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IMBB 24: Flash in the pan fish
March 22, 2006
6:55 I walk in the door and thud go my grocery bags on the floor. I turn on the oven and bang a pan on the stove. 30 minutes till dinner!
For anyone just joining in, the Food Blog Universe hath certain merry conventions, including but not limited to "Is My Blog Burning?" - a monthly cooking challenge where people join in to cook around a given theme. This month's theme: "Make It In 30 Minutes." Most excellent! Especially for us singletons, who tend to work too much anyway.
Like they said, anyone can open up a can of soup and call it supper. But I am a firm believer in well-rounded meals, even if you're only cooking for one. Well-rounded meaning dessert at the end. So I was all set to make a balanced meal: Fish with capers and wine; a spinach-arugula salad with parmesan, sweet red peppers and walnuts; and a walnut cake with lemon syrup. Sound too fancy? It doesn't take but half an hour. Really.
6:57 I take things out of the bags and realize, suddenly, an error that is going to strain the edges of this 30-minute meal. I forgot to defrost the fish! Thin tilapia fillets. Hopefully they'll defrost quicky under running water. In they go, from the freezer to the sink. Much water wasted, down the drain.
7:03 I pull out my KitchenAid food processor and the walnuts. A meal is not complete without dessert.
This scrumptious treat, made for one, is a Walnut Cake with Meyer Lemon Syrup and Yogurt. You grind up some walnuts, add some eggs and a little flour, some sugar and lemon zest. All I had were Meyer lemons (tough, huh) and they lent a floral, Earl Grey fragrance to this firm, tender little cake. Brown on top and soft throughout, soaked with lemon syrup after baking, it's the perfect dessert for one. And it doesn't take but five minutes.
I may be cheating a bit with this here, since it wasn't finished until I was about to start eating. But it was in the oven in a flash, and how strenuous, really, is it to take an itty-bitty cake out of the oven in the middle of your meal?
7:10 Cake's in the oven. I check my fish in its crumpled foil. The profligate waste of water continues. Time for salad, I guess. I bring out the spinach/arugula mix I found at the grocery, and chop a red pepper. I throw on some parmesan and Annie's Natural Goddess Dressing. I sprinkle some of the leftover walnuts on top. Crunchy, sweet, savory and spicy.
I squeeze some lemon juice, a bit of sugar and some water into a small saucepan and leave it to simmer for the cake.
7:15 OK, time for the main event. The fish is going on, ready or not. I rub on some salt and pepper. I heat up the frying pan. It needs to be hot, hot, hot. I put in a dab of butter and a glug of olive oil. When the fizz dies down a bit the fish goes in, carefully, with tongs. This is a noisy, spluttery dish, which at a not so distant time was responsible for some rather remarkable oil burns. (Story another time.) The fish only needs to be cooked a couple minutes on each side. I didn't dry the fish well, so it sticks to the pan, leaving little strips of delicious fried fish cracklings. I turn these and everything else out into the waiting plate by 7:21.
7:21 Sauce! Another large pat of butter sizzles into the pan and I pour in a stream of white wine and half a small jar of capers. Spectacular steam! (This is one of those very impressive dishes. Makes you look like a professional sizzler.)
The sauce bubbles for about a minute and then it gets poured on the plate, over the fish. This is one of the best, easiest dinners that I know how to make. The fish is crackly on the outside - crispy and skillet fried. On the inside it's meltingly tender, flaking apart. The wine and butter and capers - so simple! - are tart and soft and aromatic. I've had friends reach for anything else on the table to sop up the rest of the butter sauce: bread, then leftover vegetables - one swirled the rest of her salad around in the last drops of butter.
7:23ish Time for dinner! OK, fine, I didn't eat right away. I had to take a few pictures.
A quick, flash in the pan meal, with a satisfying blend of flavors and a not-too-heavy weight in the stomach. And it don't take but 30 minutes. Or less, if you remember to defrost the fish.
Fudged from Bittman's indispensable How To Cook Everything
2 thin fish fillets (tilapia, cod, or something like that.)
A few (or more) tablespoons of butter
Some white wine
Medium-grained salt & fresh cracked pepper
Rinse the fish and pat it very dry. Pat on some salt and pepper. Heat a heavy, large skillet. When it's smoking hot, put in some olive oil and a pat of butter. When the fizz dies down, carefully lower the fish in. Turn it after a couple minutes. It should take no more than four or five minutes, tops. Take the fish out of the pan and put on a plate.
Put another pat of butter in the pan and let it bubble for just a moment. Then, carefully, pour in the wine and capers. It will shoot steam into your rafters, so be careful of your face! Let it simmer for a little less than a minute, then pour it over the fish.
OK, who am I fooling? This isn't a recipe. It's a memory tag for me so I remember a great little combination: spinach, arugula with some rough salt and pepper, chopped sweet red bell pepper, fresh parmesan and romano cheese blend, and a healthy handful of walnuts with some Annie's Natural Goddess Dressing on top. I really love that stuff - it's the only packaged salad dressing I keep around. I'm usually a vinaigrette girl.
Adapted from Epicurious
1/3 cup walnuts (1 oz)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1 large egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons mild honey
Baking dish: a 6- to 8-oz gratin dish or ramekin
Accompaniment: whole-milk yogurt
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Pulse nuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons in a small bowl. Add sugar and a pinch of salt to nuts in processor and pulse until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and zest and process until smooth, then add egg and process until blended, scraping down side of bowl. Add flour and pulse just until incorporated, 2 or 3 times (do not overblend). Pour batter into ungreased dish and sprinkle with reserved nuts.
Bake until cake is browned around edge and puffed, and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer cake in dish to a rack.
Finely grate a teaspoon zest from lemon, then halve lemon and squeeze enough juice to measure at least 2 teaspoons.
Bring lemon juice, sugar, water, and honey to a boil in a very small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then boil 1 minute. Stir in zest and take off the heat.
Run a thin knife around edge of cake to loosen and pour syrup over hot cake in dish, letting syrup run down sides and underneath cake.
Posted by Faith at 22 March 2006
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