RED SNAPPER “EN CROÛTE DE SEL” HARISSA, PISTACHIO BUTTER
RESTAURANT TRENDS come and go, and so do service styles. I take pleasure in going back in time and believing in the charm of tableside service, in the drama that flows from the kitchen to the dining room. This red snapper, encased in a salt crust over smoking and fragrant dry fennel stems—a whiff of Provence—seems to emerge from a baker’s oven. Finally, our skilled maître d’ removes the crust to reveal the moist and delicate fish, infused with harissa and piment d’Espelette for an unexpected kick.
For the Artichoke Confit and Artichoke Vinaigrette
Make the confit: Juice the lemons, reserving 2 tablespoons for vinaigrette, and combine the rest in a large bowl with ice water. To clean each artichoke, trim the end of the stem and ½ inch from the tip. Peel away the rough outer leaves, leaving the pale yellow tender leaves intact. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin from the stem and any tough leaf remnants from the base. Submerge the artichokes in the ice water immediately after cleaning them.
Reserve 6 artichokes: 3 for artichoke chips and 3 for finishing. Transfer the remaining artichokes to a medium saucepan with 1 teaspoon salt and cover with the olive oil and vinegar. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, at just below a simmer, for 45 minutes, or until the artichokes are easily pierced with a cake tester. Cool the artichokes in their liquid.
Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk the mustard with the reserved 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Slowly stream in ¾ cup of the artichoke confit liquid, while whisking, until emulsified. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve the confit artichokes and vinaigrette, chilled.
For the Harissa Sauce
Cut twelve 1-inch triangles from the peppers, line on a baking sheet, and reserve for the garnish, saving the trim.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften and caramelize, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining peppers, pepper trim, cumin, coriander, and piment d’Espelette, and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the honey, vinegar, and tomato puree and bring to a simmer. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree, streaming in the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil, until emulsified. Pass through a fine-meshed sieve and season with salt; reserve, chilled.
For the Couscous Croquettes
In a medium bowl, combine the couscous, egg, za’atar, salt, and piment d’Espelette. Line a flat surface with a 12-inch-square double layer of plastic wrap. Arrange half of the couscous in the center in a horizontal 8-inch-long line. Fold the bottom corners of the plastic wrap to meet the top corners and press to seal tightly around the couscous. Roll the couscous forward in the plastic to form a ½-inch-diameter log, then tie off the ends of the plastic. Repeat with the remaining couscous. Chill well, then cut the logs into at least twelve ¾-inch-long cylinders. Gently peel away the plastic wrap and reserve them, chilled.
For the Salt-Crusted Snappers
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, combine 1½ cups of the flour, 1 ⅓ cups of the coarse salt, 3 of the eggs, and 2 of the egg yolks on low speed. While mixing, stream in 1 ⅔ cups water until a pliable dough forms. Remove the dough and split it into 2 discs; wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Repeat the process to make 2 more discs of dough. Rest the 4 discs at room temperature for 30 minutes. Unwrap 1 disc and place between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a ⅓-inch-thick oval sheet with edges 3 inches larger than the fish. Repeat with the remaining discs of dough and set aside; keep covered Divide the piment d’Espelette, harissa sauce, fennel pollen, pepper, and fennel stems into the 2 belly cavities of the fish. Whip the remaining 3 egg yolks with the milk.
Remove the parchment paper from the salt dough sheets. Center a fish on top of 1 sheet and brush the egg mix onto the dough to outline the fish. Top with a second sheet of dough and press to seal the edges tightly. With a sharp knife, score into the dough a shallow outline of the top fillet (to aid in carving once cooked). Trim the dough around the fish, forming a faux top and bottom fin and leaving a 1-inch outline. Cut away pieces of the dough to expose each fish’s head and tail. Using a small ring cutter or the tip of a spoon, press into the top of the dough in a pattern to mimic scales. Brush the tops of the dough with the egg mixture. Repeat with remaining dough and fish. Sprinkle some coarse sea salt on the dough for garnish. Refrigerate the fish for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 6 hours.
For the Pistachio Butter
In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients until well combined. Reserve at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 410°F. Fill one-third of a medium saucepan with canola oil and heat to 300°F. Remove the fish from the refrigerator to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Peel any damaged outer leaves from the lettuce; rinse well and pat dry. Cut each head lengthwise into four ½-inch flat slices. Using a mandoline, thinly shave the 3 reserved artichokes lengthwise into a small bowl. Season the lettuce slices and shaved artichokes with the artichoke vinaigrette and salt and pepper.
Transfer the fish to a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes (the thickest part of the fillet should reach 117°F). Remove from the oven and rest in a warm place for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Drizzle the reserved tray of piquillo peppers with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and heat in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes.Meanwhile, fry the couscous croquettes until golden brown and crispy (you may need to do this in batches). Drain onto a paper towel–lined tray, sprinkle with salt, and keep warm.
To remove the salt crust from the fish, use a sharp knife to loosen the top crust by tracing the scored line around the top fillet in the crust. Lift the crust off (the skin should come off with it) and trim away any dark belly meat from the fillet. Starting from the spine, gently run a dinner knife underneath the fillet to loosen from the bones. Remove the fillet onto a plate. Using the dinner knife, peel away the bones to reveal the bottom fillet. Run the knife underneath the fillet to remove.
For each serving, arrange 3 couscous croquettes, 2 pieces of gem lettuce, 3 triangles of piquillo pepper, a few chips and shavings of artichoke, and a few dollops of harissa sauce on the side of a warm dinner plate. Transfer a fillet to the other side of the plate and spoon some pistachio butter on top.