I love Fish Night around the holidays. In fact, I just love the holidays, but the food served at holiday dinners is not my favorite (to cook or to eat) so I enjoy eating foods not generally associated with the holidays and, in my world, fish is one of those foods. Last night, it was great to eat “regular” food even though the house is oozing holiday décor and the smells of holiday baking. I fell back on an old standby – simple roasted finfish with a new and different sauce. In fact, if you’re unsure of your seafood prep talents, this is the way to go. It’s almost foolproof.
We had six for dinner – perfect for conversation around the table, but I do admit I love a bigger crowd with it attendant commotion. Hugo brought a delicious sauvignon blanc – Spy Valley 2010. I was afraid he had broken my cardinal rule – “don’t get me hooked on a wine that costs more than $20” – but this wine had me fooled. It’s not costly and it's very grapefruit-y; if, like me, you love these characteristics, this is a wine for you.
We started with drinks and pistachios – the latter in the shell give us time to catch up on each other’s holiday plans and events. As a first course, I served a vegetable soup that was leftover from my week-end comfort food cooking binge. Then:
- Pan-Roasted Cod with Chorizo Vinaigrette – I love roasted mild white fish complemented with a “wow” sauce or condiment. But I just about outdid myself this time; after preparing the sauce, I almost tossed it out thinking it could not possibly complement fish. But it was amazing! I can't find a link to this recipe, so let me know if you'd like to have it. Pan-roasting is a great way to cook fish. I urge you to try this preparation – because it is so easy (see below) and so delicious.
- Green Beans with Lemon Vinaigrette – Is this one too many vinaigrettes for a single meal? I didn’t think so and no one complained! This is one of my favorite ways to prepare green beans. The recipe calls for walnuts, but I omitted them last night because the meal was already very rich.
- Carrot Celery Root Puree – Here I am with the celery root again. What can I say? It’s in season and I love it. And it’s fairly easily disguised – especially in this recipe. I had only about half the amount of celery root called for in the recipe, so I just increased the amount of carrots. Purees are “in” these day s. Not sure why because they are fairly boring, but this was good.
- Baked Parmesan Tomatoes – Here’s where I fall off the wagon in my attempt to eat locally and seasonally most of the time. I love, love, love tomatoes and the Campari hothouse tomatoes at Costco actually taste like tomatoes all year round. This is a great, simple recipe -- the finished product is shown at right.
We had banana cake with cinnamon icing for dessert – only because I had some over-ripe bananas that needed to be used. I can’t in good conscience give you this recipe because, like pretty much every banana cake I’ve made, it was boring. I make a mean banana bread, but I want banana cake! Does anyone have a good recipe?
Fascinating Fish Facts: It’s not all that fascinating, I guess, but it’s been suggested to me that preparing fish for guests presents difficult timing issues. True, most fish dishes require cooking at the very last minute; so how do you do that when you want to spend time with your guests and not in the kitchen while they are having fun without you? This is especially important to me so, whatever the meal, I try to serve food that does not require a lot of last minute attention and I do as much as I can before guests arrive.
Fish, however, really does require last minute cooking. So I rarely fry fish – it smells up the house, takes a lot of time and attention, and is not all that healthy. If you’re a backyard griller, you know that grilled fish is great. But I’m not, so I mostly baked or broil fish (though poaching is also a good option). If you prep the fish before your guests arrive, you can excuse yourself just before dinner is served and bake or broil the fish in less than 10 minutes. The technique for last night’s pan-roasted cod is my very favorite and produces perfectly cooked fish with no hassle. Its variations are limitless.
The only other point worth making is that, when serving fish, it is especially important that your side dishes take little or no last-minute effort. For example, last night the puree was done early in the day and the just popped into the microwave while the fish was cooking. The beans enjoyed their hot water bath while the fish was in the oven – their seasoning having been prepped earlier in the day so the flavors would meld. The tomatoes were made oven ready before guests arrived. So they were done by the time the fish went into the oven and we sat down to eat our soup. Piece of cake!
Banana cake anyone? -- we have lots left over. If someone has a good banana cake recipe, please share and I’ll do better next time.