After a recent trip to Las Vegas, there are two things deputy Food editor Betty Hallock still talks about: the white tigers at the Mirage and this beautifully layered sardine appetizer from L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. "The fresh sardines were plump and juicy, and the concentrated tomato flavor of the concasse was rich and unctuous, offset by the vegetable crunch of slivers of cauliflower," she says. "I especially love the thin slice of butter on top -- amazing!"Sardines on toastTotal time: About 1 hourServings: 4Note: Adapted from L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Fresh sardines are widely available at Japanese and Korean markets; alternatively, check with your local fishmonger as they may need to be ordered.Tomato concasse6 large plum tomatoes2 cloves garlic, minced2 tablespoons minced onion2 teaspoons olive oil2 teaspoons tomato paste4 large basil leavesSaltPepper1. Cut a small "x" through the skin at the base of each tomato, no more than 1 inch in diameter.2. Blanch the tomatoes for 20 seconds in boiling water, then place in a bowl of ice water to cool off quickly. Peel and seed the tomatoes, then dice them into pieces no larger than one-eighth inch in size.3. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring frequently until aromatic and the onion is translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, basil, and one-fourth teaspoon salt and a large pinch of pepper, or to taste. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until all of the moisture from the tomatoes has evaporated. Discard the basil leaves and set aside. This makes about one-half cup.Sardines and assembly1 small baguette5 teaspoons olive oil1 teaspoon lemon juiceSalt Grape seed oil12 sardine fillets1 cup lightly packed arugulaTomatoes concasse4 florets cauliflower, sliced lengthwise into very thin slivers2 onion slices, sliced crosswise no thicker than 1/16 inch2 tablespoons butter, sliced into 8 thin slices1 teaspoon Espelette pepper1 teaspoon curry powder1 teaspoons coarse saltGrated zest of 1 lime1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Slice the baguette on the bias into 12 slices approximately one-half inch thick (try to make the slices the same length as the sardines). Place the slices on a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside.2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and lemon juice, whisking to emulsify. Season with salt to taste and set aside.3. In a large sauté pan, add enough grape seed oil to come up the sides by 1 inch. Heat the oil until a thermometer inserted reads 250 degrees. Add the sardine fillets (in one layer, making sure each is completely covered by oil) and gently fry for 10 minutes, keeping the oil at a steady 250 degrees. Remove from heat and cool the sardines (in the oil) in a nonreactive container until ready to use. If not using immediately, the sardines will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days; allow to come to room temperature before using.4. In a medium bowl, toss the arugula with just enough lemon oil to lightly coat.5. Arrange the toasts on a work surface, and top each with 1 tablespoon of the tomato concasse and a few slices of cauliflower. Lightly brush the cauliflower with a little of the lemon oil then top each toast with one sardine fillet. Divide the arugula among the toasts, gently mounding it over the sardines, then top each toast with a couple rings of onion and one slice of butter. Finish each toast with a pinch each of Espelette powder, curry powder, sea salt and lime zest. Place 2 toasts on each of 4 plates and serve immediately.Each of 4 servings: 533 calories; 22 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 33 grams fat; 6 grams saturated fat; 57 mg. cholesterol; 1216 mg. sodium.
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