Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Fish Menagerie

Sole food.
Buying fresh fish is a bit like buying a time bomb. Wait too long to use it, and your whole fridge can suffer the consequences. I usually buy and cook fish in the same day. But recently, I bought some fish for a dinner that never happened. The next day, I had four fillets of fish still sitting there in the chill, and an idea popped into my head. The British haven't contributed much to world cuisine, but "fish and chips" has become a mainstay dish, at least in the U.S. And how hard could it be?

Answer: not very, although be prepared to make a bit of a mess.

I used petrale sole for this dish, which is rated a "good alternative" by Monterey Bay Seafood Watch. (Definitely check your potential fish for sustainability before buying!) Any whitefish will do; I prefer flatfish (especially flounder), but cod seems to be the standard.

Fish and Chips for two

First, prepare the french fries or "chips." Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover a medium baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray or brush with a light coat of olive oil. Cut 1 russet potato into the requisite shapes, first by cutting in half lengthwise, then each half into slices about ¼ inch thick, then each slice into strips from ¼ to ½ inch thick. Place the strips in a bowl of cold water and swish around (to rinse off some of the starch), then dry them on a towel. Distribute the strips onto the foil-covered tray, spray/coat with a little more olive oil, and bake for about 20 minutes, turning at least once.

Dredging station.
In the meantime, prepare the fish. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 c. flour, 1 tbsp. salt, 1 tsp. thyme, 1 tsp. garlic powder, and ½ tsp. ground cumin. Pour into a shallow dish (or paper plate). In another small bowl (or the same one), beat together 1 large egg and 2 tbsp. cold water. Pour into a second shallow dish (or paper plate). Into a third shallow dish/paper plate, pour 1 to 2 c. panko or bread crumbs. Put about ¼ to ½ inch of olive oil in a 10-inch cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Rinse and pat dry four 3-4 oz. whitefish fillets. Turn down the heat to medium-low. Take one fillet and cover with flour mixture, shaking off excess, then dip in egg mixture, and finally cover well with panko. Carefully place the covered fillet in the pan. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes before carefully flipping over. For a classic presentation, let drain on today's newspaper, or just drain on a metal rack. Repeat with all fillets, adding more oil as needed.

Be sure to season the french fries as soon as they come out of the oven, with salt and pepper (and garlic powder) to taste. Serve your fish and chips with the classic condiments: malt vinegar, tartar sauce (relish mixed with mayonnaise), and a fine English ale.

Title inspiration: The Glass Menagerie, a drama by Tennessee Williams. Premiered at the Civic Theatre in Chicago on 26 December 1944. A televised film version, released in 1973, starred Sam Waterston of Law & Order fame, as well as Katharine Hepburn.

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