He is 28, but his culinary resume reads like a seasoned 40-something. Washington, D.C. native Executive Chef Barton Seaver, a StarChefs.com Rising Star of 2006 and recently nominated as a Rising Star Chef by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, of Hook was taught at an early age about the importance of food.
Dinner in the Seaver home was a seven nights a week family affair. Eating dinner with his family was a communal celebration and involved shopping for the freshest ingredients at local markets, instilling this value in him at a young age. Mac and Cheese was never just out of the box, but prepared with a homemade bamel cheese sauce and pasta made from scratch. Summers spent at a family friends hog farm on the Chesapeake Bay, along with crabbing and going with his father to buy fresh seafood from local fisherman, taught Seaver the importance of supporting local purveyors and using quality and fresh ingredients.
According to Seaver, "Seasonality and locality made sense to me early on." Seaver began his professional career working for popular D.C. restaurants such as Ardeo, Felix, and Greenwood. After years of invaluable kitchen experience, Seaver made his way to Hyde Park, New York, where he trained at the renowned Culinary Institute of America. During his schooling, he spent time in the kitchens of Tru restaurant and The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton under Sarah Stegner in Chicago.
Upon graduating with honors, he immediately took a fellowship position at C.I.A. as a graduate teacher in both the meat and fish classes. Working in this hands-on environment taught Seaver the importance of proper handling and techniques of exceptionally fresh products, all the while giving him direct access to sources of fish through the eastern seaboard ports. Under the guidance of Chef Corky Clark, he learned to appreciate underutilized species of fish and became a proponent of sustainable ocean products.
Seaver is a certified sommelier through the Sommelier Society of America and is continuing his studies with Wine and Spirits Educational Trust in London. Recently, he was asked to join the Board of Directors of DC Central Kitchen as the culinary force behind the non-profits educational programs. Additionally, he is also active in the Slow Food movement, and recently cooked at the bi-annual Slow Food Terra Madre conference in October 2006 in Italy. Other organization involvements include the Chefs Collaborative, the James Beard Foundation, the National Restaurant Association, the International Seafood Conference, Chefs Congress, a culinary resource to the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Seafood Alliance. As a firm believer in the idea that chefs are the keepers of food culture, he is publishing a monthly article for the online newsletter for StarChefs.com.
In an effort to educate fellow industry members, Chef Seaver will address the issue of sustainability from the perspective of a chef offering solutions to common problems they face in their profession such as buying decisions and their responsibility as the definers of what is fashionable eating. Monthly columns are archived on the StarChefs.com website with new articles posting on the 15th of each month.
Barton Seaver: Hi, I am Barton Seaver with Hook Restaurant in Washington D.
C. Today, we are going to be showing you how to make a Pan-Seared Rockfish Fillet. Now, we are showing you how to cook the fish.
In Pan Seared Rockfish Fillet, my favorite pan sear is a cast steel pan. Cast iron pans worked very well also, but I prefer the cast steel. You can just wipe them out and they are clean and ready to go. They are very porous, so they have a lot of the oils absorbed into them. So, it is a naturally non-stick surface. So, as the cast steel pans are quite heavy, they are good, they absorb a lot of heat and they retain that heat. One of the important things an sauting is that, when you place the item into the pan, if the pan cools down too much, the metal itself, then you would not have that transfer of heat and you would not get that crisp skin that you are looking for, on the fish. So, we are going to let this heat up a little bit. I am going to use a little bit of a blended olive oil here. This is mostly canola oil with a little bit of olive oil into it. Start off with that in the pan, probably about a tablespoon or so. Now, I have got two nice pieces of the head fillet of the rockfish. When you are sauting something in batches like this, you want to choose pieces that are about the same thickness. So, they cook at the same time. Now, underneath me I have got my oven, preset to about 250 degrees. Most of the cooking that we are doing here is going to be done on the stove top. The oven is going to be used mostly, just to keep it warm and to finish out the cooking, but this pan has a lot of heat in it. So, that is where we are going to do most of the cooking. So, once this oil gets nice and hot, you can see it begins to just steam up a little bit and the viscosity of it changes as it runs. We are going to take the fish; we are going to season it quite heavily. Now, most of this is going to come off of the fish. So, dont be afraid of it. This is a coastal salt. Coastal salt has a different texture and crystallization than does in iodized salt or a table salt. So, if you are using table salt, dont use this much. I am going to give it a nice, even, thick coating of the coastal salt. Then what we are going to do is just, as that oil begins to smoke and again, I scored the skin on this so that it is going to stay flat, very carefully, lay it down. You can see that it begins to bow up just a little bit and push it down with your hands; be careful while you are doing this. That oil could jump up and hurt you pretty bad. So, while the fish is cooking, what we are looking for it to do is, crisp up and get a nice golden brown on the other side. Now, the edges are going to cook a little bit quicker, because they have got more oil contact therein, but once we flip the fish, I am going to show you a really cool technique which is called 2:57 and what that does is, we take whole butter and we add it to the pan with aromatics such as thyme and garlic and then we baste the fish with it. Now, what that does is, it allows us to continue the cooking process of the fish in the pan, while also adding a lot more flavor. So, we pick this up; just cook that a few more minutes. In about another minute to go, you can see it is just starting to turn brown a little bit. Now, these fillets are nice and thick so, it can take some of this high heat. You want to leave it on a high heat during this process. During the continuation cooking; you are going to turn the heat down to about a medium low, probably. Now, over here, I have got some whole butter, just cut up into cubes, I have got a little thyme and I have got a couple of cloves of garlic. Those are going to be our aromatics that we are going to throw into the pan. Then, I have got my favorite spoon; all right, this is another 30 seconds or so here. This is one of the most versatile and indispensable tools for a fish cook. This is a fish spatula. You can get them in most stores around now or online, but it has a slight little curve just at the end, which is perfect for getting things up. Its also great for the grill and other areas you can saut. So, now we take our fish, turn it over and you see we have that beautiful color starting on it. I am going to turn the heat down fairly low. Now, I am going to take both pieces of fish and I push them up towards the front. Take a couple of cubes of our butter here. Now, this is where cooking gets really good. This is where it is fun. We are going to caramelize that butter a little bit so, the butter browns and the brown butter solids, we are going to deposit on to the fish. Throw the thyme and the garlic in there. This is where a good spoon comes in handy. You take the thyme fillet now, you just want to lightly and lovingly spoon that caramelized butter over the top of those fillets and if you could smell this right now, it is absolutely fantastic. So, what we are doing is, we are very gently continuing to crisp up the top side of this fish, while gently cooking the bottom side and those garlic cloves and that thyme are dropping, releasing all of their flavor into the butter, aromatizing the fish. This is a very impressive thing to do for a dinner party. It is very hard to do for a large dinner party. So, I think if I were at home cook, maybe no more than four people or so, this is worth for. It is also going to get you good friend and a glass wine and do this together. So, now, we got that. I am going to take a piece of garlic and turn the heat off; piece of garlic and put that on top there and evenly distribute the thyme over the top. Now, we are just going to throw this whole dish right in the oven. Now, that dish will only take about another minute, two minutes to cook all the way through out. So, that is why we have a very low heat oven. So, you are going to at this point, you need to turn your oven off and that continuation cooking will very, very slowly and gently cook that fish. So, it is very moist and tender on the inside, but very crisp and super aromatic on the outside. Now, while our fish is cooking, I am going to show you how to prepare the side dish for the Pan-Seared Rockfish Fillet.