When I was a kid, I had an issue with fish ponds. Or maybe more accurately, they had an issue with me. For quite some time, it seemed I couldn’t go near a fish pond without somehow managing to fall in. The fact that I have multiple memories of fish pond incidents is pretty odd I’m guessing. Talk about a bizarre childhood quirk. One such memory, the most vivid one in fact, involves a little pond in Seattle that was near the school where my Aunt Emma taught at the time. I can’t recall exactly what caused me to fall in the water there – poor shoe choice, extreme clumsiness, over zealous duck feeding, etc. But I clearly remember how terrified I was when I was in the water. Probably lasting no more than a few seconds, my time in the little school pond was wrought with complete and total fright. Sitting in the mud and muck of that pond, and thanks to the overly active imagination with which I was born, I was certain that I was a goner. Someone, you see, had made the rather unfortunate mistake of informing me that the world’s largest octopi live in Seattle. That is a totally fascinating tidbit for a ten-year-old, and I’m sure my large gulp was audible as I digested that little piece of information, pulse quickening, eyes widening, the whole bit.
It’s a wonder I enjoy all water-based foods as much as I do. In fact, I might actually be so bold as to claim seafood as my very favorite food of all the foods. I don’t even discriminate against eight-legged creatures and have very much enjoyed octopus on a number of occasions. One of the best stews I’ve ever had in my life was filled with octopus and it rocked my world. Recently, I enjoyed some grilled octopus while dining at Jose’ Andres’ wonderful restaurant, Zaytinya, in Washington D.C. My husband even proposed to me over calamari at my favorite restaurant. I don’t remember the song that the lovely band was playing for us at the time, but I remember the calamari. So yeah, I really like seafood – cephalopods included. This recipe, for snapper in tomato water, is the product of my recent craving for seafood as well as my curiosity over the “whole tomato water thing.” I’ve been hearing about it for years and had never actually had it prior to making a few myself as I was recipe testing for this post. Trendy in years past, tomato water is essentially the juice that is released from tomatoes after they’re cut, and when cooked down a bit, it tastes very concentrated and delicious – perfect when tomatoes aren’t in season. This light-as-air dish is so refreshing and uplifting, sort of like ceviche. The emphasis is on freshness and the quality of your ingredients, so this is the time to splurge on some really great fish. RECIPE
Adapted from Gourmet, 2005
For the spicy cucumber tomato water
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
¼ – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (you can adjust the spice to suit your preference here)
For the tomato herb salad
The juice of one lemon
1 lb assorted small heirloom tomatoes, halved (larger ones quartered)
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
For the fish
6 (5- to 7-oz) snapper fillets (sea bass and flounder would work)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
For the cucumber tomato water: Purée cucumber, tomato, cayenne, and salt in a blender until smooth, about 30 seconds.
Line a sieve with a dampened paper towel and set over a large glass measuring cup. Transfer the cucumber mixture to the sieve and let it drain until the liquid measures 2/3 cup, (takes around 15 minutes).
If the liquid measures less than 2/3 cup, gently squeeze the paper towel until the liquid reaches 2/3 cup. Discard the solids and transfer the liquid to a small saucepan.
Boil the cucumber tomato water until it is reduced to about 1/3 cup, then take it off the heat and cool it to room temperature.
For the tomato herb salad: Gently toss the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in the cooled cucumber tomato water.
For the fish: Adjust you oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 500°F.
Rinse fish and pat your fish fillets dry and then brush them all over with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
Bake the seasoned fish in 1 layer in a lightly oiled shallow baking pan until they are just cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes, depending on how thick they are (just keep an eye on them).
Serve the tomato herb salad on top of fish.