I’ve put this post off long enough… which is odd because this is one of my favorite Alton applications to date, so you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to write… buuut… it’s been the exact opposite. Strange.
So four posts after this one, I told you about my bass woes in “Blame the Bass.” Well, as it turns out, I was able to procure my fishy friend seasons — yes, seasons — later for Alton’s “Dome Full of Bass” application. [Sometimes I have to remind myself, “Patience is vertue” (Thanks, mom).] Now, I won’t go back into how hard it was to find this scoundrel… and I won’t share again exactly how much this beast costs (Actually, yes I will! Let me reiterate — over $65 for one bass. I’m not joking when I say I pretty much spent my entire pay check after paying bills buying a stupid fish, but moving on…). I also won’t detail again my whispered hopes of elevating my culinary skills if — just if — I’d be able to pull off this insane application. I will tell you though two things: First, the end result left me speechless. Truly, that’s why it’s been hard for me to write. I cannot word correctly how impressed I am with Alton — not only creating this application, but walking me through it so that I looked like a talented chef whose been cooking for years. Second, I’ll (of course) walk you through our bass masterpiece. Know though, I cannot fully explain how absolutely to-die-for this fish tasted. It was the most scrumptious, flavorful, moist fish I have ever had. …But enough skipping around; prepare to be amazed…
Let me introduce my new friend, a five-pound striped bass:Now remember, I’m a fledgling cook here… I’ve yet to purchase, touch or cook anything with its head on. Eyes, mouth, and gills attached, it makes it impossible to see this poor bass as anything but well, a poor bass. I tried ever so hard not to look into those deep black eyes… or at its thick lips — which in my head uttered words of judgement for cooking him. No, I tried to concentrate on everything else, but my sad-fated friend. So, with a deep breath, the first step after rinsing and patting my buddy dry, was stuffing. This fella was to be packed with goodies — parsley, fennel, thyme, lemon, and orange. Alton said, “Stuff the body cavity with as much . . . as it can comfortably hold”… but I um, think I overstuffed — which was no problem; I was simply excited about all these amazing ingredients flavoring my friend. I kept adding fennel… and parsley — which smelt ‘o so fresh… and lemon — who doesn’t like a lot of lemon… oh, and more thyme — James loves thyme… and orange — yum, the orange was so juicy… Yep, I kept stuffin’ and shovin’… until my bass looked like this:
…an accordion folder with a semester’s worth of papers half pulled in preparation for the end of the year exam. Oddly enough though, it made me happy because that meant I could barely see the fish… which suppressed my feelings on what I was actually doing.
After stuffing, my guy (not James) got to relax… while my real guy and I got to work creating the (drum roll) dome. This part made me feel crazy… and left James continually double-checking the application. The ingredients: Egg whites, water, and a box of kosher salt. Wait. I don’t know if you caught that: A three-pound b-o-x of kosher salt. Those three ingredients were supposed to be worked “into a paste with your hands”… but you tell me — Do you think two egg whites and a fourth a cup water will provide any sort of liquid for three pounds of salt to be made into a paste?! The correct answer: No!
We had our doubts, for sure… mainly when I was stirring a bowl of salt, to no avail. …And we continued having doubts when it came time to create a base for the dome… but still, we imagined it was a pastey-substance and scooped it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Afterward, we prayed… Well, I prayed. I prayed to the invisible Alton that this non-paste would somehow hold together and accomplish what a paste would. I prayed to my book that I trusted it and needed it at this time of weakness, when I felt like a glutton for purchasing an expensive endangered species… and for using an entire three-pound box of kosher salt to make a paste that wasn’t pasty. After praying, I felt a little better, cleansed as they say… so we proceeded on, moving the overstuffed fish to its bed and covering it in salt.
As Alton said, “This is like archaeology,” patiently chiseling in an effort to guide off tan slabs of salt, then carefully brushing away the remaining particles. Once finished, you’re left with your goal, your entire purpose in life (well, at least at this moment): The bass. Once all salt is swept away with a basting brush, it’s time to fillet. I was incredibly nervous about this. I wanted James to fillet, but quiet frankly, I didn’t trust his skills either (sorry, love). After both of us royally failed butterflying a chicken, I had little hopes we could fillet any better. The act of filleting is delicate and must be done in a smooth sweeping motion — two actions James and I sadly don’t have when it comes to cooking. Still, we had to hold our heads high! So far, our meal was a complete success! It not only looked astonishing, but it smelt even better. We would not let our knife wielding skills fail us now! …And fortunately, Alton didn’t leave our side. He coaxed us to remove the dorsal fin, then slice from the back of the fish to its gills. Next, we were to lift the skin off and remove our very first fillet…
But the hard part hadn’t even started… The most in-depth step: Gripping the tail, pulling upward and forward all in an effort to remove the skeleton. Alton said the skeleton should come away cleanly, easily in one piece… but I again I questioned our newbie cook skills… and again, was proven wrong! With a small tug, the entire skeleton slipped from the fish…
…revealing another juicy fillet.
After the filleting was finished, Alton suggests sprinkling the fillets with sea salt and olive oil before serving. I couldn’t recommend anything better!
Oddly enough, the simple task of serving was the hardest part! After removing the fillet from the baking sheet… to a serving plate, the fish had decided it about had it with the moves… and our perfect fillets collapsed. Was I heartbroken about this? I was, at the time… until James reminded me the fillet pieces in no way affect the taste and it still looked delicious… which is then that I realized, we should be celebrating! Not only did we single-handedly (okay, double-handedly since it was James and I cooking) prepare a whole, large fish, but we also made a fish so moist, so delicious it fell off the bone. Literally.
In the end, I am beyond proud of my fiance and myself! This was truly an epic moment. It gave me the boost and courage I needed to feel like I can do this. I can become a cook! I can become a wife who prepares amazing homemade meals for her husband. I can become a friend who entertains and pulls out all the stops when it comes to food. I can… cook. The realization — spurred on by this sole application — is one that is so profound for me, that means so much; it’s why I’ve been having a hard time blogging about this dish. Alton, I wish more than ever you could just once read what I’ve written… just so you could know how much you’ve changed my life, how my heart is full of a million “Thank yous.”