fish


I have returned from my conference in Bethlehem, PA two cookbooks richer courtesy of the Moravian Book Store.

Another Bethlehem landmark I was hoping to investigate in detail was The Sun Inn, which has been a part of the local townscape since 1758 and has a lengthy 18th Century celebrity guest list. I had found out about The Sun via Debbie Nunley and Karen Jane Elliott’s A Taste of Pennsylvania History, which I picked up back when I moved to the Philadelphia area five years ago. Time has not been kind to this book…when I showed it to some other librarians at breakfast they went through it and pointed out all the places which had burned down or gone out of business since.

The Sun’s still there and still intact, but the restaurant aspect of the site is defunct, and if you want to eat there you need to rent it out and hire a caterer. It’s still a beautifully restored building, however.

Denied my chance to dine by proxy with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette (one day I need to find out where Sir William Howe, Lord Cornwallis, and Lord Hugh Percy had dinner…the imagined conversation would be much more congenial), I was left with the two recipes the Sun had provided for the cookbook. My girlfriend’s allergic to shellfish, so Gouvernor Morris’ Crab Soup was out and Benjamin Franklin’s Almond Trout was in. 

I ended up not being able to get the almond menthe the recipe called for (in Pennsylvania we are at the mercy of the State Liquor Control Board), so I crossed my fingers and tried Amaretto instead. This worked so well that I named my Almond Trout variant after Franklin’s Loyalist nemesis, Pennsylvania’s own Joseph Galloway.

Almond Trout Joseph Galloway

  • 2 tbs butter, divided
  • 2 tbs sliced almonds
  • 2 8oz rainbow trout fillets, boned
  • 3 tbs Amaretto
  • 1 cup heavy cream 

Heat 1 tbs butter in skillet. Add almonds and trout and cook for 2 minutes. Place 1/2 tbs butter on top of each trout fillet and broil for 7-10 minutes. For sauce, light Amaretto in a medium saucepan. When flame goes out, add cream and simmer to thicken, stirring constantly. Place one fillet on each of two plates and top with sauce.

This is actually a tremendously fast recipe…the longest part of it is waiting for the sauce to thicken and even with that it took me only about 25 minutes to get it all prepared, so it’s good for a work night.  

Potatoes are a natural side for fish. This is my new potato cheat.

Very Easy New Potatoes

  • 6-10 new potatoes
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp paprika or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a small baking pan with foil. Add olive oil to pan and sprinkle spices on top. Roll pan to coat evenly. Cut potatoes in half and place cut side down in pan.  Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.

I suppose it’s apropos to start off my first ‘entirely for this blog’ post with a Frugal Gourmet recipe, since watching Jeff Smith’s TV show as a kid had a lot to do with my interest in cooking. This was back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, before the Food Network transformed cooking into a “celebrity” occupation, and Jeff was much more low-key than a lot of the personalities we’re used to in the mighty 21st Century. His best trait (at least from the point of view of an insecure teenager) was that he had a way of making you feel confident about trying something new…if your chicken got a little scorched or your soup was overseasoned, you knew he wouldn’t laugh at you. I ended up with a lot of Frugal Gourmet cookbooks, largely because people trying to avoid giving me a dragon or spaceship related gift in high school knew that I enjoyed his show.

Today was a perfect day for a light fish dish…incredible humidity, and my girlfriend, who loves Ahi, in town looking for a new apartment.

Sicilian Tuna (from The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook)

  • 4 60z fresh tuna steaks
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 and 1/2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Coat tuna steaks in flour and fry in olive oil, 1-2 minutes on each side (It’ll be pink in the middle. That’s how you want it). Remove tuna to a warm plate and add onions, pepper, chicken stock, and pepper. Let everything cook down till the stock is reduced a bit and the onions are tender. Salt to taste, and pour over fish.

This goes very well with pasta and a green salad. I went with Aglio Olio, which is less an actual recipe (despite what Italian cookbooks will tell you) and more a useful trick. I’ve seen a lot of different ways to jazz it up, but this is the simple version I got from my mom. It’s incredibly useful because it’s easy to keep garlic and pasta on hand, and it requires almost no skill to prepare :

Pasta Aglio Olio

  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil (splurge for something decent…this stuff tastes awful with cheap olive oil)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (or about one large pinch)
  • 1 lb cooked pasta (I prefer linguine for this)

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan and add the garlic…you should hear it beginning to cook. Wait about a minute and add the parsley. Let cook another 1-2 minutes -you should be able to smell the garlic, but it shouldn’t turn brown. Remove from heat, stir, and toss with pasta. Serve with grated parmesan or romano cheese.

Sicilian Tuna and Linguine Aglio Olio

The first remove was where the culinary big guns came out on the 18th Century British table. The biggest, the richest, the most expensive…it was all going to be here. Generally, a roast of some kind took pride of place, as well as a fish dish. Surrounding it were other various dainties such as vegetables in the ubiquitous butter sauce, smaller fricassees, roasts, or other made dishes involving game, and oysters or other shellfish which in those days were so common that the 18th Century equivalent of the modern New Orleans po’ boy  was a common tradesman’s lunch.

The tradition of fish in the first Remove has survived in the modern convention of serving fish before meat, so my mini-dinner had a fish course to represent it. The fish dish I chose had considerable celebrity power behind it, because it came from the recipe collection of Mrs Henrietta Wolfe of Westerham, whose son James became famous as victor of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and conqueror of Quebec.* Mrs. Wolfe was renowned for her beauty, and was also apparently a dab hand with fish since all of the recipes I’ve tried which came from her cookery book were excellent. This one was originally a Fricassee of Turbot, but I had to substitute halibut, a similarly firm and not “fishy” fish, instead since you pretty much have to jump the Pond to get an actual turbot. Again, you can find the modern version of the following in Michael Barry’s Old English Recipes:

To fricassee turbut: Take a turbut, cut in short slices without ye skin. Make a little batter to dip it in, of Eggs cream a little flower a little mace and nutmeg. Then fry it a dine Brown, make a few forst meat balls & some good fish sauce to serve it up in, with fried oysters mushrooms etc. around it.

Fricasseed Halibut

This is more complicated than it sounds, in that you have to fry the fish, make and fry the forcemeat balls (which here are bread-based 18th century ancestors of hush puppies and serve the same purpose, ie to make an expensive dish feed more people), and then make the fish sauce to serve with it:

 Fish:

  • 1 and 1/2 lbs turbot, halibut, or haddock
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • Cooking fat. Lard, butter, and olive oil (my choice) are all period.

Cut fish into one-inch slices. Beat egg into milk and add flour and nutmeg to make a thin batter. Dip fish slices into batter and fry in oil, about 3 minutes per side.

Forcemeat Balls:

  • 3/8 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbs butter, suet, or if you’re desperate, shortening
  • Salt and pepper

Mix ingredients together and knead until combined. Divide and roll into about 12 small balls. Fry with fish until light brown, about 3 minutes.

Fish Sauce:

  • Fish trimmings, skin, bones, etc
  • Grated rind and juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 cups water 
  • 4 tbs cream
  • 1 small spoonful starch (cornstarch, arrowroot) mixed with the same amount of water
  • 1 small spoonful butter

Add fishy bits and lemon rind and juice to water. Boil for 10 minutes and strain. Return liquor to pot and add cream and starch. Add butter and simmer gently until thickened.

To Serve: Lay out the fish and surround it with the forcemeat balls. You can also fry up some mushrooms and oysters and use them in the ring for additional effect. Serve the sauce alongside.

It’s worth the effort. The fish has a light but crispy batter, the forcemeat balls are a nice accompaniment, and the fish sauce has a mild lemon flavor. The only thing I had to leave out was the oysters, since Cat is extremely allergic and the bed I was hoping to end up with her in at the end of the evening was not a hospital one. 

Brillat-Savarin, by the way, in his Physiology of Taste, theorized that all fish had aphrodisiac qualities, so I had late 18th and early 19th Century food science firmly on my side in this aspect of my project.

*It should be noted that the British Army’s Paymaster General was already so eager to recoup the ruinous expenses of the Seven Years War (an issue that would later help spark our own Revolution), that Mrs Wolfe was in her 80s before she saw any portion of her dead son’s pension, despite the fact that monuments and paintings to him were wallpapering two continents. Fun fact from Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War