Tony Quartaro, chef de cuisine at The Bristol, is no stranger to hard work. The Chicago-based, Iowa-born chef can count on one hand how many days off he’s had in over a year. Lucky for us, that didn’t stop him from creating a memorable midsummer dish for the Sous Chef Series. Read on for a link to the recipe and a Q&A with Tony.
To make his Seared Bass with Corn Polenta and Tomato Compote,Quartaro started with a whole black bass, which he filleted himself. “Learning how to break down a whole fish is a good skill to have,” he says. “It’s cheaper than buying fillets, and you can use the bones to make a fish fumet that you can put in the freezer and use another day.” He favors black bass, claiming “it has a sweet, buttery flavor and the skin crisps really well.” The chef pairs the black bass with polenta, but instead of cooking the polenta in water, Quartaro, who was raised in Iowa, uses corn milk as the liquid. A spoonful of tomato compote is the finishing touch on this midsummer dish.
Q & A with Tony Quartaro
Q: What’s your late night meal of choice?
A: I have a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich five nights out of seven. I like Jif peanut butter, and either strawberry jam or orange marmalade. People either prefer more peanut butter or more jelly. I’m a jelly guy. I’ve been trying to figure out what that means.
Q: What are some of your favorite places to eat in Chicago?
A: I am longtime fan of Avec, a place I started going to back in college. And Balena, which is a sister restaurant to The Bristol, has really fantastic food. I don’t get many days off, though, and I have a huge list of places I want to check out.
Q: What equipment would you suggest a home cook buy to outfit his or her kitchen?
A:Assuming you have a good, sharp knife, which is critical, I’d recommend a cast-iron pan and a KitchenAid stand mixer. It has attachments galore–you can grind your own grains, make and stuff sausage. They’re total workhorses.
Q: Do you have any tips for cooking a perfect filet of fish?
A: I score the skin of fish filets lightly before cooking, which prevents the filets from curling when they cook. Get the pan really hot, film it with oil and then cook the filet skin-side down. When the skin is just starting to color, I transfer the fish to the oven to finish cooking.
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