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Cooking School: Fresh Catch

There’s something fishy going on with Chef Chris Kobayashi

Written and produced by Stephen Exel
  • Recipes start here

    Chef Chris Kobayashi’s Artisan restaurant in Paso Robles, California, gives particular significance to the word fresh. Kobayashi serves on the Blue Ribbon Task Force of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. The mission of this group of more than 40 chefs and food professionals from across the nation is to ensure that sustain-ability (fishing and farming practices that promote long-term vitality for marine life) and healthy oceans are preserved for future generations. That translates to delicious tastes on the plate.

    The Kobayashis—there are three, including Artisan co-owner brother Michael and Chris’s wife, Shandi—are committed to using organic and sustainable products for their sophisticated, off-the-beaten-path restaurant on California’s Central Coast. (Shandi oversees operations at their small farm a few miles away, providing fresh produce and herbs for the ever-changing menu.)

    “As far as our oceans are concerned, we have to think about what we are leaving for the next generation,” Chris Kobayashi says. “The Seafood Watch uses the Blue Ribbon Task Force to raise awareness of sustainable aquaculture that trickles down to restaurants and grocers and, ultimately, to the diner and home cook.”

    The trickle-down theory also works its way back up the chain. “Chefs are in the spotlight. Diners absolutely watch what we serve,” Kobayashi notes. “If they know we are serving sustainable seafood, they’ll ask for it when they are purchasing it at the fish counter. The message goes back to the purveyor and their suppliers.”

    In fact, according to the Seafood Watch, more than 100,000 retailers in the United States have committed to choosing sustainable practices when making decisions about what they offer customers. These farming choices, which result in healthy products, completely jibe with Kobayashi’s cooking philosophy: cleaner food and concise preparations without overly muddled components. “You need to be able to taste all the flavors,” he says.

    Photography: Peter Krumhardt

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    Kobayashi believes that with a better product, there’s less fuss in preparation. His techniques are simple and straightforward with an emphasis on execution. His cooking is, as a result, rich, flavorful, and confidently layered with a thoughtful combination of tastes.

    You’ll find sturgeon slathered with an aïoli (a garlicky mayonnaise) laced with capers and thyme, adding creaminess to the lean fish. Sea bass, marinated in a mixture of miso and soy, has a smoky background from being grilled on a cedar plank. Clams steamed in ale benefit from bacon and fresh tomato marmalade. The strong flavor of grilled swordfish is complemented by a briny olive tapenade.

    Most seafood is available nationwide, but it’s better to shop regionally, Kobayashi asserts. The Seafood Watch (seafoodwatch.com) offers an app with purchasing guides for each region of the country, including which seafood is the best choice, what to choose as an alternative, and what fish to avoid.

    Of course, you can always start the conversation by simply asking your fishmonger, “Is it sustainable?” 

    Details Artisan is located at 843 12th Street in Paso Robles, California (805/237-8084). For directions, hours, menus, and special events, visit artisanpasorobles.com. The wine list focuses on California Central Coast wines. Reservations are recommended for the dining room.

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Cedar-Planked Grilled Sea Bass with Miso

    The miso marinade combines with the smoke from a cedar plank for a delicious sweet-and-smoke flavor profile. This recipe was a definite favorite of our editors and Test Kitchen. Note the marinating time for the sea bass is 4 to 24 hours; plan ahead.

    Be sure to submerge the cedar plank in water and soak it for at least one hour. Grilling planks can be purchased at both specialty grocers and some hardware stores. They are for outdoor use only.

    • 4 (6-ounce) fresh Chilean sea bass fillets, 1-inch thick
    • 1 (14x6x1/2-inch) cedar grilling plank
    • 3 cups Miso Marinade; 1 tablespoon reserved for vegetables

    Miso Marinade:

    • 1/2 cup mirin
    • 1/2 cup sake
    • 1-1/2 cups red miso paste
    • 1/4 cup soy sauce
    • 1 cup sugar

    Broccolini and Mushroom Mixture:

    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 6 ounces fresh oyster mushrooms
    • 1 bunch broccolini, cut into 1-inch pieces (5 ounces)
    • 2 ounces fresh spinach, preferably heartier varieties like Tyee or Bloomsdale*
    • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
    • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, halved, seeded, and cut into strips**
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/4 cup dry sherry
    • Salt and ground black pepper

    Place fish in shallow glass baking dish. Pour 3 cups marinade (reserving 1 tablespoon for the vegetables) over fish. Turn fish to coat. Cover; refrigerate 4 to 24 hours.

    At least 1 hour before grilling, soak plank in enough water to cover, weighting to keep submerged.

    Lightly wipe off any marinade clinging to fish but DO NOT rinse off. For gas or charcoal grill, place plank on grill rack directly over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes or until plank begins to crackle and smoke. Place fish fillets on plank. 

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Cedar-Planked Grilled Sea Bass with Miso

    Cover; grill 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork. (Fish should be charred to doneness; see photo, above.) Place fish with cedar plank on large platter; arrange vegetables on top and serve. Makes 4 servings.

    For Miso Marinade, in medium saucepan combine mirin and sake. Bring to boil over high heat. Boil about 5 minutes to evaporate alcohol; reduce by about half. Turn heat to low; add miso and soy sauce; stir to dissolve. Stir in sugar. Return mixture to boil; turn down heat. Simmer, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes or until mixture is reduced to 3 cups. Cool completely and reserve.

    For Broccolini and Mushroom Mixture, heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in olive oil. Cook and stir oyster mushrooms over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add broccolini; cook for another minute. (Char vegetables until a deep, dark brown by NOT stirring them often.) Add spinach; cook 1 minute more. Stir in shallot, jalapeño, and garlic. Remove skillet from heat. Add sherry. Return skillet to heat; simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half. Add 1 tablespoon reserved Miso Marinade; stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside.

    Tip: Marinade can be made and chilled up to 24 hours before adding to fish.

    *Tyee is a semi-savory spinach varietal with large, slightly crinkled leaves. Bloomsdale is a savory varietal with crisp, thick, spiny, dark-green leaves. Both are available at specialty grocers and farmer’s markets. Smooth-leaf spinach with broad, round leaves can be used; this cooks quickly, so adjust cooking time slightly until spinach is just wilted.

    **Because hot chile peppers, such as jalapeños, contain volatile oils that can burn skin and eyes, avoid direct contact with chiles as much as possible. When working with chile peppers, wear plastic or rubber gloves. If bare hands do touch the chile peppers, wash hands well with soap and water.

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    Grilled Swordfish with Olive Tapenade

    Swordfish is a strong-flavored steak-like fish that pairs well with an equally strong condiment, such as this green-and-black-olive tapenade brightened with orange segments. A sprinkle of toasted bread crumbs adds crunch. The Olive Tapenade brings an additional briny flavor to the grilled swordfish. Use the tapenade as a condiment for other grilled foods, such as chicken, or a Greek-inspired burger topped with feta cheese.

    Technique: Cook swordfish to medium so it remains moist. When you pick it up with your spatula, there should be some flex to the fish. Don’t force the fish from the grill; when it’s ready to be turned, it will release naturally without sticking.

    Olive Tapenade:

    • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
    • 1/2 cup pitted green olives, such as Picholine or Manzanilla
    • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, such as Niçoise or Kalamata
    • 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
    • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
    • 1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped shallot
    • 1 clove garlic, smashed•1 medium orange, peeled, sectioned and chopped
    • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 4 fresh swordfish fillets, about 7 ounces each
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • Salt and ground black pepper

    For Bread Crumbs (optional):

    • 1 cup dry firm-textured Italian bread cubes, cut into 1" pieces
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • Salt and ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh marjoram

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    Grilled Swordfish with Olive Tapenade

    For tapenade, in food processor, combine parsley, green olives, black olives, anchovies, capers, lemon peel, shallot, and garlic. Cover; process with on/off turns until chopped. Transfer to medium bowl. Stir in chopped orange and 1/3 cup olive oil. Set aside.

    Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Brush both sides of fish with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    For gas or charcoal grill, place fish on rack of covered grill directly over medium heat. 

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    Grilled Swordfish with Olive Tapenade

    Grill 6 to 8 minutes or until fish begins to flake when tested with fork, turning once halfway through grilling. (Turn fish with a fish turner when fish naturally releases from grill rack, as in photo, above. If you have to force the fish to release from the grill, it’s not ready.)

    To serve, top each swordfish fillet with 1 tablespoon olive tapenadeand 1 teaspoon bread crumbs, if using. Makes 4 servings.

    For Bread Crumbs, place bread cubes in food processor. Cover; process with on/off turns until finely chopped. In medium skillet, toast bread crumbs in 2 tablespoons hot olive oil over medium-high heat 5 to 7 minutes, or until toasted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in marjoram. Remove from heat. Set aside.

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    Ale-Steamed Clams with Tomato Marmalade

    Nut brown ale is the base of the broth for this simple-to-prepare dish. The broth gets additional flavor from bacon, fennel, and a homemade tomato marmalade. (Use the marmalade to top poultry or meat or as a sandwich condiment.) “This dish depends on the quality of its ingredients,” Kobayashi says. “Buy the best.” 

    Technique: Clean the clams well—one sandy clam can ruin the dish. To remove sand from clams, soak them in lightly salted water.

    • 2 pounds Manila or littleneck clams, well scrubbed
    • 8 slices bacon, coarsely chopped
    • 1 cup thinly sliced fennel
    • 1/2 cup thinly sliced garlic (about 3 bulbs)*
    • 2 shallots, thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
    • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
    • Pinch crushed red pepper
    • Pinch salt
    • Ground black pepper
    • 1 cup nut brown ale, such as Newcastle Brown Ale
    • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
    • 1/4 cup Tomato Marmalade (recipe follows)
    • 1 to 2 oranges, sectioned and coarsely chopped
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • Fresh basil leaves

    Tomato Marmalade:

    • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/4 cup chopped fennel
    • 1/4 cup chopped onion
    • 1/4 cup chopped leeks
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 cup good quality red wine vinegar
    • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
    • 8 medium fresh tomatoes, such as San Marzano or Roma, peeled, seeded and diced (4 cups)
    • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
    • Salt and ground black pepper

    Pan-Fried Bread:

    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 8 (1-inch) slices stale baguette-style French bread
    • Salt and ground black pepper

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    Ale-Steamed Clams with Tomato Marmalade 

    To clean clams, soak for about 15 minutes in lightly salted water to remove any lingering sand. Discard any opened clams.

    In very large skillet cook bacon over medium-high heat 1 minute or until it begins to release fat. Add fennel, garlic, shallots, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook 5 to 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender and bacon is nearly crisp. Add clams, ale, basil, parsley, and Tomato Marmalade. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover; simmer 12 to 14 minutes or until clams open. (Discard any that do not open.) Add orange segments and butter, stirring until melted. Portion equally into 4 bowls. Garnish with basil. Serve with 2 pieces of Pan Fried Bread. Makes 4 servings.

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    Ale-Steamed Clams with Tomato Marmalade 

    For Tomato Marmalade, heat oil in large non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion, leeks, and garlic. Cook and stir 4 minutes or until tender and beginning to brown. Add vinegar and brown sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Add tomatoes. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 2 hours, stirring occasionally so marmalade doesn't burn. Stir in basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    For Pan-Fried Bread, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bread slices, turning to coat in oil. Cook 4 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Season with salt and pepper. Drain on paper towels.

    *To peel garlic, put garlic cloves in metal bowl, place another metal bowl of same size on top, with lips of bowls together (like a clam!). Shake hard to remove skins.

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    Baked Sturgeon with Caper-Thyme Aïoli

    A creamy aïoli tops this lean fish that is seared, then baked, resulting in a rich dish that needs little more accompaniment than sautéed vegetables. To make the aïoli, use a blender or an immersion blender. The high velocity will aerate and thicken the full-flavored sauce. The Caper-Thyme Aïoli adds silky, rich texture to the lean, flaky sturgeon.

    Technique: To get a restaurant sear on the fish, start with a hot pan. When pan is heated, add a little butter or oil, then add the fish, flesh side down. Cook until a crust has formed and the flesh is golden brown. Turn fish and bake.

    Baked Sturgeon:

    • 1 recipe Caper-Thyme Aïoli (recipe follows)
    • 4 fresh sturgeon fillets, about 6 ounces each (halibut or wild striped bass fillets make a good substitute)
    • Salt and ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
    • 2 cloves garlic, crushed with skin on
    • 1 large bunch spring onions, thinly sliced, green parts separated from white
    • 1 lemon, cut into quarters

    Caper-Thyme Aïoli:

    • 1 egg yolk
    • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon capers, coarsely chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
    • Salt and ground black pepper

    For Baked Sturgeon, preheat oven to 425°F. Prepare Caper-Thyme Aïoli (recipe follows). Season sturgeon fillets with salt and pepper. 

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    Baked Sturgeon with Caper-Thyme Aïoli 

    In large pre-heated skillet heat oil over medium-high heat. Add fish; cook 2 minutes until fish is seared on bottom. Turn fillets over (sear should have a dark crust, as in photo, above). Place butter, whole thyme sprigs, and garlic in pan. Once butter melts, baste fillets with spoon for about 30 seconds. Transfer fish to 15x10x1-inch baking pan, seared side up.

    Spread 2 tablespoons aïoli on each fillet. Sprinkle white part of spring onion atop aïoli.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until fish flakes when tested with fork. (Onions will start to brown on top and fillets will be slightly opaque in interior.)

    Place on 4 individual plates; garnish with green part of spring onion and lemon quarter. Makes 4 servings.

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    Baked Sturgeon with Caper-Thyme Aïoli 

    For Caper-Thyme Aïoli, in blender combine egg yolk and lemon juice. Cover; blend until combined. With blender running, slowly add oil in thin steady steam. (Mixture will thicken as oil is added.) Stir in capers, garlic, and thyme. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper. Cover; chill until ready to use. Makes about 1/2 cup.

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    Shopping Tips for Fresh Seafood

    You’re friends with your butcher, right? Develop the same relationship with your fishmonger. He’s your guide to what’s freshest, how to cook it, and what might be a good substitute if the fish you want is unavailable.

    1. Sea bass Look for lean flesh that is firm to the touch and unbroken. The flesh should be translucent and pure white.
    2. Clams Shells should be tightly closed and without chips. Clams should be heavy and have a fresh “ocean” smell.
    3. Sturgeon Flesh should be dense and meaty. Avoid fish with red veining. Some fat deposits are desirable and add richness.
    4. Swordfish Flesh should be pinkish-white. Darker areas should be red. The texture should be meaty and steak-like.

    Look for signs of freshness:

    • For whole fish, look for clear, bright eyes; shiny skin; fins that are straight and unbroken; pink or red gills that are a bright color.
    • For fillets and steaks, look for bright, shiny flesh that is white, pink, or off-white, depending on type. The flesh should be firm to the touch and unbroken. The skin should be firmly attached.
    • Look at the ice the fish is resting on—it’s a good indication of freshness. Any discoloration in the ice will tell you the fish has been resting on it too long and its juices are running. The same applies to that piece of white plastic on the bottom of packaged fish; avoid any discoloration or dampness.
    • Naturally, check expiration dates if you are buying packaged fish. If the date is the same as the date you are shopping, don’t buy it.
    • Follow your nose. Fish should not smell “fishy,” but have a fresh, ocean-like smell. Ask to smell the fish and if it doesn’t smell of the ocean, choose something else.

    When purchasing bivalves and mollusks, such as clams, mussels, and oysters, make sure the shells are tightly closed. If possible, place shellfish in a string bag or keep the bag they come in open—they are alive and need to breathe. Discard any opened shells. In the case of mussels, some will have gaps. Give the shell a little tap; if it reacts by closing, it’s OK.

    Refrigerate fish and shellfish in the coldest part of the refrigerator as soon as you get home. Remove the fish from its packaging, wrap in paper towels, and place in a resealable plastic bag on a tray of ice. Preferably, cook the fish the day of purchase.

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  • Peter Krumhardt