To learn more about this recipe, see our related feature, Phan Club, in our National edition.
Braised Branzino with Tomatoes and Pickled Mustard Greens
Recipe adapted from Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan (Ten Speed Press)
Yield: 4 servings (plus 5¼ cups pickled mustard greens)
Cook Time: 50 minutes (plus 2 days for the mustard greens to pickle)
Pickled Mustard Greens
2½ cups water
1½ cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup kosher salt
2 pounds mustard greens, tough bottom stems removed and leaves chopped into 3-inch pieces
One 1½- to 2-pound branzino (sea bass), cleaned with head and tail intact
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 large shallot, thinly sliced crosswise into rings
8 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Thai chiles, stemmed and smashed with the flat side of a chef's knife
2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon fish sauce
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1. In a medium saucepan set over high heat, bring water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the vinegar, sugar and the salt. Stir occasionally until the sugar and salt have dissolved, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool completely.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the mustard greens and cook until the stalks are tender but still snap when bent, about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and transfer to a baking sheet to let them cool completely.
3. Transfer the greens to a nonreactive airtight container and pour the cooled pickling liquid over them. The greens should be fully immersed in the liquid. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 days before using. The mustard greens will keep in a tightly capped container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
4. Rinse the fish, pat dry and transfer to a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, slash the fish on a bias 3 or 4 times on each side, cutting all the way to the bone. Season both sides and inside the cavity with the salt and the pepper, then sprinkle both sides with the flour, using a pastry brush to brush off the excess.
5. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet set over high heat, add 3 tablespoons of the oil. When the oil is hot, after 1½ to 2 minutes, add the fish and cook until well browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip the fish and cook on the other side until browned, about 5 more minutes. Transfer the fish to a baking sheet or large platter.
6. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium. Add the shallot and the scallions and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and the chiles and cook, stirring until fragrant but not browned, about 1 more minute.
7. Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomato pieces begin to soften and release their juices, about 5 minutes. Stir in ¾ cup of the pickled mustard greens (save the rest of the greens for another time) and then add the broth. Gently slide the fish into the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, spooning the hot liquid over the fish intermittently until the fish is just cooked through (the fish should easily flake when the tip of a paring knife is inserted into the flesh), about 6 minutes.
8. Pour the fish sauce over the fish and transfer the fish and sauce to a platter (or serve straight from the skillet). Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve.