AS A FOOD TOWN, Austin, Texas, is known for down-home grub (barbecue, breakfast tacos) heavy on the smoke and spice. But when Tyson Cole opened Uchi, his contemporary Japanese restaurant, in 2003, he had something very different in mind. Having trained under sushi masters in Tokyo and New York, he’d returned to Austin with a solid understanding of Japanese cuisine and a deep appreciation for its simplicity and balance—not only in terms of flavor. “Textures are key in all my food,” said Mr. Cole. “It’s important to avoid having too many in a dish.”
His Restaurants: Uchi and Uchiko in Austin, Texas, and Uchi in Houston.
In Mr. Cole’s first Slow Food Fast contribution, raw tomatoes, baby arugula and fresh mint are the counterpoints to perfectly seared branzino fillets. Thai chili and lemon zest contribute layers of heat and acidity. “Each ingredient is highlighted, and everything is even,” the chef explained.
The recipe comes from Uchiko, Mr. Cole’s second Austin restaurant, which looks beyond Japan to other parts of Asia for inspiration. “This is a simple dish with a quick pick-up,” Mr. Cole said. “It’s been on the menu since day one.”
Fast and easy to prepare as the recipe is, Mr. Cole takes the same care with it that he does with his creative sushi preparations. Dress the tomatoes immediately before serving and taste as you go, to make sure the dressing doesn’t overpower the natural flavor of the produce. When cooking the fish skin-side down, be sure to coat the pan completely with oil, and to watch the fillet closely. “When it starts to release from the pan, flip it,” he said. That’s all it takes to ensure that the skin crisps evenly and provides that snappy textural contrast Mr. Cole finds so appealing.
Branzino With Herbs, Tomatoes and Thai Chilies
Total Time: 20 minutes Serves: 4
2 tablespoons dried Thai chilies or dried chiles de árbol, finely crumbled
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 branzino fillets, skin on (about 1½ pounds total)
2 cups mixed heirloom baby tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint, plus 2-3 tablespoons roughly torn mint leaves, for garnish
½ cup baby arugula
What To Do
1. In a small bowl, mix chilies with garlic, lemon zest and ¼ cup oil. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Season fish with salt and set aside. Toss tomatoes with chili mixture and chopped mint.
3. Add remaining oil to a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, lay fish into pan skin-side down. Cook until skin is crisp and brown and easily releases from pan, about 5 minutes. Flip fish and cook 1 minute more.
4. Distribute fish, skin-side up, among four plates. Scatter with tomatoes and top with arugula leaves. Garnish with roughly torn mint and sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately.
—Kitty Greenwald, Full Article, Styling and photos by
James Ransom for The Wall Street Journal, Food Styling by Jamie Kimm, Prop Styling by DSM
BETTER TOGETHER | Bright tomatoes and greens complement crisp-fried branzino.
A version of this article appeared April 20, 2013, on page D4 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Branzino With Herbs, Tomatoes and Thai Chilies.