Searing and Serving with Scales On

By

Caroline Hatchett
Aliza Eliazarov
Tilefish, Purple Potatoes, Sorrel, Clams, and Citronella-Potato Broth
Tilefish, Purple Potatoes, Sorrel, Clams, and Citronella-Potato Broth

Among other things, Chef Robert Sisca learned how to cook fish at Le Bernardin—how to sear and poach and roast its flesh to perfection. His tilefish preparation at Boston’s Provençal-leaning Bistro du Midi is testament to that pedigree. With tilefish, Sisca opts to leave the fish’s skin—and scales—on, setting up a wild textural contrast of brittle, crunchy scales and tender, yielding flesh. “Tilefish scales are a little smaller than other fish,” says Sisca. “They’re also much more delicate.”

To prep the tilefish, Sisca soaks it in a salt solution for 30 minutes to soften the scales and to help crisp them for pick up (it also pumps up the flesh and its mild flavor). To order, he sears the scale side for two minutes in oil, then transfers the fish to the oven—still scale side down—for another 5 to 6 minutes. Leaving the scales on doesn’t necessarily save on prep time (Sisca’s purveyors typically remove scales for him), but it does add a smack of unexpected texture and finesse to the final dish of purple potatoes, sorrel, clams, and citronella-potato broth.

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