French kitchens show where cuisine is headed

Entertaining

Entertaining: A two-month stay teaches a professional cook volumes.

July 09, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

After spending two months in France -- possibly the most culinary-minded country in the world -- my husband and I returned to our home in the States.

Our visit, prompted by my spouse's research for a project on the history of Paris, was equally rewarding for me as a professional cook. My long stay gave me a chance to observe trends in the country where food dominates the culture.

I noticed that the French were becoming more global in their outlook. Star anise and curry from the East figured prominently in many dishes. Specialties from other countries were commonplace. Chocolate chip cookies and brownies from the United States were hot new items in many pastry shops, and Italian grilled sandwiches called panini were popular.

I was also intrigued by the prolific use of fresh herbs in interesting combinations. In one restaurant I tasted a salad with at least four different herbs mixed in with the lettuce greens, and in another I loved the taste of several fresh herbs used as a garnish for roasted fish fillets.

Returning home, I was inspired by my French culinary experience when preparing our first meal. I bought swordfish steaks and marinated them briefly in lime juice. Then I quickly grilled the fish and topped each with a pat of herbed butter seasoned with chopped fresh mint and cilantro along with lime zest and juice and hot pepper flakes.

This dish takes less than 40 minutes from beginning to end to prepare and would make an excellent main course for a summer dinner party. Corn on the cob and sauteed zucchini are fine side dishes, and for dessert you could serve either homemade or store-bought sorbet with fresh berries.

Grilled Swordfish With Herbed Lime Butter

Serves 4

4 (6-ounce) swordfish steaks, 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick

3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons lime juice (see note)

2 teaspoons grated lime zest (colored portion of peel)

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish

2 teaspoons chopped mint, plus several sprigs for garnish

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

olive oil

4 thin lime wedges for garnish

Place swordfish steaks in shallow, nonreactive dish. Pour 3 tablespoons lime juice over steaks. Marinate at room temperature 30 minutes, turning fish several times to ensure even marinating.

Place remaining 2 teaspoons lime juice in small mixing bowl. Add lime zest, chopped cilantro, chopped mint, butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt and red pepper flakes. Using spoon, mix well until ingredients are blended.

When ready to cook fish, either prepare outdoor grill or use stove-top grill pan set over medium-high heat. Oil rack of outdoor grill or bottom of grill pan generously with olive oil. When hot, add fish and sprinkle with salt. Cook until firm and golden grill marks appear on underside, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook until flesh is opaque all way through but still flaky, 2 to 5 minutes more. (Cooking time will depend on thickness of fish and intensity of heat. Steaks 1/2-inch thick will need 2 to 3 minutes a side, while 3/4-inch cuts will take longer.) Do not overcook or fish will be dry.

To serve, place cooked fish on warm serving plate and top each with 1/4 of herbed butter (which will start to melt and flavor fish). Arrange lime wedge and cilantro and mint sprigs as garnish in center of each steak.

Note: You will probably need 3 limes for this recipe to get enough zest and juice and then to cut wedges for garnish.

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