporated. Season the parsley sauce with salt and pepper.
5. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas with the garlic, minced rosemary, 1 cup of water and the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice; puree until smooth. Scrape the puree into a medium saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Stir over moderately low heat until hot, about 5 minutes; keep warm over very low heat.
6. Remove the fish from the marinade. Gently roll up the fillets and set them seam side down on the prepared baking sheet.
7. Roast for about 12 minutes, until just cooked through. Spoon the chickpea puree onto plates and top with the fish. Drizzle on the parsley sauce and serve.