Black Bass with Walnut Tarator
Zahav and CookNSolo Restaurant Partners, Philadelphia
In his Beard Award–winning tome, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, 2017 Outstanding Chef Michael Solomonov writes, "Tarator can mean different things, depending on whom you ask. In parts of the Middle East, the term is synonymous with prepared tehina sauce. In Bulgaria, it’s yogurt soup with cucumbers and dill. When I think of tarator, I’m generally referring to the Turkish and Balkan variety, which is a sauce made from almonds or walnuts that is enriched with tehina. I first encountered this version somewhere on the European side of Istanbul. The street vendor handed me a hot dog bun slathered with almond-based tarator and stuffed with crispy fried mussels. Incredibly good!
"Tarator is a most satisfying accompaniment to seared fish. We get great black bass from New Jersey, less than an hour’s drive from Philadelphia, and sear the skin so it’s super crisp. As the base for our sauce, we use the fish bones to make fumet, a simple fish stock, and then incorporate the walnuts and tehina. Because walnuts are so robust, you need a hearty fish to stand up to them, like salmon, sturgeon, or black bass. For milder fish, replace the walnuts with almonds or pine nuts to mellow the sauce and achieve a Zen-like balance between the fish and the tarator."
- 1/2 cup walnut pieces
- 1/2 cup tehina sauce
- 1/4 cup fish fumet or high-quality fish stock
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground Urfa pepper or ground Aleppo pepper (optional)
- Four 6-ounce skin-on black bass fillets
- Kosher salt
- Canola oil, for frying
- 3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- A few sprigs dill
Make the walnut tarator: Place half the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until very finely ground, but stop before they turn into a paste. Hand-chop the remaining walnuts into pea-size pieces. Transfer the ground walnuts to a large bowl and add the chopped walnuts, tehina sauce, fumet, and lemon juice. Whisk in salt and Urfa or Aleppo pepper.
Season the bass fillets with salt. Heat 1/4 inch oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly crush the garlic cloves on the counter with the palm of your hand and add them to the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer but before it begins to smoke, and working in batches to avoid crowding, add the fish fillets to the pan, skin side down. Shake the pan so the skin doesn’t stick. Lower the heat to medium and let the fish cook undisturbed until the flesh turns opaque halfway up the sides of the fillets, about 5 minutes. While the fish is cooking, tilt the pan to pool the oil and use a spoon to baste the fish with the hot garlic oil.
With a spatula, carefully flip the fish (the skin will release easily when it is ready) and cook for an additional 2 minutes on the flesh side. Transfer the fillets to a warm platter and top with the dill sprigs. Serve immediately with the walnut tarator.
Excerpted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, © 2015 by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook . Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.