Monday, October 11, 2010

Asparagus, and Coriander Crusted Fish

I gotta tell you, I am having a lot of fun writing for this blog. 
Tonight, I tried out two more recipes from Apicius.

The first dish wasn't so much as a recipe, but a technique for cooking asparagus. Usually, when I've cooked asparagus, I've either steamed it, or boiled it. I had never thought of doing it Apicus' way. In de re Coquinaria, Apicius tells us how to prepare asparagus

"Asparagus: in order to have it most agreeable to the palate must be peeled, washed and dried and immersed in boiling water backwards." (Apicius, 3, 3, 72)

cooking the asparagus
When Apicius says to immerse it in boiling water "backwards," he means to have it so that the stalks of the asparagus are underwater, and the tips are poking out of the water. This way, the stalks are boiled and cooked, and the fragile flower tips of the asparagus are spared from the boiling water. In order to do so, I cooked the asparagus in an old coffee can, which allowed me to have them easily stand upright. I didn't have any other pots that were deep and skinny enough to accommodate this. 

This worked out perfectly! The asparagus were delicious! Yum! The tips were relatively uncooked, and the stalks were cooked to perfection. 

Next, I cooked "Fish in Coriander Crust."

"Prepare the fish carefully, put in a mortar salt and coriander seed, crush finely, roll the fish in it, put in a baking dish, cover, seal, bake in the bread-oven. When cooked, remove, season with very sharp vinegar and serve"  (Apicius 10, 1, 4)

I used two tablespoons of coriander seeds, which I got from my gardening supplies. It's really nice that the Romans were so fond of coriander (cilantro), which is so ubiquitous in South Texas cooking. I had grown cilantro in my garden that had gotten out of control, and had harvested the seeds to share, and to plant next season. I cleaned them up, and roasted them on my skillet for 2 minutes at high heat, stirring constantly. I tossed them in the mortar and pestle, and ground them down with 1 teaspoon of salt. 

Grinding the coriander & salt
Now, this recipe might not be the most authentic, as I used salmon for the fish. The Classical Cookbook recommended cod, plaice, or haddock, but I really like salmon, and it was on sale, so I picked salmon. I know, I know, the Romans didn't have salmon, as far as I can figure this may not be the most authentic dish, but we're testing the coriander crust, not the fish itself. So, I rolled the fish around in the mixture of ground up seeds and salt, and put it in a pan with a dash of olive oil so it wouldn't stick, and covered it. I baked at 375F. The cookbook recommended 15 minutes, but it wasn't nearly ready then. It was ready by 25 minutes. Reader, one of the hardest parts of cooking is making everything ready simultaneously. It's difficult to have the meat cooked when the veggies and all other dishes are ready, and this time I failed at it because of the extra time needed to cook the fish. Therefore, I ate the asparagus first, since they were ready first, and then after another 10 minutes or so, had the fish. 
After taking the fish out of the oven, I sprinkled it with white wine vinegar. I had a little sticking in the pan, but it looked beautiful! 

The fish fell apart a bit because it stuck to the pan.
The fish was wonderful! I'd never put white whine vinegar on salmon, but it worked out quite well. The coriander acted as a breading, it was absolutely delicious! I would make this dish again in a heart beat! Nom Nom Nom! The coriander was a delightful contrast to the white wine vinegar. The dish probably wouldn't have worked as well without the white wine vinegar, which added a tartness that was a nice contrast to the herbal earthiness of the coriander crust. 

In all, this meal was a success. Both recipes were quite easy to make, and the ingredients were easy to obtain. I only wish I had known that the salmon would have taken longer to cook. I served the  Roman dishes with enriched white rice, which was a nice pairing. 

1 comment:

  1. Since I have written this, I have been informed that it is not safe to cook in coffee cans. There's something in the metal that releases toxins when heated. Please do not take my advice, and cook in coffee cans. They do make asparagus cookers that have the same design as a coffee can, but are made of a safer metal.