For Hot Cross Buns and Easter brunch ideas, scroll down to bottom under LIFE GOES ON.
No matter what kind of fish or seafood you’re cooking, there are two basic secrets to its success. #1 Don’t overcook it. #2 You need a great sauce. I mean, think about it. Even everyday sorts of fish or seafood like fried shrimp or fish and chips come with a sauce you just have to have: cocktail sauce for the shrimp and tartar sauce for the fish. Right? This is also true of fish cooked by chefs in upscale restaurants, though the sauces may (or may not) be a tish more sophisticated. Sometimes butter and/or lemon are all that’s called for, as in Sole Meunière, which is not much more than thin and floured sole fillets cooked in–yes– butter and lemon, then sprinkled with, what else? Parsley. Simple is as simple does. And the dish has been top drawer famous forever! No matter the fish, it is often the sauce that counts.
That’s especially true in my quick Friday Fish for this week, Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato-Sweet Pepper Salsa. Everyone knows pico de gallo and other sorts of Mexican salsas often made with cilantro and jalapeños, but a fresh tomato salsa (salsa only means “sauce”) without those two ingredients and with sweet peppers, tiny ripe tomatoes, parsley, green onions, and lemon, orange, or lime is something different. That difference is smile-worthy because instead of being overwhelmed by large-scale flavors, this mild fillet is enhanced and freshly seasoned by what is almost a baby salad garnish — which takes the dish over the top to my tastebuds.
You adore clam chowderbut your cupboard is full of tuna. It’s ok; I’ve got it covered. You can still have chowder–with tuna!! Does it work? Yes, yes; it totally does. And is it yummy? It definitely is. I thought about making chowder with canned tuna for a long time before I did it, but now that I have, it’s in my playbook for good. Tuna Chowder is easy, inexpensive, and even qualifies for what we’d call, “Cheap Eats.” This version adds some tiny ditalini pasta for fun and texture, but if you don’t like it, just add extra potatoes and you’ll be fine. Last time I cooked shrimp, I saved the shells in my freezer and was able to make a fast shrimp stock to bolster the flavor of the chowder. (Buying fish stock is above my pay grade at $3 a 15-ounce can. You can make it, though.) Vegetable broth is ok, too, and is better when spiked with a little clam juice, which is sold right near tuna at the store. Even chicken broth works in a pinch.
When I was a junior in college, I shared an apartment with three other women. Someone had the great idea of splitting the cooking chores and proposed each one of us would cook dinner one night a week for all four us, Monday – Thursday. Too many people went away or home on the weekend to worry about any of the other days. We didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about cooking, but gave it our best and were thrilled that we came home to a cooked dinner nearly every school night. Might have saved a few bucks, too. I have no idea what I made, but one roommate, Jan Jellinek, often made her mom’s famous TUNA MELTS. Now this wasn’t a diner-style grilled hot tuna and cheese sandwich, but instead was tuna salad with maybe cheese on a bun and heated in the oven for what I remember to be 45 minutes. That had to have been waaaay too long, but that’s my memory. (The oven’s a lot faster than skillets if you’re making several melts.) I married the next summer and Jan’s TUNA MELT was on our newlywed menu fairly often. It slipped off the weekly rotation somehow after we made a move or two, but 48 years later, I’ve never forgotten about it.
This week is the start of my once-a-year FRIDAY FISH series. Since 2015, I’ve each spring been posting six fish or seafood recipes, one for each Friday in Lent, the season of thoughtful observance leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Whether or not you follow any sort of faithful journey, you can still get some new ideas for cooking fish–who doesn’t need those? For grins and giggles — I think some of these meals qualify as fun— and to see what’s happened in other years, click on FRIDAY FISH in the topics cloud or type “Friday Fish” into the search box. To give you a few ideas, I’ve included in this post photos and links for some favorite FRIDAY FISH posts from the last couple of years.
It’s easy to avoid cooking fish or to cook it as simply as we can possibly figure because we’re unsure of our fish-cooking abilities. Or maybe fresh fish isn’t so available and feels expensive — especially in a land-locked state. Perhaps there’s a fear factor involved or we wonder, “Is fish really good for us?” How fast does it go bad? When is it done? How do I not overcook it? So we go with grilled wild salmon once a month in good weather. Salt, pepper, lemon. Air Fried fish and chips might be a step up. A pound of shrimp for Christmas Eve. Truth to tell, fish is good for us, is readily available nationwide (even if frozen), and is the original fast –and easy — food. Lots of people order fish from restaurant menus, but hesitate to cook much at home. Want to change that at your house?
Growing up in the midwest, I knew from local community fried fish and chicken dinners — which were some of the most fun occasions of the year when kids mostly stayed home if they weren’t in school. No video games, but lots of tag and Monkey in the Middle until the sun went down. Local churches and fire stations seemed to have been built from the ground up complete with huge vats perfect for filling with hot oil and satisfying the neighborhood’s penchant for golden-crispy protein. (My own childhood church, First Presbyterian of Homewood, was more likely to ask the men’s group to serve up spaghetti dinners, so we had to go elsewhere for our fried fixes. When it’s not Covid-Tide, they’re lately feeding folks every Monday night so maybe they even sneak in some fish these days; who knows? Stop by and see.) During Lent, the corner bars and local restaurants jumped on the fishy bandwagon and often offered “all you can eat” fish and fries — sometimes until the food ran out. The custom goes on today in the midwest and elsewhere, including Colorado. In fact, even non-believers look forward to spring when there is a fish sandwich if not an “all you can eat” nearly any place you stop for a beer.
With as much fish as we’re supposed to eat for health and six weeks of Friday Fish for Lent every year on this blog (this is now our second Covid Lent), salmon comes up pretty often on our menu. Our friend Chris likes to say, “Puh-leeze give me something else to do with salmon!” Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy serving salmon with at least two vegetables — so you’ve seen a few variations on this theme — hoping to eat less carbs or save them for some bread. I also simply want to increase our vegetable intake. Serving a smaller portion of fatty fish or red meat on a bed of vegetables or just to the side is not only a healthier way to eat (more vegetables), it makes the protein appear larger, more attractive, and puts it front and center for its closeup — an old tried and true restaurant ploy. So if it’s not really something new to do with salmon, it might just look and taste better!
“Rutabaga” comes from rotabagge, the plant’s Swedish name, meaning “baggy root.” This is, perhaps, the reason that it’s sometimes called a Swedish turnip or simply a swede. Dense and sweetly earthy, a spheroid that can grow to the size of a human head, with a mottled, brown-and-white surface and a buttery, yellow interior, the rutabaga looks like an overgrown turnip—which it is, sort of, at least on its mother’s side. A reproductive quirk of the Brassica genus allows for uncommonly easy hybridization (see the evidence in your local grocery store: kalettes, the frilly little greens that were 2014’s sexy new vegetable, are a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts). Somewhere, in the misty meadows of Central Europe, a turnip got frisky with a cabbage, and the rutabaga was born. This genetic history was confirmed only recently, in 1935, by the Korean-Japanese agricultural scientist Woo Jang-choon. But, three hundred years before, Bauhin, with his eye for botanical detail, saw to name the plant napobrassica, the turnip-cabbage.
At lunch today, Dave (husband and sous chef) says, “So what are you going to call this?” Usually, by the time we’re eating, I have a name for my new dish. The thing is, a recipe title must say exactly what it is without being cutesy, obtuse, or overly long. My final choice isn’t cutesy–which would be something like “Aunt Alyce’s Fish Surprise.” It’s not obtuse–as in “Fish Supreme.” It is, however, overly long. I just can’t go over it one more time and I’m still not sure it states its case perfectly. I will say that while I thought about it for a week before I made it, it surpassed my dreams at the table. I wanted an oven fish meal and I got it. Simple and healthy? Check. No big shop or prep? Definitely. Contrasting in tastes and textures? Sure. Done quickly? Oh yeah. Scrumptious and satisfying? You’ll have to try it and see! We loved it.
I wasn’t taught to fast as a child; it wasn’t part of our tradition, but was something those interesting Catholics down the street did. I was happy as a clam about that because it meant I got cheese pizza on Friday nights at my Catholic girlfriends’ houses. This was so cool because, 1) to “give up meat” seemed a neat thing (foreign) to me and 2) There was no pizza, aka “junk food,” at my house.