As The Goulash Archipelago is now being proofread by the publisher, I thought it would be a good time to post another recipe from the book. So here’s an excerpt from the chapter on Ukraine, along with my hope that there will still be a country of that name by the time the book launches. This is a dish that combines foods specific to two different regions: on one side, the Black Sea red mullet, often served fried in Crimean restaurants; on the other, banosh, a kind of polenta cooked in sour cream and brynza, specialty of the Hutsuls, a fierce mountain population living mainly in the Ukrainian Carpathians.
Hutsuls most certainly don’t eat red mullet very often. Banosh, however, has become a staple of traditional Ukrainian cuisine and is now consumed throughout the country, served with fried bacon bits, pork cracklings, crumbled cheese, or mushrooms. The ingredient pairing here works beautifully. First off, everyone needs more red mullet in their lives (in the U.S., you can order it from Citarella). The fillets may be small, but they pack an inimitable taste that makes it possible to pair them with more flavorful garnishes than your typical seafood. In France, red mullet fillets are often served with Mediterranean vegetables, such as tomato and olives, and can hold their own against red peppers and corn, both of which I associate with Ukraine and neighboring Moldova (Ukraine is one of the largest corn producers in the world). Finally, the red paprika oil and the colorful fish skin contrast with the pale yellow banosh to produce a visually striking presentation – without any green vegetables or herbs, for once!
Red Mullet with Peppers and Hutsul Banosh
Yields 4 servings
Total preparation: 3 hours
Active preparation: 1 hour 15 minutes
Red mullet fabrication
6 red mullets, about 125 g each, scaled and gutted
- Fillet each fish with a fish knife. Reserve the heads, bones, and trimmings from two of the fish. (You can use the rest to make a fish soup.)
- Wrap the fillets in plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator.
Paprika-red mullet oil
heads, bones, and trimmings from 2 red mullets
90 g olive oil
0.5 g salt
2.5 g sweet paprika
- Place the fish heads, bones, and trimmings on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Season with salt and drizzle with about 1/5 of the olive oil. Roast in a 230 C / 450 F oven for 20 minutes, until they start to brown. Let cool for a few minutes.
- Transfer the fish parts to a plastic container. Add the remaining olive oil, stir in the measured salt and paprika, crush the fish heads a bit with a fork, then cover and reserve at room temperature for a couple of hours.
- Pass the oil through a chinois, squeezing the fish heads to press out as much flavor as possible. If you want the oil to be perfectly clear, filter it through a 100-micron filtering bag. Reserve in a squeeze bottle. The oil tastes quite strong on its own but it will be mellowed by the rest of the dish.
- This makes more oil than you will need, and unfortunately it can’t be kept for more than a day or so. It will need to be taken out ahead of time, if refrigerated.
Red pepper brunoise
1 red bell pepper, about 200 g
5 g olive oil
2.5 g lemon juice
0.75 g salt
0.25 g piment d’Espelette
- Place the red pepper on a cooling rack over a sheet tray, and char on all sides using a blow torch. Transfer to a plastic container, cover with a lid, and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Peel the pepper using a paper towel, and rinse under cold water. Pat dry, core, seed, and cut into a brunoise – I got about 75 g of red pepper brunoise. Transfer to a bowl and mix with the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and piment d’Espelette. Reserve at room temperature.
90 g coarse cornmeal
280 g whole milk
200 g sour cream
3 g salt
0.5 g piment d’Espelette
- Place the cornmeal, milk and sour cream in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, 8-10 minutes, until the first starch takes hold.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring frequently, for about 1 hour. The grains should be soft and hold their shape on a spoon.
- Remove from the heat, mix in the salt and piment d’Espelette, and reserve.
red mullet fillets
about 5 g lemon juice
water (see below)
50 g brynza or feta, crumbled
paprika-red mullet oil
red pepper brunoise, room temperature
- Season the fish fillets with salt. Sauté skin side down with the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat, proceeding in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan. Flip skin side up and cook until just warm inside (use a toothpick to test the internal temperature). Drizzle with a little bit of lemon juice, and reserve.
- Reheat the banosh over low heat, thinning it with a little bit of water until you achieve the texture of a potato purée. Stir in the brynza or feta, and reserve.
- For each portion, place a bed of banosh in a bowl, and drizzle with paprika-red mullet oil. Stack three fillets in the center, and top with some red pepper brunoise. Serve immediately.