Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What I Would Have Done: The Iron Chef Challenge

Today’s a bonanza of photos, recipes and postings because it was a busy time for our contestants on The Next Food Network Star, who had to make three dishes in one hour as part of an Iron Chef challenge. (Which meant a busy Monday for me since I said I'd do my home version of their challenges. Ugh.) There were two matchups with two different secret ingredients (well, not so secret if you read my recap).

I decided to do the first ingredient, which was striped sea bass. Striped bass is the largest of the sea bass, but not as famous as Chilean sea bass. With the sustainability issue of Chilean sea bass, farm-raised striped bass is a good alternative. (Pictured above is the farm-raised striped bass, sold only whole, at Whole Foods, and they’re available year-round. The above was the smallest one that I paid $15 for.)

In this post, I give you a somewhat behind-the-scenes look at my cooking process ala Iron Chef and then I’ll present my three dishes to you with my “approach.” Then you be the judge.

Also, I’ve posted the recipes to all of my Iron Chef-inspired dishes below. Enjoy!

Iron Chef America Striped Sea Bass Battle

Contestant: Chef Ben
Background: Blogger of Cooking With The Single Guy and a self-taught home cook
Cooking style: Primarily Asian, with some Italian and Mediterranean influences
Iron Chef record: 0

This is the first time I handled a whole fish, and I was glad my “sous chef” at Whole Foods helped gut and scaled my bass. Back home, I cut the fish into fillets and kept the head and tail to make fish stock later.

For my three dishes, I decided to start with an ambitious attempt at three amuse bouche similar to what I see a lot of Iron Chefs do. I decided to make a crudo, a prosciutto-wrapped bass, and a panko-encrusted bass with a sweet and sour sauce.

I started with making my crudo so that it’ll get a chance to marinate and let all the flavors blend. To the crudo I added ruby grapefruit, fleur de sel and fennel shavings. I made sure to get as much of the excess grapefruit juice into the bowl as well. Simple dish, and I was on my way.
For my prosciutto-wrapped bass, I wanted to top it with a red wine reduction. So I poured some Chianti that I had left over from dinner the other night and added a teaspoon of sugar and then started to slowly simmer the wine. I knew this would take a long time so I got this going before heading off to making my other dishes.
For my panko-encrusted bass, I wanted to make a sweet and sour sauce like a lot of Chinese dishes I ate growing up. To try something different, I decided to make the base of the sauce out of heirloom tomatoes. I sliced an heirloom tomato and drizzled it with olive oil and sea salt, then placed it in the oven to roast and get tender. Once it’s soft, I’ll transfer it to a saucepan and mush it with some broth and fish sauce to give it a Southeast Asian flair.
Here’s my panko breading station. On the lower part of the photo is an egg that’s been whisked. (I know, it’s hard to see because I used a yellow dish.) Next to the egg is a plate filled with panko bread crumbs that’s been seasoned with dried thyme and salt. Like you heard on The Next Food Network Star (and thanks to Amy), panko is a Japanese bread crumb but it’s not made from bread but is more a wheat product. I used it a lot of times whenever I pan-fry food.
Here’s my panko bass piece pan frying in some olive oil. I don’t like to deep-fry food so pan frying with a thin layer of oil is my favorite route.
This is my prosciutto-wrapped bass pan frying in some olive oil. It was really simple. I just season the piece with salt and pepper. (I still seasoned it even though you get salt from the prosciutto because I didn’t want to be accused by the judges of not having flavor, something that was the downfall of Paul.) But I made sure not to oversalt it; just a pinch for this small piece. Then I wrapped it with prosciutto (which I love) and the prosciutto served as a sealed layer to keep the fish nice and moist. I didn’t have to cook it very long. But I did have to use two utensils to roll the prosciutto-wrapped fish and hold it to make sure it had a nice even browning on all sides.

At the same time, I started on my second course, which was a miso udon noodles with striped bass. I was in such a frenzy I forgot to shoot some shots of that dish, but that’s so simple. I just warmed up some miso paste in boiling water, tossed in some shitake mushrooms and bonito flakes and added the fish. Then the udon noodles and I was good to go.
This was my final dish, which is a steam bass fillet with black bean sauce. I made this near the end because it only takes 10 minutes to steam the bass and I wanted to make sure it was moist for the judges. ;-) I added a twist to this dish by putting some heat with the serrano chili. And instead of soy sauce I used fish sauce for a lighter flavor.
It was onto the plating because presentation is part of the challenge on Iron Chef America. For my steamed bass, I created a bed using thinly sliced hot house cucumbers and pickled ginger. The pickled ginger was already purchased that way and you can get them in any Asian grocery stores. At the beginning of the hour, I thinly sliced the cucumbers and added them to the pickled ginger juice to let them marinate in time for when I was ready to serve. I thought the sweet pickled taste would help balance the heat from the chili. And then time was up. (OK, so I admit it took me longer than an hour to cook all of my three courses, probably close to 1.5 hours, but I didn’t have a sous chef and multiple burners!)

And now, I present my dishes. The chairman typically asks the guest chef what was his “inspiration to today’s secret ingredient.”

My approach was to make light dishes that would not overpower the sea bass. I borrowed a lot from my Asian background, but definitely wanted to keep it simple with minimal ingredients because my culinary approach is to cook for single people who don’t have a lot of time after work to cook a time-consuming recipe. So all of the dishes I prepared today can be done quickly but still be fancy enough to make you feel like you’re having a restaurant-style dinner.
For the first course, I did a trio of striped bass as an amuse bouche. My thinking was to highlight the different textures of the fish. First is a striped bass crudo with ruby grapefruit and fennel. The raw fish was cured with sea salt and the citrus juice, and the fennel provides a nice crunch to counter the bass and grapefruit. Next is a piece of bass that I seasoned with salt and pepper and wrapped with a prosciutto and pan-fried. Then I drizzled it with a red wine reduction. You'll see the prosciutto helps keep the flaky meat of the fish nice and moist. And finally, there’s a panko-encrusted bass, because you go to have something fried. I don't like deep fried things, so going with the light Japanese bread crumbs is a healthier route. The panko was seasoned with dried thyme and salt. Growing up, my family ordered sweet and sour fish that was often deep-fried and served covered with a sauce often made with ketchup and pineapples. So to do something in honor of that, I made a roasted heirloom tomato sauce with a bit of sugar and fish sauce. The fish is also sitting on a thinly sliced heirloom tomato.
For my second course, I wanted to do something comforting, and nothing is more comforting that udon soup, because the thickness of the noodles makes it more comforting, I think. I made a base of miso soup with bonito flakes and shitake mushrooms, then slowly poached the bass fillet and added all that to the cooked udon noodles. I garnished it with kim chi because I love kim chi (the popular spicy cabbage from Korea) and just wanted to broaden the Asian-ness of this dish and not keep it restricted to Japan.
For my final dish, I made a steamed sea bass with black bean sauce. Steaming is one of the most common ways to serve fish in Chinese families so I wanted to do something that honors that tradition. I spiced up the dish by using some serrano chili for heat, ginger, and a dash of fish sauce for a lighter feel. To counter the spiciness, I created a pickled cucumber and ginger salad as a base because I think the sweet and sour taste will help balance the heat from the chili.

So that’s my Iron Chef entries. If I were really on the Iron Chef (yeah, right), then I would have loved to go up against Iron Chef Bobby Flay because I think his style of cooking is so different than mines that it would have been interesting to see the diversity of offerings. Who knows? Maybe one day when I’m in New York, there could be a throwdown, Bobby!

Again, for recipes to any of the above dishes, look for earlier postings below or click on the “recipes” label on my blog for the bass recipes I posted in July 2007.


Anonymous said...

This is ten times better than what they did on the show...you should try out again!

signed, Cat Chow from Chowhound

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks Cat! But I think that train has left the station (re: applying again). I just have to get my own food show some other way. :)