Have you ever had potato chips and ice cream? No, I’m not pregnant and no, I haven’t gone mad from sugar withdrawals (Lent has gone by pretty slow this year though!) This combination may sound ridiculous, but it has special meaning to me. It was with a cone of swirly soft-serve vanilla ice cream in one hand and a ruffled potato chip in the other that I first realized food could be more than “yummy”. That summer day in my preteen naiveté was when I realized the importance of texture and aroma (in addition to flavor) in a food experience.
The satisfying fried crunch of the chips dominated at first; then the salty, greasy taste would mellow into an earthy potato flavor that would soon give way to the smooth ice cream. Thick, cold and sweet, it melted into a custardy cream and then faded away into a soft vanilla aroma that filled my nose and mouth.
It was like I had been eating my whole life, but never really paying any attention to what was actually going on in my mouth. The experience is as vivid in my memory as my first day of culinary school, and is probably just as significant. To this day I believe that dishes conceived with flavor, texture, aroma, and color in mind are the most satisfying and memorable. They please your eyes, keep your taste buds interested, and are satisfying to eat because they are multifaceted. But that doesn’t mean they have to be complicated or difficult to prepare.
Like this snapper. It has a delicious golden brown sear on the outside and reveals tender, succulent white flesh on the inside. It sits in a pool of coconut sauce that’s rich, yet spicy and aromatic from a dab of complex green curry paste. Atop the warm fish and creamy sauce is a tangle of pickled crunchy vegetables, juicy sweet red grapes halves, and fresh, anise-flavored basil leaves.
You may want to skip the ice cream and potato chips and just go straight for this instead.
Red Snapper with Pickled Red Grapes
For the pickled grapes and vegetables
For the fish and sauce
Pickle the grapes and vegetables. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt and vinegar until dissolved. Add the grapes, carrots, cucumber, and radish to the pickling liquid and toss to coat. Allow the mixture to marinate for at least 15 minutes and up to 4 hours.
Cook the fish. Pat the fish dry with paper towels and sprinkle the filets evenly with the salt. Heat the vegetable oil over high heat in a large nonstick skillet until shimmering. Add the filets and cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes or until nicely seared and golden brown on one side. Turn the filets over and continue to cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, until the flesh is firm all the way through but still juicy. Remove the fish to a plate to rest while you prepare the sauce.
Make the sauce. In the same skillet that the fish as cooked in, sauté the curry paste for 20 seconds until fragrant, then add the coconut milk and water and simmer for 2 minutes.
Plate the dish. Divide the sauce among four plates. Place a snapper filet in the center of each one, then top with some of the pickled vegetables and grapes. Garnish with Thai basil leaves and serve immediately.