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BEYOND CHICKEN SOUP
Gefilte fish, pickled fish, smoked fish, sweet-and-sour fish ... all Jewish cooks are familiar with fish in one incarnation or another. And what better time to think fish than when the weather starts to get warmer -- finally! -- and when Passover time rolls around.
Although prepared differently in the myriad of Jewish ethnic kitchens, a fish dish is always appreciated because of its versatility, its pareve consideration for kashrut followers, and the fact that it may be eaten at a dairy or meat meal.
And for that special celebratory meal, a spectacular butter-and-cream-laden dessert may follow without the restrictions of a fleishic dinner.
I frequently receive requests for fish dishes that are simple to prepare, doable in advance and fit to feed a crowd -- in other words, "party fish." And after all, Passover, in some ways, is one big party.
The recipes below no longer require a day's devotion or lots of last-minute detailing. For best results, use the freshest fish you can find. Here are some more tips.
· Establish a relationship with your local fish monger. He will become your ally in your quest for freshness.
· Don't buy fish packed in Styrofoam trays. The fish is sitting and disintegrating in its own liquid.
· If you are buying a whole fish, make sure the eye is clear, not cloudy. Fillets should be moist-looking.
· Ask to smell the fish; it should smell like the ocean.
· Cook fish within one day of purchase.
Sweet-and-Sour Fish Fillets
2 lbs. filet of sole or snapper, each filet cut into 4 pieces
1 cup matzah meal
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil, for frying, plus 2 Tbsps. additional
1 large, juicy orange, very thinly sliced
11/2 lbs. onions, very thinly sliced (6 cups)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup balsamic or red-wine vinegar
1 cup orange juice
1 bay leaf
Pat the fish dry with paper towels.
Spread the matzah meal on a sheet of wax paper or a platter, and season with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish pieces, then shake lightly to remove excess.
Heat 1/4-inch of oil in a large heavy skillet until hot. Cook the fish in batches until nicely golden on both sides. Drain well on paper towels.
Choose a casserole or nonreactive baking dish just large enough to accommodate the fish in one layer and line it with the orange slices. Place fish on top, overlapping pieces slightly, if necessary.
Wipe out all the oil in the skillet, then warm the 2 tablespoons of fresh oil in it. Add the onions and toss until completely coated with the oil. Salt and pepper lightly, cover the pan, and cook slowly over very low heat for 35-40 minutes, until the onions are tender and starting to color.
Soak the raisins in the vinegar.
When the onions are very tender, add the vinegar with the raisins, the orange juice and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half, and onions are caramelized and richly colored, 15 to 20 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper, and remove the bay leaf.
Spread the caramelized-onion mixture evenly over fish. Scatter the toasted pine nuts on top. Wrap well with plastic and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight (even better when served after 48 hours). It will keep very well for at least 4 days.
The fish is best at room temperature, so remove it from the fridge at least 1 hour before serving. Serve on a bed of greens.
Serves 8 as an appetizer, or 4 to 6 as a main course.
Party Poached Salmon With Herbed Mayonnaise
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely chopped watercress leaves
1 Tbsp. coarse-grained Dijon mustard
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 fresh parsley sprigs
1 fresh thyme sprig
6 center-cut salmon fillets (6 oz. each) with skin
Mix the first four ingredients in small bowl to blend; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine 1/3 cup water, wine, shallot, parsley and thyme in large skillet.
Place salmon fillets, skin-side down, in skillet; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cover skillet tightly and simmer over medium-low heat until salmon is barely opaque in center, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer salmon to platter; discard wine mixture.
Cover salmon with plastic wrap and chill until cold, at least 4 hours.
Place 1 salmon fillet on each of 6 plates. Serve with watercress mayonnaise.
Makes 6 servings.
Gingered Fish-and-Mushroom Soup
1 oz. dried Oriental black mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup of hot water for 30 minutes
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
3 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsps. grated fresh ginger
6 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 Tbsps. low-sodium soy sauce
11/2 lbs. white fish fillets, such as halibut, sea bass, roughy or snapper, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 lb. (about 8 cups) spinach, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper
Drain mushrooms and reserve soaking liquid. Squeeze out excess liquid from mushrooms, discard stems, and cut caps into thin strips.
In a large pot, heat the vegetable and sesame oils on medium-high. Cook the scallions, garlic and ginger until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes.
Add the stock, 1/2 cup of mushroom soaking liquid, vinegar and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes.
Add the fish and spinach, and simmer another for 4 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and serve.
Sautéed Snapper With Tomatoes and Olives
6 snapper fillets, about 6 oz. each
1 Tbsp. paprika
matzah meal for dredging
3 Tbsps. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
30 Spanish olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fish or vegetable stock
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper
Blot the fish dry. Combine the paprika and matzah meal. Dredge filets in mixture and shake off excess.
In a large pan, heat the oil. Sauté the snapper about 21/2 minutes per side. Remove and keep warm.
In the same pan, sauté the onion and garlic until soft, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes and olives, and cook another for 2 minutes.
Add the stock, bring to a boil and cook for another 2 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice. Taste for salt and pepper.
To serve, top each fillet with the olive mixture. Sprinkle with parsley.
Louise Fiszer is a California cooking teacher and food writer. E-mail her at:email@example.com.