March has come in like the proverbial lion with sleet, snow and icy weather. Tonight has predictions of sleet accumulations up to 3 inches. This recipe will make you think of a Mediterranean summer with bright flavors of tomatoes and leeks.
This recipe involves saffron which is the world’s most expensive spice. It was once traded ounce for ounce with gold.
Saffron is harvested from a little fall-blooming crocus. Threads of saffron are so expensive because they are still picked by hand. There are three stamens in each flower and they have to be picked soon after the flower opens, so they have to be picked every day as long as blooming season goes on. There is no machine invented yet that can do the job of human hands.
If you have a Cost Plus World Market near you, you can find little tiny boxes of saffron at a reasonable price or Trader Joe’s has a little jar for not too much. If you can’t find saffron, turmeric can be substituted but it doesn’t have quite the same taste. *
If you’re really serious about saffron, you can buy the crocus bulbs and grow your own. I planted some and got one harvest before we had to sell the house and move.
This recipe is written with black bass but any firm white fish will do. I use catfish nuggets because they don’t fall apart when they’re cooked and they are not expensive here in the south.
Black Bass in Leek-Saffron-tomato Broth
2 Tbl olive oil
2 cups leeks, sliced
1 14-oz can diced, fire roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen is a really good brand)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp saffron threads (this means lightly filled, not packed down or crumbled)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf (if you can find the fresh ones in the produce section, they are a vast improvement over the dried ones.)
1/4 cup dry white wine
Four 5-oz fillets of striped or black bass
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
1 Tbl grated lemon or lime zest
Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the leeks cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, saffron, red pepper flakes, bay leaf and wine. Simmer until tomatoes have been reduced by half, 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the fish to the sauce and season it with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the fish is opaque, 5 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Spoon some of the mixture over the fish occasionally.
Divide the fish among 4 plates and sprinkle with parsley and lemon zest. Divide any extra sauce among the plates.
* 1/8 tsp turmeric plus 1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika can be substituted for 1/2 tsp saffron threads.