The Literate Chef

Fish is not Just for Fridays, Anymore

In General Articles on July 11, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Growing up Catholic in the 1940s and 50s, meatless Fridays were obligatory. As a result, fish in some form or another, was invariably on the menu. Because fish usually meant some type of fried or frozen denizen of the sea, which when defrosted and ‘cooked’ tasted more like cardboard, meatless Fridays truly were a sacrifice. That is unless it was my father’s turn in the kitchen and he would cook his specialties, either Spaghetti with Del Monte Sauce or Linguine with Cauliflower Sauce, neither of which engendered much of a sacrifice on the part of me or my sister.

It wasn’t until I was on active duty in the Air Force and stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi, that I realized that fish could be caught and served fresh, did not have to stink, and actually could be delicious. The first such discovery was at a restaurant on the bayou that specialized in freshly caught, fried catfish, French fries and Dixie beer. It was an epiphany for this New York City born and bred boy and I loved every meal there.

Eventually, I worked up the courage to try other species of fish and other styles of preparation. Today, I will eat pretty much any type of fish and enjoy it baked, blackened, broiled, fried, poached, smoked, or raw in sushi and sashimi. Both the French and the Italians have ways of preparing fish that will soon make you forget that it was ever a sacrifice to abstain from meat.  Today, on those rare occasions such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all other Lenten Fridays, when most Catholics must abstain from meat, which my wife will insist that we do, I readily agree and prepare a fish-based meal that when being consumed makes me smile at the ‘sacrifice.’

One poaching method for fish that is particularly delicious, is ‘alla Livornese,’ i.e., in the style of Livorno, Italy. Livorno, also known as Leghorn, is a seacoast city in Tuscany. The term, alla Livornese, usually means that it is cooked with tomatoes and is spiced up with garlic, onion, capers and olives. For Red Snapper alla Livornese I use a combination of fish stock or clam broth and white wine as the poaching liquid. If you cannot find Red Snapper, any firm fish such as Striped Bass or Swordfish will work just as well; simply adjust the cooking time, depending upon the thickness of the fish. I usually figure 8 to 10 minutes for Red Snapper, 12 or so minutes for Striped Bass and up to 15 minutes for Swordfish Steaks.

For a variation, try baking your fish oreganata style, see: Striped Bass Oreganata for the basic oreganata preparation. Another excellent method of cooking fish is grilling it, especially on a cedar plank, see: Cedar Plank-Grilled Glazed Wild Salmon. Swordfish steaks also lend themselves to great summer grilling and Pineapple Mango Salsa goes great with Grilled Swordfish. Poaching also works particularly well with stuffed fish like sole, Fillet of Sole Stuffed with Crabmeat and Shrimp. With summer in full swing and fresh local tomatoes becoming available, I think that you should continue your reading with: Memories of Summer at The Shore.

  1. I enjoyed your article however I would take issue with your suggestion that swordfish is a white meat fish. Far from being considered as having white meat it is usually of a pinkish tone or bordering on orange. Blanched out it can appear to be white or perhaps opaque. seldom if ever in my limited experience handling fish have I ever come across a white meat swordfish.

  2. Charlie, thanks for the comment. As a renowned ‘fisher of fishes’, you obviously know more about these species than a wash-a-shore landlubber like me. Accordingly, I have deleted the word ‘white’, as the adjective ‘firm’ is really all that is applicable in the case of poaching fish. If you see any other piscatorial errors please do not hesitate to comment.

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