Over the years, Rebekah and I have probably made this easy evocative feast more than any other. One reason for that is that when I go out fishing on the ocean, I bring back light flaky fish which are perfect for this meal. Whether I catch Vermillion Red Rockfish (two filets are pictured on the black plate pic), or Ling Cod, Red Snapper, Sea Bass, or Halibut, or we buy them at the market, they all are very elegant, and in this meal, exquisite.
So we often eat fresh fish, whether caught or purchased, in this simple but explosively tasty Thai meal. It’s all about reducing the broth to a fine liqueur, with an amazing combination of flavors from Thailand and Vietnam. The secret is the amazing tension of the umami flavors that are Yin and Yang… fish sauce and chicken bone broth, mirin and limes, sweet and sour, the bite of the ginger and the garlic, the fiery heat of the hot peppers with the haunting aroma of mint, light yet intense, fresh yet deeply penetrating in taste. This dish is lush, aromatic and spicy, and the mint, tomatoes and the coconut oil fused together are completely addictive. Enjoy!
1 1/2 pounds of a light flaky fresh or fresh frozen fish, usually 4 filets, about 3/4 inch thick. If you have thicker filets, slice them length wise so that they are thinner (we use Calico Bass, Red Snapper, Rockfish, Ling Cod, Grouper, True Cod, Halibut, Sea Bass, Catfish, Walleye, and an exquisite fish I’ve caught off Key West, the Cero Mackerel.)
3 tablespoons of coconut oil or canola oil
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
2 inches of grated fresh ginger
2 serrano or jalapeno peppers, sliced
2 cups fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped (use small meaty varieties like Campari)
4 tablespoons fish sauce (made with anchovy, we use first press extra virgin)
4 tablespoons mirin (or 1 tablespoon sugar)
4 limes, juiced
2 cups of chicken broth (we boil down the bones from a whole roasted chicken or use free range low sodium broth)
3 cups fish broth or clam/mussel broth (we boil down the carcass of an entire fish after filets are removed, and always remove scales, gills and innards before boiling)
salt and black pepper to taste, remembering that there is salt in the reduced broth
1 full cup of chopped fresh mint 10 oz box of couscous (we use chicken broth for half the liquids required)
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised and cut into two inch pieces (this is optional but very aromatic, and should be removed before serving)
Pour the oil into the 12 to 13 inch pan, crush the garlic into the cold oil, and warm it up slowly, so that it infuses. When it begins to foam, add the ginger and chiles and heat until they sizzle and become fragrant. Add the chicken broth and fish/shellfish broth, along with the lime juice, mirin and fish sauce and simmer until reduced by a third… it takes about 15 minutes.
Salt and pepper the fish filets and slide them into this reduced sauce.
Now add the tomatoes and the mint, and simmer on low for 8 to 10 minutes, keeping the filets submerged in the beautiful red and green sauce.
Serve on couscous with lots of shimmering sauce. Garnish with mint leaves and fresh cherry tomatoes. Exquisite.
The cooking of couscous is an art form, and to do it properly, as we have learned to do from cooks in Morocco, takes far more time that is practical for this meal. (There are entire elaborate cooking pots made in Morocco just to steam the couscous. They would be appalled at our boiled couscous from store bought boxes.) The crucial element is to keep the couscous grains separate and slightly under-done, so each grain falls away from the other, and they are fluffy and aromatic. In a medium saucepan bring 1 3/4 cups of liquid, half water and half chicken broth, with 1 star anise, 1 tablespoon of butter, and half a teaspoon of salt, to a boil.
Turn off the heat and add the couscous. Set the timer for 4 minutes and 50 seconds. “When the timer goes off, remove the couscous from the pan by scraping it out with a large fork, layer by layer, into a large platter. Using the fork, quickly separate the grain from each other, allowing them to cool as fast as possible. When all the couscous is separated and cooled and fluffy, they can be served under the Thai fish.