Wreckfish with Eggplant, Baby Squash, and Tomatoes
Cypress and Artisan Meat Share, Charleston, SC
JBF Chefs Boot Camp alum Craig Deihl likes to use wreckfish when available because it's an underutilized species, with only a few boats that fish for it on the East Coast. It does require a specific cooking technique—long, slow braising—but when prepared correctly it's a super moist, tender fish. Its flavor is similar to other meaty white fish, like grouper.
Adapted from Cypress (GreenEarthBooks, 2009)
- 1/2 cup fennel, trimmed to bulb
- 1/2 cup minced garlic
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Eggplant, Baby Squash, and Tomatoes:
- Canola oil, for frying
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 1/2 cup baby Japanese eggplant, sliced into coins
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup baby squash, sliced into coins
- 1/2 cup baby zucchini, sliced into coins
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup grape tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil
- White pepper
Make the soffrito: cut the fennel bulb in half and remove the core. Cut the fennel into small pieces, place it in a food processor, and finely mince.
In a saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Place the pan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. When a simmer has been reached, lower the temperature and allow the mixture to searcook. Stir the mixture every couple of minutes to prevent it from sticking, allowing the liquid to evaporate and the vegetables to caramelize, 30 to 40 minutes. When the mixture starts to caramelize, cook it for an additional 5 minutes, until light brown in color. Remove the mixture from heat and let it cool in the pan. When the mixture is cool, place it in a container for later use. The soffrito can be frozen for up to 4 months.
Make the eggplant, baby squash, and tomatoes: fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot with at least 4 inches of canola oil. Heat the canola oil to 300ºF. As the oil heats, in a large bowl, mix 2 cups water with the salt. Add the eggplant and soak for 10 minutes. Drain the eggplant and pat it dry. Working in batches, add the eggplant to the hot oil and cook it for 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the eggplant from the oil and drain it on paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil, squash, zucchini, and the fried eggplant. Cook for 3 minutes, until the zucchini and the squash are soft on the outside but still have a firm center. Lower the heat and add 3 tablespoons of water. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time while stirring, until the butter emulsifies with the water and appears creamy. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the grape tomatoes and the basil. Season it with salt and white pepper to taste.
Make the wreckfish: preheat the oven to 350ºF. Season the wreckfish with salt and pepper. Place a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Sear the fish for 3 minutes on one side. Remove the fish from the pan and drain it on paper towels. Pour out the excess oil from pan and add the fish fumet or stock, soffrito, and chopped basil to the pan. Place the wreckfish, seared-side-up, in the pan and transfer it to the oven. Braise the fish for 6 minutes, until the fillets give slightly when pressed with your finger.
Assemble the dish: divide the vegetables equally on to 4 plates. Top each plate with a wreckfish fillet and a fried squash blossom (optional).
Note: if wreckfish is unavailable, you can substitute snapper or striped bass when in season.