Cooking with Pictures: Chef John Critchley's Miami Spice Yellowtail Snapper, Part 2

Chef John Critchley showed guests at Whole Foods Coral Gables how to prepare some of the dishes from Area 31's Miami Spice menu recently. In an earlier post, Short Order presented Chef Critchley's watermelon salad recipe, along with step-by-step photos. Now we'll show you his preparation of Key West yellowtail snapper with red lentils and a citrus and herb reduction.

Step by step photos after the jump.

Ingredients for the yellowtail snapper with red lentils.

Like all proteins, fish cook better if you

start working with them at room temperature, says Critchley. That way the fish is dry when you set it in the pan. Critchley set the snapper out to dry while he prepared the sauce. If you're in a rush, you can also pat the fish dry with paper towels.

Prepare the sauce by pouring orange juice into a pot. Critchley poured about a couple of cups.

Add herbs to the pot: purple basil, chervil, dill, tarragon, parsley, and lemongrass.

Critchley bruised the lemongrass stalks with the back of his

knife to release the aroma before adding to the pot.

Add several tablespoons of honey.

Add about 3-5 tablespoons of evaporated palm

sugar, followed by a pinch of chili flakes. Simmer. You want the sauce to infuse with flavor, but don't cook it so long that it

becomes bitter. Critchley suggests simmering for about 25 minutes, but use your

eyes and nose as a guide.

Meanwhile, prepare the red lentils. Add them to a stock pot...

...along with at least enough vegetable broth to cover. Bring to a boil, and then simmer, just as you

would with rice. They take 10-12 minutes to cook. You should taste them: when the lentils are

cooked, they should have just enough give without being mushy. If there is extra liquid once they are fully

cooked, you can just strain them.

To finish off the lentils, add a tablespoon or so of each:

chopped garlic, chopped shallots, and minced chives. Sprinkle with salt. Also add finely chopped preserved lemons,

which are whole lemons coated in salt. The chefs at Area 31 preserve their own lemons, but you can buy these at specialty


Back to the fish: it should be clear-eyed, firm to the touch, and have bright

red gills. The best indicator of freshness is the smell. When packaged, a fish might smell really

intense. However, one you remove it from

the plastic and set it out, it should have a mild ocean aroma, not an overpowering fish stench.

Critchley advises that you can best tell the quality

of a fish if you buy it whole. Then you can either butcher it at home or have the

fishmonger do it for you.

He starts by chopping off the head to get it out of the way,

and then he goes about filleting (a story for another day). The head can be used to flavor a stock or


Leave the skin on for maximum moisture and flavor. Rub a drop of olive oil -- Critchley was very

exact about this measurement -- into the skin. Meanwhile, you should be heating a pan.

Place the fish, skin side down, in the very hot pan to sear

it off. It may start to curl up so you can hold it down with a spatula.

Since he apparently has no nerve endings in his fingers,

Chef Critchley uses his hands. Don't try this at home.

After the initial sear, lower the heat. It should only take two or three minutes to

cook each side.

Once the sauce is reduced, strain out the herbs. Finish off with sea salt and fresh grated


Serve the fish with the reduction and the lentils. Drizzle with

olive oil and garnish with herbs.

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