THE SHOPPER in the family knows how pricey meat is. It’s easy to spend what seems like almost a car payment on a big chunk of tender cow.
For affordability, you can’t beat fish you catch. That is after you’ve paid off the boat, motor, rod, reel, fancy fishing vest, a few dozen pricey lures, and the gadget that looks into the water for you and tells you where the fish are hiding. After all that, dinner can be cheap.
Of course, what you catch doesn’t matter much when it’s going to be dinner. Don’t rule out tilapia just because they don’t dine on worms. A Facebook friend says she catches the elusive critters on dough balls. Apparently, tilapia and catfish have similar meal preferences, since that’s what we used for bait in the great white North.
So, let’s say you have a mess of fresh fish at home and they have been cleaned, skinned, and filleted. Typically, you’d be ready for the corn meal coating and hot fat bath so the fish could be served next to grits and hush puppies. Let’s ditch that cliché.
My teen years were spent in a smallish Ontario town on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River near the Quebec border. We would venture into the weed beds of the river in small motor or rowboats to troll for perch. Restaurants would serve the fried perch in hot dog buns slathered under mayo, chopped onion, and chopped dill pickle. You can do the same thing today with whatever pan fish fillets you have. It’s quick, simple, and tasty.
Fish tacos have also become a regular item on restaurant menus these days. Small fillets dipped in cornmeal and fried are nestled in a crunchy corn tortilla waiting to be topped with pico de gallo. But beware, blandness can set in before you know it. Try jazzing up the cornmeal with some Latin spices. Cumin is a great flavor profile to start with. Allspice from the Caribbean can also open a new world of flavors. Guacamole is tasty on fish. Remember though, once air gets to the surface of the avocado it turns dark and yucky. A thin layer of oil stops the browning so it may live for another day. Dollop some on the fish taco before you add whatever shredded greens you may have. Cabbage works well and is very inexpensive. Iceberg lettuce adds a light texture while kale adds an earthy quality.
If you have a lot of fish and a crowd to feed, mix a can of drained black beans and a can of kernel corn with a little onion and something red, such as tomato or red pepper, then sprinkle the greens with this combo. Don’t be afraid to top it all off with a splash of your favorite hot sauce for an extra kick.
Let’s get back to the cornmeal for a minute, shall we? Travel to a destination far away and exotic by sprinkling curry powder into the mix. Taste a smidge before you commit yourself to frying, however, because the flavor of curry powder can vary depending on the heat you use. In parts of India the bread of choice is chapati. I can best describe it as sort of like a whole wheat tortilla. Use a smaller tortilla for your tacos or expand your borders with larger ones for fish burritos.
Let’s keep our creative toque blanche on for a minute and get ready to prepare something special for company. Smoked fish dip is a snap when using cooked pan fish fillets and liquid smoke. In supermarkets, the bottle of liquid smoke is usually on the top shelf near the sauces. Read the label and try for a brand that is just smoke and water. Next, break up the fish and add some mayo until you’re happy with the texture. Then go ahead and drip in the smoke until it tastes just right.
From big bass to small sunfish, no matter what’s on the end of your line, great flavor is found when dishes are prepared with love and imagination.
article by CFAN Food Editor TRENT ROWE