Laws of Gravity

Sea bass in tomato lemongrass water from Paulée in Dundee, Oregon

Sean Temple has a thing for tomato water. Make it once and you'll see why. The chef from Paulée in Dundee, Oregon, extracts the liquid from a bunch of perfectly ripe tomatoes then uses it to sauce fish, frozen into a granita or set into a gelée. The "secret" of the recipe is how ingeniously simple it is, owing much to Mother Nature and little to Sir Isaac Newton: Purée the tomatoes with a little lemongrass, basil and toasted spices, set the pulpy mix in a cheesecloth-lined sieve and let gravity do its thing. The resulting liquid is clear but deeply flavorful and beautifully versatile. Use it anywhere you want a hit of pure, tomato-y essence. Or do what we did in the Test Kitchen: Drink it chilled, straight up as an afternoon refresher. Like sipping summer in a glass.

Recipe adapted from Sean Temple, Paulée, Dundee, OR

Striped Bass In Tomato Lemongrass Water
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Striped Bass in Tomato Lemongrass Water from Paulée in Dundee, Oregon
Prep Time
3
hours
Cook Time
25
minutes
Servings
4
servings
Total time: 3.42 hours
Ingredients
  • Tomato-Lemongrass Water
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layer removed and discarded, inner stalk bruised with the side of a chef's knife and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • ⅔ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • ⅓ cup fresh basil leaves
  •  
  • Bass
  • Four 2-inch-wide skin-on striped bass or sea bass fillets
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
  •  
  • Tomato Salad
  • 1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half, or quarters if they're large tomatoes
  • ½ cup roughly chopped tender herbs (basil, fennel fronds, parsley, tarragon)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions
  1. Make the tomato-lemongrass water: To a small skillet set over medium-low heat, add the coriander and fennel seeds. Toast until fragrant, shaking the pan often, for about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate.
  2. To a large bowl, add the tomatoes and season with the 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Toss to combine, then transfer the tomatoes to a blender along with the toasted spices, lemongrass, peppercorns and basil. Purée until liquefied (work in batches if necessary). Set a large fine-mesh sieve over a large bowl, then line the sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth. Pour the tomato mixture into the sieve and set it aside (don't push down on the solids) for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. The resulting liquid will be clear and light in color.
  3. Start the bass: Preheat the oven to 350°. Season both sides of the fish with the 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Allow it to rest at room temperature.
  4. Make the tomato salad: In a medium bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, chopped herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Toss to combine.
  5. Cook the bass: In a large heatproof skillet set over medium heat, add the 1 tablespoon of oil and heat slowly until the oil shimmers, about 2 minutes. Add the fish, skin-side down, and cook the fillets until the skin is nicely browned and crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the fish is cooked through and flakes easily, 6 to 8 minutes.
  6. In a saucepan set over medium-low heat, warm the tomato-lemongrass water slowly (the water will become cloudy if it boils), about 5 minutes. To serve, divide the fish among 4 shallow, wide bowls, then surround with enough of the warmed tomato water so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the bass. Top with a spoonful of the tomato salad and serve.
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