Dip in the Sea by José Avillez

Seyine Park /

Since reopening in just 2012 under chef José Avillez, Belcanto is the first restaurant to win 2 Michelin stars in Lisbon, Portugal. Staying true to and revisiting the roots of Portuguese cuisine, chef Avillez shares with us one of the most emblematic dishes of his career – “Dip in the Sea” with sea bass, seaweed, and bivalves (mollusks).

Some words from chef José on the dish:

“One of the most emblematic dishes of my career – and one of the most sought after at Belcanto – is the “Dip in the sea.” I created this dish in 2007, and, interestingly, it was initially called “Sea bass in sea water, bivalves, and seaweed.” However, when people savoured it, they told me it was like “taking a dip in the sea.” They did it so often, that I ended up changing the name of the dish on the menu.

I grew up in Cascais, and my favorite beach is Guincho, where the Atlantic reveals all its power. Portugal has nearly a thousand kilometres of coastline, and we have some of the best fish in the world. Inspired by my experiences and by our gastronomic traditions, I created a dish where I wanted to portray the purity of the flavours and to pay tribute to the texture of the fish in its wild state.”

Sea Bass

Ingredients
4 sea bass fillets, deboned, with skin, 180g each
Instructions
Place the sea bass fillet in an airtight sous-vide plastic bag and seal it.
Set aside in the refrigerator.

Mussels

Ingredients
650g mussels
Sea salt
150ml mineral water
Instructions
Wash the whole mussles under running water.
With a table knife, scrape the mussels to remove all the dirt that the shell may have.
Every time the mussels are washed under water, submerge them in a 2% brine (1 liter of water to 20g of salt) afterwards.
In an oven tray, place all the scraped and washed mussels and add the mineral water.
Cook for 10 to 12 minutes in a steam oven, preheated at 100°C (212°F).
Take the tray out of the oven, transfer the mussels to another tray, and set aside the water.
Keep the mussels on the tray for later use.

Cockles

Ingredients
325g cockles
Instructions
Wash all the cockles under running water.
Put them in a medium sized saucepan with boiling water, cooking them for 13 seconds.
Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the cockles to a tray, placing it in the refrigerator to cool.
Once cooled, remove the cockles from their shells and place them in a tray in a cold bain-marie, to prepare them.
Cut the cockles in half and discard their stomachs.
Scrape the sand out of their heads.
Set aside the clean cockles in a cup in the refrigerator.

Razor Clams

Ingredients
650g razor clams
Instructions
Place all the razor clams in medium-sized vacuum bags (20 to 25 pieces per bag).
Add a little brine to each bag and then seal them without any air.
In a large pan with boiling water and room for all the bags, cook the razor clams for 2 minutes.
Take the bags out of the water and immediately place them in a container with ice water, so that they cool (5 to 10 minutes approximately). Discard the cooking water.
Take the bags out of the iced water and open them.
Strain the razor clams and place them in a cold bain-marie whilst preparing them. Save some of the cooking juices.
One by one, open the razor clams, and pull the head out without removing the stomach from the case, and push the body against the razor blade to cut the body, taking care not to cut the stomach.
Discard the shell and stomach.
Set the razor clam aside in the cold, inside a lidded plastic container of suitable size, covered with some of the razor clam juices.

“Sea Water”

Ingredients
100ml mussels cooking water
Instructions
Filter the mussels cooking water through a fine mesh sieve.
Cool it and set it aside.

Sea Lettuce

Ingredients
160g sea lettuce
Salt
Water
Instructions
In a medium saucepan over high heat, heat some water with salt and bring it to a boil.
Once it’s boiling, blanch the sea lettuce for 5 seconds. Take it out of the water using tweezers or a skimmer, and immerse immediately in a container with iced salted water.
Once cooled, take the sea lettuce out of the water and, leaf by leaf, confirm that it is washed (no sand, etc.), and that there aren’t any large holes.
Drain the leaves and store it in a plastic box lined with moist paper towels.
Repeat the process for all leaves.
Cover the leaves with slightly damp paper towels.
Place the lid on the plastic container and store in the cold until needed.

Red Tosaka

Ingredients
160g red tosaka
Instructions
Take the red tosaka seaweed out of its package and wash it under running water to remove any excess salt.
Place the red tosaka seaweed in a container with water for 5 minutes, for deslating.
After this time, see if it needs further desalting.
Strain the red tosaka in a fine mesh sieve, dry it on paper towels, and set it aside in the cold in a plastic box, lined and covered with moistened paper towels.

Green Tosaka

Ingredients
160g green tosaka
Instructions
Take the green tosaka seaweed out of its package, and wash it under running water to remove any excess salt.
Place the green tosaka seaweed in a container with water for 5 minutes, for desalting.
After this time, see if it needs further desalting.
Strain them in a fine mesh sieve, and then blanch it in hot water for 2 to 5 seconds.
Transfer the green tosaka to a container with iced salted water.
When cooled, take it out, dry it on paper towels, and set it aside in the cold, in a plastic box lined and covered with moistened paper towels.

Green Sea Fingers (Codium Fragile)

Ingredients
70g green sea fingers (Codium fragile)
Instructions
Open the codium package and transfer it to a tray lined with sturdy paper towels.
Let it breathe in the refrigerator for about 4 to 5 hours.
At the time of the codium preparation, cut and trim the codium to form various “Y”.
In a fine mesh sieve, pass under cold running water, to remove the gum.
Dry on sturdy paper towels and set aside in the cold, in a plastic box lined and covered with moistened paper towels.

Sea grapes (Caulerpa lentillifera)

Ingredients
75g sea grapes (Caulerpa lentillifera)
Salt
Water
Instructions
In a stainless steel container with cold water, soak the sea grapes for 3 minutes.
Then, cut them into 1.5cm portions.
Make a brine (25g of salt to 1 liter of water) in a small plastic container and place the cut sea grapes inside of it.
Set aside in the cold.

 

To Finish

Place the sea bass (sealed in a sous-vide bag) in a bain-marie heated to 54ºC (129.2ºF).
Heat the bivalves (mussels, cockles, razor clams), the sea lettuce, and the tosaka in a sea water steam.
Heat the 100ml of sea water (the mussels broth) in a saucepan to 80ºC (176°F).
Before plating, taste and season with three drops of lemon juice.

 

To Plate

In a deep dish, place the sea bass fillet at the center.
On top, put the sea lettuce and all of the bivalves (mussels, cockles, razor clams), without overlapping them.
Also place the tosakas, the sea grape, and the codium.
Pour some sea water onto the bottom of the dish and also on top of the fish.

 

Paulo Barata

“Dip in the Sea” by chef José Avillez of Belcanto in Lisbon, Portugal. © Paulo Barata