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Arctic Char – A Late-Night Char-Fest

09.08.08
A whole char is a pretty thing to behold. The skin is spotted and pinky-peach to a point that seems surreal for a fish. The three fish all had markedly different flesh colors ranging from paler pink to intense red like a sockeye salmon. Three of us batted around ideas of what to do with the fishes, and here’s what we came up with.


Belly Sashimi

Cut from the belly. One of the mildest fishes I’ve ever tasted, and I felt like I could eat a whole plate of it. These particular lake fish were extremely lean, so it lacked the fat to be luxurious, but shone in it’s cleanliness of flavor profile. It struck me as having the flavor profile more the direction of rockfish sashimi more than salmon. Best pairing – Riesling




Tail Carpaccio

Tail pieces, gently pounded thin, seasoned with lemon, lime, red onion, salt, pepper, oil. The bed of zest and seasoning under the fish was a great idea, and the texture was lovely. Reminiscent of tartare presentations I’ve made a few times, it’s a style of eating raw fish that I think would appeal to even the non-raw-fish-eater. Best pairing – gewurtztraminer




Poached loin with Chive Beurre Noisette, Chard, and Thyme-Rice

I dig this dish with salmon, and it didn’t disappoint with char. I think this would be more successful with a thicker piece, done more med-rare, but otherwise, I was really happy with how this turned out. I chuckle every time I think of char being complemented with chard. Heh. Pairing: pinot noir




Almond Crusted Schnitzel

This dish was slotted as the one to go for crispy skin, and although it didn’t get there, the skin was memorable for me. It is so delicate, that in this preparation, we ate it with the flesh, and could hardly tell. It is tender, soft, and extremely easy to eat. We preferred it with a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon. Although robust from being fried, this dish worked better with white wine than red.




Char Chowder

While filleting and deconstructing the whole fishes, it felt wrong to discard any, so it went into a stock pot. I’d also wanted to do a dish with cream sauce. Someone suggested chowder: genius. This was another of the top dishes for me. Yukon gold, a subtle fish vibe, saffron, mushrooms, heavy cream, and lots of tarragon. It was fantastic the next day as well.





Char Ceviche

Chili, citrus, onion, and fish just works. Plain, simple, on a round of toasted home-made baguette. Clean, flavorful, vibrant – very solid. In hindsight, this was a fortunate place in the menu to put this dish, as the freshness could act as a palate cleanser between two very savoury courses. Wine: Riesling.




Yellow Curry with Red Lentil

Indian yellow curry with coconut milk, on a bed of red lentils heady with fish stock and fresh garlic. The char collar atop the lentils got me excited every time I lifted the lid, and the curry filled the house with great smells.




Candied Char, 2 Ways

I’d have loved to cure and smoke char, but time constraints disallowed proper execution. So instead, we went with a ‘dessert’ course, candying the char as much as possible in the time we had. There were two camps, both in conceptualizing, and in preference for the final product. One went lavender-honey cure, and I went with the classic brown-sugar and kosher salt direction. The brown sugar one, with 2-3 hours time, resulted in a fruit-jelly-gummy-thinger texture. I preferred it rinsed of its cure. The lavender one was good, largely dominated by the lavender…and the lavender added from the garden.



Summary

It is important to note that these were freshwater char from the Yukon. They were extremely lean and delicate – which presents some unique challenges in their preparation. For example, we were excited to get some ‘fishyness’ out of the fish stock that was very lightly perfumed – not a typical problem with fish or seafood in general. Always fun to take a wonderful ingredient in multiple directions, this will remain a memorable night. Or perhaps ‘morning’ would more appropriate than ‘night’, as I believe the clock hit midnight and we still had 4 courses or so to put out.



The Wines

Wine-pairing-wise I was quite pleased. We had a 2004 Paul Garaudet Monthelie Cuvee Paul from Burgundy that was a nice treat, and a good complement to the fish. Pinot Noir and perhaps gamay would be two of the only red varietals I’d go with for Char. One the white side, we had a 2005 Leon Beyer Riesling Reserve - clean, fresh, with vibrant acidity which made it a solid pairing. We also had a 2006 W. Gisselbrecht Gewurtztraminer Reserve that worked well with the more forcefully flavored dishes, as its heady nose of citrus fruits and perfume could stand up to quite a bit.

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