As the long days of Winter become shorter and more manageable with hints of sunshine and brighter days to so come, I yearn for something lighter at my table and on my plate. It is still cool outside and the snow is threatening to fall but here in the Pacific Northwest, the promise of Spring begins to show with the happy abundance of fresh fish at my neighborhood seafood market. It is mostly coming from Alaska and Hawaii but some beautiful sturgeon has begun to appear from the Columbia Valley this week. It is Friday night, which, usually means steak night, but with a craving for the briny flavor of the sea (river, lake, pond…) I decide to swap out my fillet of tenderloin for an equally dense fillet of fresh sturgeon. Sturgeon is a very dense, mild fish that lends well to a hot flavorful bath. I don’t start in the kitchen with this thought but it occurs to me that I have at my disposal, a freshly made batch of basic tomato sauce, 6 plump, fresh BC Honey Mussels (that I couldn’t resist purchasing with the sturgeon) and a desire to cook with anchovies (prompted by a recent contest); the perfect storm!
If sturgeon is not available, you could substitute monkfish or cod. The end result evolved into, essentially, a thickened tomato bread soup with accessories. The flavor is briny and intoxicating, offset beautifully by the light, sweet flavor of the fish. Spooning the concoction over warm, crusty bread was a last minute decision that turned out to be a most satisfying addition. If you don’t have time or inclination to make the tomato sauce from scratch, there are a number of good-quality jarred sauces that I am sure would work too, but the end result will be different (perhaps better? Or worse…)
Sturgeon bathed in anchovy tomato sauce with Mediterranean friends
1 TB olive oil
5 fresh anchovy fillets (it is essential to use good quality anchovies, packed in oil, not from a tin. I buy mine out of the refrigerated section rather than off the shelf).
2 cups homemade tomato sauce
1/4 head of cauliflower (you will only need 2-3 pieces per person but if you roast the whole head, you could use the remaining for a soup)
Olive oil for brushing
Olive oil for browning the fish
3/4 lbs Columbia River Sturgeon fillet, lightly seasoned with sea salt and pepper, skin and bloodline removed.
1/4 cup chopped cippolini onions or shallots
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 TB fresh, chopped rosemary
2 TB capers, rinsed (preferably salt-packed)
6 Castelvetrano olives, pitted, cut in half
2 medium sized tomatoes, cored and cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup cooked, drained cannelini beans (optional)
1 cup white wine
6 live honey mussels (or the best available to you in your area)
2 qty. 1″ thick slices crusty bread (heated in the oven or grilled)
when trimmed, the sturgeon might look like this
In a small saucepan, heat 1 TB olive oil until very hot, but not smoking. Drop in the chopped anchovies, they will sizzle. Turn down the heat slightly and let them fry for a minute or two until fragrant.
Add the tomato sauce, cover and let simmer a few minutes more until the flavors have melded. Set aside.
Brush the cauliflower with olive oil, grind over fresh pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven until browned (20-30 minutes). Cut into florets, trimming away most of the stem, set aside.
In a heated skillet tipped with olive oil, brown the sturgeon on one side. When you are able to move it without sticking to the pan, flip it over, add the onion and garlic.
Turn the heat down a bit, stir the onion mix and add in the rosemary, capers, olives, fresh tomato and beans (if using). Toss gently to combine without disturbing the fish.
Pour in the white wine and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels; give the pan another shake.
Add the tomato sauce and roasted cauliflower. Quickly bring back to a simmer and transfer to the oven (which should still be heated to 400 degrees). If you haven’t already done so, put the bread in the oven to heat and toast slightly being careful not to burn.
If the mussels have already opened and the fish still feels dense to the touch, transfer the mussels to a plate and keep in a warming drawer or covered nearby. The fish might need 5 – 10 minutes in the oven to cook through and become tender.
When the fish is nearly ready, add the mussels back to the pan to heat through.
Tear each slice of bread into large pieces and place in the bottom of 2 (or 3) deep, heated, individual serving bowls. Ladle some of the sauce over the bread then, using kitchen tongs, place a piece of fish and three mussels on top with a few pieces of cauliflower alongside.