Experimenting with varieties of fish and ways to prepare it can make Lenten dinners more exciting.
Lent is a time when less can mean more, especially in the kitchen. Going without needn’t be faced with a frown. Let dietary restrictions spur creativity and boost flavor, however modest the meal.
Fish, for those whose faith traditions permit it, can come to the rescue during Lent. Lucy Waverman, co-author of “The Flavour Principle” (Harper Collins, $35), soon to be published in the United States, and Susanna Hoffman, co-author of the new “Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors” (Workman, $19.95), have plenty of ideas about fish and how to punch up both flavor and presentation during Lent — and year-round.
“People get stuck with fish. If all they know is to bread and fry it, that’s all they’ll do,” says Waverman, a Toronto-based author and food columnist for the Globe and Mail newspaper. “Fish is so easy to cook; there are just a few basic rules.”
Waverman says the easiest way to cook thicker pieces of fish, like halibut, Alaskan black cod, salmon or wahoo (ono), is to place them on an oiled baking sheet and bake in a 450-degree oven for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. You can alter the flavor by brushing on various sauces and pastes, she adds, from a green Thai curry paste to a basil pesto to a barbecue sauce.
“Or you can get more sophisticated and use fresh herbs chopped up and some garlic and brush that on,” Waverman says. “You can turn it into a one-dish meal. Slice some potatoes and onions, put them in a baking dish and cook for 15 minutes, then put the fish on top and cook.”
Thinner fish need lower heat for best cooking, she notes, adding that subtler seasoning accents also seem to work better with these types of fish.
“Asian flavors are often too strong,” Waverman says. “But a pesto, anything herbal, or frying them works well.”
A fish combo
One of Hoffman’s favorite tricks is combining fish in a dish, such as fresh salmon garnished with smoked salmon and a watercress cream sauce.
“Don’t be afraid of cream sauce,” she says, adding that it depends, of course, on whether you can eat dairy products during Lent. As for cheese, Hoffman says the general rule is not to use it with fish, but she thinks the saltiness of Parmigiano-Reggiano works.
Think, too, beyond serving just fillets and pieces of fish that have been baked, grilled or fried. Hoffman encourages cooks to experiment with seafood chowders, casseroles, patties and even tacos (there are lobster tacos in her book).
Living in Telluride, Colo., Hoffman prepares a lot of trout. She prefers to serve it whole and finds the body cavity makes a wonderful pocket for various stuffings, such as crab with shaved fennel and arugula. Another favorite trick: wrapping seafood in nori or grape leaves when cooking.
Whatever you do, don’t overcook seafood. Waverman says fish should look opaque. “A little bit of a shiny center is fine,” she adds.