Back in the early eighties a pioneering new fish restaurant called Le Bernardin opened up in New York as the American outpost of a French original. Under the direction of Chef Gilbert Le Coze, Le Bernardin’s revolutionary stroke was to reduce significantly the butter and cream required in classical French fish cookery in favor of the flavors of the fish itself. The sauces were not heavy, and the fish was not cooked through—it was left translucent in the center—and the result was a revelation.
One of my favorite dishes from Le Bernardin is its signature halibut in warm emulsified sherry vinaigrette. My recipe is a simple Italian influenced offshoot made with striped bass, sprinkled with flavorings and oil and vinegar and baked. It is a great dish for entertaining. Everything can be prepped ahead of time, and then all you have to do is throw the fish into the oven 25 minutes before dinner.
How can you tell when the fish is done? Like meat, fish cooks from the outside in. When it is completely cooked through, you can stick a knife through the thickest part of the fish with no resistance. If you want to eat it rare, as they do in France, you can cook it until there is just a little resistance at the center of the fish. Whatever you do, do not cook your fish until it flakes, even though that’s what many of the old cookbooks instruct you to do. By the time it’s flaky, your poor fish is also dry and tasteless.
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons anchovy paste or 2 anchovy fillets, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup pitted Mediterranean black olives, preferably Kalamata, finely chopped
1 tablespoon drained bottled capers, finely chopped
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
6 skinless striped bass filets, about 6 ounces each
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Combine the vinegar and anchovy paste in a small bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until well blended. Whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the olives, capers, shallot, garlic, and oregano.
Arrange the fillets skinned sides down in a baking dish large enough to hold the fish fillets in one flat layer. Season well with salt and pepper. Spoon a small amount of the vinegar and oil mixture over each fillet and drizzle the rest around the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake until opaque throughout and firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to warm serving plates and spoon on any juices in the bottom of the baking dish. Serve warm.