Green Almonds and Fish: An Uncommonly Perfect Spring Pairing
Oh, the many emerging signs of spring: hyacinths, forsythia, spring lamb, green almonds. Wait, what was that last one? Unless you shop at Persian or Middle Eastern Markets or live in almond-growing areas, you may not be familiar with this fleeting, deliciously tart symbol of the season.
When very young, the entire green–or immature–almond fruit is edible, from its pale green, peach-like fuzzy outer layer to the clear, jelly-like center that will mature into the familiar nutmeat we know. But you have to be quick. This tasty little moment in the nascent life of an almond lasts only a couple of weeks. After that, the translucent center turns white and the outer layer becomes too tough to eat. It’ll be another six months until it’s time for the mature-almond harvest in late fall.
I love that almond trees are so rich in meaning. Two months ago, we rejoiced in their blossoming, a hopeful sign that a new growing season would appear. Now, we celebrate the young fruits that hold the promise of a bountiful crop to come in the fall.
“Green” also connotes eco-consciousness, and much has been made, lately, of the water-guzzling nature of almonds. Actually, it’s the current growing practice, rather than the trees themselves, that deserve a second look. A century ago, when Paso Robles was almond country, almonds were dry-farmed, much the way the best fruits and wine grapes still are. It’s a completely different process (and mindset) than how almonds are typically farmed in the Central Valley, where virtually all our almonds are grown today. I wish more producers would think outside the box and find a way to go back to less water for almonds. But, this is too much to discuss here; I’ll tackle this in another post soon. Back to the matter at hand:
Pan-Roasted Fish with Green Almonds and Kumquats
Sliced raw into a simple herb and citrus salad (I used kumquats, but oranges or mandarins work well, too), green almonds provide a delightfully tart accent to fish. If you’re looking for something new and unusual for your Passover Seder fish course, this is it. Plus, this dish is a great way to multipurpose all those spring herbs! (Also, try the recipe in SJK for my Herb Salad with Feta Cheese, Halvah, and Green Almonds.)
This version uses pan-roasted skin-on fish fillets. For a cold first course, serve the salad over poached salmon.
Makes 8 servings
2 pounds skin-on fish fillets, such as white seabass or halibut
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt, such as sel gris (gray salt)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic
¼ pound kumquats, about 12
¼ pound green almonds (available at Persian and Middle Eastern markets and some farmers’ markets)
2 oz arugula, preferably wild, about 4 good handfuls
¼ cup each snipped garlic chives and regular chives
Several sprigs parsley and dill, chopped
Several sprigs mint, torn
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the fillet into 8 equal pieces, pat dry, rub with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Cut kumquats into quarters and remove seeds and center pith (can cut into eighths if desired). Place in bowl along with arugula, parsley, dill, mint, and chives.
In a large, heavy ovenproof skillet, preferably well-seasoned cast iron, heat 2 teaspoons oil and the garlic clove over medium-high heat until the garlic is golden and the oil is very hot. Discard the garlic when it becomes deep golden. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding, add the fish, skin side down. Cook the fish without moving the pieces until the skin is crisped and brown, about 4 minutes.* If your skillet is large enough, return all the fish to the pan, skin side up, or transfer to an oiled baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and roast until the fish is nearly opaque at the center when tested with a knife tip, 4 to 6 minutes. Place fish skin side up on individual serving plates or on a platter.
Cut almonds crosswise into thin slices and add to the salad. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Place some of the salad on or to the side of each serving of fish.
*Note: Fish can be held at this point for an hour or so, and popped into a hot oven to finish just before you are ready to serve.
Looking for more ways to refresh your Passover menu? Here are a handful to get you started:
- Four Ways to Build a Better Passover Seder
- Passover Recipe Rescue Guide
- Roast Chicken with Tangerines, Green Olives, and Silan
- Steamed Fennel, Carrots, and Radishes with Passover Herb Salsa Verde
- Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato Tzimmes
- Leek and Green Garlic Matzo Brei with Salmon and Horseradish Cream
- Spring Greens Sauté