Hemingway ate fresh fish in earnest
Bimini red snapper with dark rum and fresh citrus is one of the fish specialties on Chef Ala's menu. Chef Chris Ala of Hemingway's Bistro enjoys using fresh fish in his menu, particularly if he can use Ernest Hemingway as an inspiration. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Crispy Whole-Roasted Bimini Red Snapper with Citrus Mango Butter
(From Christopher Ala)
1 2-3 pound red snapper, scaled and gutted
1 ripe mango, peeled and julienned
1 pink grapefruit, segmented
1 orange, segmented
1 lemon, segmented
1 lime, segmented
4 ounces whole butter
2 ounces dark rum
1 ounce cornstarch
3 cups palm oil (substitute: vegetable oil)
Season fish with salt and ground white pepper inside and out.
In large skillet pan, heat oil over medium heat until hot. (Be careful, as hot oil can ignite.)
Dust outside of fish with cornstarch; don’t be shy, but shake off any excess.
Put fish into hot oil with fish falling away to avoid impact in case of splash.
Sear fish on both sides until brown and crispy.
Drain oil from the pan and finish in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until fish starts to flake away from bones.
Place fish on serving platter and set aside.
Heat a small skillet over medium heat and then add citrus segments and rum. (Rum will ignite flames for a few seconds until alcohol burns off.)
Burn off rum and remove from heat.
Add mango, and slowly whisk in butter to create sauce.
Pour over fish and serve or pour on plate and stand fish upright in sauce.
Updated: September 6, 2012 9:55AM
Sixty years ago this month, Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, The Old Man and the Sea, debuted in the Sept. 1 issue of Life magazine.
Hemingway’s novella told the story of Santiago, an aged, beleaguered fisherman who fought mentally and physically for three days to catch an enormous blue marlin in the Gulf of Mexico. The story is set in the 1940s, but much of Hemingway’s inspiration to write the fish tale came during the decade prior, while he was living large in Key West, Fla. The knowledge of deep-sea fishing Hemingway acquired during that time was as influential to his work as the foods and drinks that then dominated his life.
Fresh fish was as much a menu staple as the frosty Papa Doble daiquiris Hemingway famously loved. “In the Keys, snapper and grouper were plentiful and would have been eaten regularly by residents,” said author Erika Robuck. She studied the foods of Depression-era Key West, Hemingway foods, while researching her novel, Hemingway’s Girl, about an imagined Hemingway romance.
Robuck will read from Hemingway’s Girl, which was released this week, to kick off The Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park’s fall series of author events. The Robuck event will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Hemingway Museum in Oak Park.
And directly across the street from the museum, at Hemmingway’s Bistro, chef/co-owner Christopher Ala will cook a red snapper meal fit for Hemingway.
“I think he would have liked our restaurant; he would have liked our bar,” Ala said about the author, who was born in a Victorian home two blocks north of Ala’s eatery.
On the night of the Robuck event, Hemingway enthusiast Ala will feature crispy whole-roasted bimini red snapper with citrus mango butter. The fish is abundant off the coast of Bimini, an island in the Bahamas where Hemingway lived during the 1930s.
To make the glimmering hot pink-colored snapper, Ala gives it a quick flip on each side in a plate of cornstarch before frying it in palm oil on the stovetop. Using the cornstarch is an Asian technique that makes the snapper crispy and allows for it to stand upright on the plate to be served. The presentation is as colorful as it is stunning: The hot pink fish stands in a sauce thick with julienned mango and segments of oranges, lemons, limes and pink grapefruits cooked on the stovetop with whole butter and rum. The sauce adds brilliant colors and refreshing flavor to the snapper. “Fish and citrus fruit always work together,” Ala said.
To learn more about the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park’s fall author events, visit www.ehfop.org.