Grilled Fish with Ancho-Tamarind Sauce and Eggplant
Pescado Asado al Tamarindo con Berenjena
From Season 8 Mexico - One Plate at a Time
1/2 pound fresh tamarind pods, outer shell and strings removed
4 ounces (8 medium) dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into flat pieces
1 head garlic, broken apart, leaving the cloves unpeeled
2-inch piece cinnamon stick (preferably Mexican canela), roughly broken
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup raisins
4 tablespoons olive oil (divided use), plus extra for coating the fish
1/4 cup finely chopped piloncillo (Mexican raw sugar) or dark brown sugar
6 6-ounce meaty fish fillets (such as cobia, halibut, sea bass)
1 large red onion, cut in half and then into 1/4-inch slices
2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (a variety of types of eggplant is delicious here)
1/2 cup toasted sliced or slivered almonds
1 cup baby arugula or cilantro leaves
1. Prepare the sauce. Add the tamarind to a medium bowl along with 1 cup hot water. Soak until softened, usually about 30 minutes depending on the freshness of the tamarind.
In a dry heavy skillet heated over medium, toast the chile pieces a few at a time, pressing them down firmly with a metal spatula for a few seconds until they release a toasty aroma. Flip them, and toast the other side. Scoop the chiles into a small bowl, cover with hot tap water and let rehydrate 30 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even soaking. Drain and place in a blender jar. While the chiles are soaking, roast the unpeeled garlic in the same skillet over medium, turning occasionally, until soft and blackened in spots, about 15 minutes. Cool, peel and add to the blender.
Scoop the cinnamon, oregano and peppercorns into a spice grinder or mini food processor. Pulverize and transfer to the blender jar.
Squeeze the softened tamarind between your hands to separate the pulp from the seeds. Discard the seeds and scrape the tamarind puree along with the soaking liquid into the blender. Add the raisins, 3/4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend to a smooth puree. Press through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl.
Measure 2 tablespoons of the oil into a medium (4-quart ) heavy stockpot or Dutch oven and set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, quickly pour in the chile puree. It should sizzle sharply, and if the pan is sufficiently hot, the mixture should immediately boil and remain at a boil. Stir until the chile puree is reduced to the consistency of tomato paste, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the piloncillo/brown sugar. Remove 1 cup sauce to marinate the fish and 3/4 cup to use with the eggplant. Add about 2/3 cup water to the sauce that remains in the pot to thin it to the consistency of a light cream soup. Taste and season with salt, usually 1/2 teaspoon. Set aside.
2. Marinate the fish. Lay the fish into a non-reactive 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Spread or brush 1 cup of the reserved sauce over both sides of the fish. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Saute the eggplant. In a very large (12-inch) skillet, add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Scoop in the eggplant along with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook until the eggplant has softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the 3/4 cup of the sauce that you set aside along with the almonds. Taste and season with more salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Remove from the heat and set aside until you’re ready to finish the dish.
4. Finish the dish. Heat a gas grill to medium high or light a charcoal fire and let it burn until the coals are covered with gray ash and still very hot. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scrape the marinade off the fish. Spray or lightly brush the fish with oil and season both sides with salt. Lay the fish on the grill and cook for 2 minutes or until the fish releases from the grate, flip it over and using the marinade left in the baking dish, brush the top of the fish. After another 2 minutes, remove the fish to a clean baking dish and place in the oven to finish cooking, usually about 15 minutes.
While the fish is in the oven, gently reheat both the eggplant and sauce. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Remove the fish from the oven and place a fillet on each of 6 warmed dinner plates. Drizzle the warm sauce around the fish. Scoop the finished eggplant onto the plate and decorate with the arugula/cilantro. Serve immediately.