Summer. Kinda Hot, kinda humid. I wanted something refreshing and light but filling. I wanted something tried and true and something new. I wanted something with a little complexity and a higher than average degree of difficulty. I wanted to work for it, dammit.
First stop, let's see what we got laying around.
Hmm...okay. Some super fresh, super sweet carrots (bonus points for a multitude of colors), a leek. And a pineapple.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I found I liked pineapple. More specifically, I like grilled pineapple. Raw pineapple is just to acidic and pineapple-y for me. Grilled, and some smart person out there can tell me why, either ups the sweetness and lowers the acidity or because the sweetness goes up, it masks the acidity. Either way, I like it.
So, let's make pineapple the star of this show and work around it.
There's a great Bobby Flay recipe for Grilled Snapper with Caramelized Pineapple-Serrano Butter. I've actually, never made it with snapper until today. We don't get a lot of snapper up in Minnesota. At least not in mainline grocery stores. Today I found some. I had my tried and true. Just for the challenge of it, I wanted to put something together involving the aforementioned pineapple, carrots and a leek. Two recipes below.
Grilled Snapper with Caramelized Pineapple-Serrano Butter
1 serrano chile, seeds and veins removed, chopped
1/2 small ripe pineapple
Canola oil, for brushing
Sugar, for sprinkling
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 green onions (green and pale green part), thinly sliced
Pinch of chile de arbol
Clover honey, if desired
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 skin-on pink snapper fillets (about 8 ounces each)
Grilled Pineapple-Carrot Slaw...or Salad...or Slaw (Stop Overthinking It)
1 lb carrots, shredded
1 leek, chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 tbsp mint, chopped
2 tsp parsley, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 small ripe pineapple
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 chile piquin pods, ground
Pinch of chile de arbol
Clover honey, if needed
salt and ground black pepper to taste
We're gonna build this thing in parts. We gotta make the butter first (so it has more time in the fridge for the flavors to meld and to firm up), then the slaw, then we grill the fish and bring it all together.
For the butter, you want the 2 sticks of butter out at room temperature for at least an hour. You can make this with the butter cold but the flavors take longer to mix and your blender or food processor will hate you.
Prep the pineapple by butting off the skin and slicing into 1/2 inch or so slices. Use a paring knife to remove the core from each slice. It's extremely tough and fibrous. You're gonna use half for the butter and half for the slaw. You want a ripe pineapple. The best test I've found for this is to grasp one of the pineapple leaves with your thumb and forefinger. If it plucks out with little effort, it's pretty ripe. If it doesn't, that's cool, but you'll augment the butter and the slaw with about a teaspoon in each of honey. My pineapple today needed this sweetness boost.
Get your grill or grill pan going on medium low heat. Brush the pineapple slices with canola oil, lightly salt and pepper each side, and sprinkle a tsp of sugar (split across all the slices) on each side. The sugar helps it caramelize and brings out some more sweetness without dominating. Slap each slice down over some flame. 4-5 minutes per side oughta do it. Get some nice grill marks going.
Chop up half the slices and throw them in the food processor with the butter. Remove the seeds and ribs from the serrano, rough chop and add. Do the same thing with the green onion. Add the chile de arbol and a little salt and pepper. Fire up the processors and let it go until relatively smooth. Give it a taste. As I thought, I needed to pump up the sweetness, so I added about a teaspoon of honey and pulsed the blender a few times to incorporate it. Put it in a container, cover, and put in the fridge for at least two hours.
Let's make the slaw. First, you gotta shred a whole pound of carrots. Yikes. If you don't have a shredding disc on your food processor, you're gonna get a pretty good workout. Shred and throw in a big bowl. Thinly slice the green onion and add. Do the same with the white part of the leek. Chop up the remaining pineapple and add. Throw in the mint and parsley and give it a good stir. Hit it with some salt and pepper and the spices. A warning on the chile piquin...it's hot. It's way hot. 3 pods (they're really small) ground up will strike you as nowhere near enough. It is. Trust me, it is. I'd suggest going with 3 and letting the slaw sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Give it a taste. If you want to add more at that point (you're insane), go ahead.
A note on the spices: the cinnamon is the blessing and the curse of the spice mix and you'll see I'm not using much. That's because I'm serving it with fish and the cinnamon can overpower it. If you're serving this as a standalone or serving it with chicken or pork, I'd go a full teaspoon of cinnamon. With fish it's better to sort of let it lurk in the shadows instead of stepping out front.
Add the lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. Give it a good stir, cover, and put in the fridge for at least an hour.
You'll like your life better if you use the fridge interlude to clean up. It's highly likely your kitchen will look like a bomb went off. Pineapple and leeks both leave a lot of detritus behind. Pineapple juice has, at this point, most likely run all over the counters, coated your cutting board, made your knife so slippery you have only the illusion of control over it, and is almost certainly spilling over the sides of your counter and dribbling down your cabinets onto the floor where you have an awesome chance of slipping on it and creating a fantastic but inadvertent slice of slapstick gold. Please, send us pictures from the hospital.
When you've finished cleaning and the butter and slaw are all melded, prep the fish. Which is remarkably easy. Brush both sides with canola, give both sides a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Get a grill going on high. Let it get stupid hot. This lets you brush it down really well and remove all the crud from the grates, which makes the fish less likely to stick. You can oil the grates. I rarely do. I oil the fish and brush it well. That's usually good enough.
Have the butter close at hand (note, if you've only let it stand in the fridge for a couple of hours, it'll still be kinda runny...that's cool, in fact, it's preferable).
Place the fish, flesh side down, on the grill. Step away. I'm serious. Put down your spatula or tongs or whatever weapon you're wielding and step away. Don't mess with it. Fish is fragile. You need to let it go on the grill until the side that's down is done enough that it releases easily from the grill grates. This will be 4-5 minutes. Gently get under it with a spatula and flip it. Add a healthy dollop of the butter to the flesh, and maybe a few drops of lemon juice if you have any lemon laying around (and we know you do, since you used some on the slaw).
Step away again. I said step away...you're still hovering. Take two big steps back and leave it the hell alone. If you oiled it well when you prepped it, you're gonna be fine. If you didn't...hell, you won't be able to save it now, it's going to break apart when you try to pick it up. You're just going to have to mix the fish parts in with the slaw and call it hash. Let it go another 4-5 minutes so the skin crisps way up. This is, if you like skin, going to make it crispy delicious. If you don't like skin, it will pull away from the flesh really easily if you've crisped it. Either way, you want it crispy.
Plate the fish. Slather more of the butter on it. Drop a big hunk of the slaw on top.
There's a lot going on here. Snapper is a really sweet and tasty fish. The butter is, well, buttery but you have this pineapple and serrano thing running through it that's just beautiful. The slaw is grounded by the carrots and leeks but the pineapple gives a delicious citrusy burst and a there's a blast of heat from the piquin that's mellowed just a bit by the mint. I wasn't sure how the carrots and pineapple were going to work together. Turned out, pretty well.