Alright, what image does fish fry dredge up for you?
Lenten suppers? Redneck roadside shacks? Deep southern delicacies? Up to your elbows in flour and oil? A saturated cholesterol reading? Let’s face it. In this day and age, anything that has ‘fried’ in the title sounds a bit taboo, even though the once sacrificial ‘fish’ is not.
In the meat and potatoes age, giving up a 20 ounce steak one day a week (at the end of a long work week) was a bit on the spiritual denial side. Just when you wanted to kick back with a nice big meal and glass of wine (or more like a shot and a beer to old-time working families like mine), you looked up at the cross, the calendar, the face of the priest sitting across from you and said, ‘Umm, please pass the fish.’ Darn. Why did Lent have to come now? Just when the weather is getting nicer and my appetite is still good. So we created all sorts of methods to still enjoy our Friday feasts without giving up a Christian Lenten spiritual tradition of not eating meat on Fridays. And maybe, just maybe in the process, we created some of the best meatless dishes that vegetarians and bored palettes can thrive on.
Vegetable lasagna, all sorts of pasta dishes with cheese and asparagus, spinach, shrimp, crab, lobster—-hardly living life with sackcloth and ashes; especially now, when our doctors tell us to limit portions of that 20 oz. steak; serving maybe 1/4 that size only once or twice a week. I can just hear the comedians now. If my dad was served a petite filet back in the 60’s, with five asparagus spears and a scoop of whole wheat rice, it would have evoked the phrases made famous in The Honeymooners: to the moon, Alice—to the moon. Or in my gentler home, questions about whether the pay check had gotten deposited, if there was some tragedy that day that left mom with no time to prepare a real meal, or if everyone was being put on some mandatory diet that was never mentioned. But that’s a story for another day.
Through the decades, fish has taken on a much needed culinary renaissance. And I don’t know about you, but if there’s a nice crab, halibut, cod, snapper dish on the menu, that’s what I’m ordering. While I ‘do’ fish at home, it’s mostly salmon, shrimp, scallops, flounder, sole and tilapia. They’re easy. And they’re quite good. Even if sauteed, they are much tastier and healthier than the deep fried stuff that fast food chains are made of.
So, how to enjoy? While I always opt for fresh fish, sometimes frozen is all I can grab, and in many cases, it works pretty well. In fact, when you’re selecting fish at a counter, make sure you read the labels to see if the fish is fresh caught, previously frozen, thawed, wild caught or farm raised. My first choice is fresh and wild (woo, baby). That gives me the option, if the fish is on sale, to buy and make some now; freeze some for another time. Plus, there’s a theory that if fish live in their natural environment, it’s better taste, more natural (unless it was caught in Japan, on the Gulf Coast or near that floating garbage pile in the middle of the Atlantic). If the fish has been thawed, you must cook it and soon—no options to buy more and freeze. If the fish is farm-raised, while you needn’t peel off any layers of BP’s oil or other PCB’s, there is another theory that farm-raised fish are mass-farmed, with some of the health and tasteless issues of any other mass-farmed creature living in tight quarters.
Tilapia, sole, flounder are great when dipped in egg, coated with panko (Japanese bread crumbs available at all grocery chains) plus some seasoning. I actually like to mix panko with some seasoned Italian breadcrumbs for some extra flavor. Some of the packaged crumbs are already available that way. Sautee in a bit of slightly smoking olive oil, season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes on each side (if thin; longer if thicker). I like my halibut and salmon grilled and served with some lemon butter and grilled veggies. Salmon is great baked or poached as well, with some nice seasoning and cod baked with some butter and lemon crumbs on top. I coat scallops with some
Wegman’s searing flour (which has a nice kick), then sear in a hot pan for a few minutes till golden; great on top of some mashed potatoes. I like to bake my shrimp; coated in egg and crumbs, topped with some butter or a honey dijon mix.
Whatever your spiritual beliefs, whatever your tastes, spring is a great time to enjoy some lighter, healthier seafood meals—-good taste, without the guilt.