It's Lent, which means it's time to renew your love affair with fish, be it broiled, baked, steamed or fried.
Yet eating the same old, same old over the next five weeks is going to get old pretty darn fast, no matter how revered your church's fish fry is with the faithful, or how much you profess to love Mom's tuna noodle casserole. So this year, it might be time to step out of your comfort zone.
The only problem is, some of us are so conditioned to the fried cod and haddock sandwiches, which the majority of fish fries have on their menus, that we're not sure where to start. Or, we've had so much bad fish over the years, that we want to opt out of eating seafood altogether, choosing to fill up instead on classics such as mac 'n cheese, haluski and pierogies on meatless Fridays.
It doesn't have to be so. While we're all for supporting your local parish, fire department or community center fish fry, we suggest you try your hand at something new in the kitchen. In that spirit, we offer easy-to-make and easy-on-the-pocketbook solutions to three common problems people have with fish.
Problem: We know salmon, which is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, is good for us. But its rather fishy taste can be a problem for those who are used to mild white fish such as cod or haddock.
Solution: Swap fresh for canned salmon, and mask the taste with herbs, spices and a crunchy coating. Deviled salmon patties are delicious as an entree with salad, or on top of a bun as a sandwich.
Problem: You want your kids to eat more fish, but don't think a constant diet of fish sticks is such a good idea. For starters, how much fish do the sticks really contain anyway, and boy, what about all the saturated fat, salt and sugar in the breading?
Solution: Serve the kids fish tacos made with fresh, soda-battered cod topped with spicy-sweet mango salsa. Tacos are fun for kids to assemble, and salsa is a great way to sneak fresh fruit onto the plate.
Problem: You've had so much fried fish that you're starting to smell like a walking Long John Silver's.
Solution: Opt for a simple, veggie-filled shrimp stir-fry. Chinese noodle dishes are ridiculously easy to prepare, make good use of fresh veggies and look so pretty on the plate. Plus, you get to use chop sticks. How's that for changing things up this Lenten season?
DEVILED SALMON CAKES WITH LEMON YOGURT SAUCE
Canned salmon is a lot less expensive than fresh, and with the right spices, can be just as tasty. When adding the diced vegetables to the flaked salmon, fold the ingredients together gently so that the salmon doesn't break up. You might have to pick small pieces of skin, cartilage and bone out of the fish, but don't worry if you miss it -- they are completely edible. I used red (sockeye) salmon.
For lemon yogurt sauce
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint or parsley, if available, or ½ teaspoon dried tarragon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For salmon cakes
2 (7 ½-ounce) cans salmon, drained
½ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup corn kernels, canned or frozen (thawed, if frozen)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon drained pickle relish
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 ½ cups crushed cracker crumbs (preferably saltines), divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons corn oil
Make lemon yogurt sauce by combing all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.
For salmon cakes, carefully flake the salmon into a bowl, discarding any small bones, cartilage, and skin. Add the onion, celery, corn, salt and pepper. Fold together with a rubber spatula. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, pickle relish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, and Tabasco sauce. Fold these ingredients into the salmon mixture.
Lightly beat the egg. Using the rubber spatula, fold into the salmon mixture along with ½ cup of the cracker crumbs. Place the remaining cup of cracker crumbs on a dinner plate.
Form the salmon mixture into eight 3-inch patties. Carefully coat them with the cracker crumbs. Refrigerate, loosely covered, for 1 hour.
When ready to make salmon cakes, melt the butter with the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the salmon cakes, four at a time, for 3 to 4 minutes per side, pressing down slightly on them with the back of the spatula and adding more butter or oil to the skillet if necessary. Remove to paper towels to drain.
To serve, spoon 2 tablespoons of lemon yogurt sauce onto the center of 8 medium-sized plates. Place a salmon cake atop the sauce in the center of each plate. Serve immediately.
Makes 8 patties.
BAJA-STYLE FISH TACOS WITH MANGO SALSA
This is the quintessential fish taco -- crunchy and sweet, with just a hint of tangy citrus. Even people who say they don't like fish (i.e. your kids) will love them.
1 bunch cilantro. chopped
1/4 small head of green cabbage, very thinly sliced
1/4 small head red cabbage, very thinly sliced
4 scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and diced
½ small red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 pounds cod or other mild white fish fillets
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white rice flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups club soda
Vegetable oil for frying
16 small corn tortillas, warmed (32 if you would like to use 2 per taco)
Hot sauce, avocado slices, chopped cilantro, sliced jalapeno and lime wedges, for serving
Make slaw: Separate stems and leaves from cilantro; coarsely chop leaves. In large bowl, toss cilantro with cabbages, scallions, lime zest and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Make salsa: Combine mango, onion, jalapeno, lime juice and cilantro in a bowl; stir to combine. Taste, adding more salt and lime juice as desired. Set aside.
Cut fish fillets on the diagonal into 1-inch strips. Whisk all-purpose flour, rice flour and salt in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in club soda until no lumps remain; adjust with more club soda or rice flour as needed to make it the consistency of thin pancake batter -- it should be pourable, but thick enough to coat the fish.
Heat 2 inches oil in a large pan over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working in batches, coat fish in batter, letting excess drip off, then carefully place in oil (to avoid splattering, lower fish into oil pointing away from you). Be careful not to overcrowd the pot or the oil temperature will drop, and fish might stick together. Fry fish, turning occasionally with a slotted spoon, until crust is crispy and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet; season immediately with salt.
While fish is frying, use tongs to heat tortillas one at a time in a hot pan, until slightly charred and puffed in spots, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate; cover with a clean kitchen towel to keep warm or wrap a stack of tortillas in a sheet of foil and keep warm in a 350-degree oven.
Top tortillas with fried fish, slaw and salsa. Serve with hot sauce, avocado slices, chopped cilantro, sliced jalapeno and lime wedges.
-- Adapted from "Tacolicious" by Sara Deseran (Ten Speed, 2014)
GARLIC NOODLES AND SHRIMP
This stir-fry comes together in minutes. It's perfectly fine to buy individually frozen, head-off, peel-on shrimp, but avoid ones that are limp, slimy or falling apart, or smell like ammonia (signs of decay). If you like your shrimp spicy, add a little dried red chili pepper. You can find fresh Chinese noodles at most Asian markets.
16 ounces fresh Chinese wheat or egg noodles, or 12 ounces dried
8 ounces broccoli florets, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 2 cups)
12 ounces peeled, deveined shrimp
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine (shaoxing) or dry sherry
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 to 5 teaspoons minced jalapeno
1 cup thinly slivered red bell pepper
1 cup sliced onion
1 cup thinly slivered carrots
2 tablespoons soy sauce
In an 8- to 10-quart pan over high heat, bring 3 to 4 quarts water to boil. Pull noodles apart and drop into water; stir to separate. Boil gently just until noodles are barely tender to the bite, 2 to 3 minutes for fresh, 5 to 6 minutes for dried. Add broccoil to the noodles. Cook just until broccoli is bright green, about 30 seconds. Drain noodles and broccoli, rinse well with hot water, and drain again.
In medium bowl, mix shrimp, wine, salt and pepper.
Set 14-inch wok over high heat. When pan is hot, after about 1 minute, add oil and rotate pan to spread. Add garlic, jalapeno, bell pepper, onion and carrots. Stir-fry until onion begins to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add shrimp mixture and stir-fry until shrimp are pink, about 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium. Add noodles with broccoli and soy sauce. Stir-fry until noodles are hot and ingredients are well blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt to taste, if needed. Transfer to serving dish or individual plates.
Serves 2 to 3.
-- "The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food From Around the World" by Linda Lau Anusasananan (University of California Press, 2014)