Wednesday, May 13, 2009

23.0 In Cod We Crust

Starring Erin & Mike, Adam & Josh , Sarah & Adam, and Jane
Filmed on Location in Beautiful Downtown Sellwood
Soundtrack: Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys

“Castin' out my sweet line with abandonment and love”

Actually, we use tilapia, but that’s a great title, right? In Tilapia We Lightly Coat with Corn Meal” doesn’t have the same zing. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a history of fish.

“Fish” was a short-lived (14 episode) sitcom that ran on ABC from 1977-1978. Starring Abe Vigoda as Det. Phil Fish, the series (a spin-off of the abundantly more popular “Barney Miller”) centered around the home life of Fish and his wife Bernice, after their unlikely decision to adopt five troubled foster children. I say “unlikely” because even in ’77 Vigoda looked about a hundred.
What does this have to do with tonight’s meal? Nothing. Let’s continue.

Imagine if you will: Neptune astride Leviathan, a mighty plume of seawater obscuring his beard, flowing bolts of geoduck. On his trident, thrust toward the undrying sun, three perfectly browned and crispy fish sticks. This is the glorious regurgitation of the fathoms, the favored gift of the sea!

That’s a little closer to tonight’s inspired dish. This next bit reels it in.

Every Friday, even beyond the Fridays of Lent, my father returned from work to a fish sticks and spaghetti dinner. It wasn' t

More than anything the ketchup thermostat has colored my impression of all fish (if not all pasta) meals. Isn’t there some quote about fish being a dish best served cold? Putting ketchup on a fish stick is the culinary equivalent of icing down a swollen knee (but more appeasing to the taste buds).

But please don't let me be misunderstood. It was my favorite meal of the week. Also, as a nostalgic trigger, it signaled the beginning of the weekend – my next meal after the fish dinner would be Saturday morning pancakes while watching the Krofft Supershow (1976-1978).

So when the other night, Erin decided we'd be having fish sticks for the Sellwood Kitchen entree, all sorts of questions sprung to my tongue: Is "Donnie & Marie" back on the air? Do we have enough ketchup? Did you convert?

Answers: No, the variety show is dead; no, there's plenty of ketchup (Erin despises it); and no.

I didn't care. I was just anxious that we start defrosting the fish sticks in time for Donny & Marie (thank you, You Tube).

Erin began to explain, as delicately as one can to a 39 year old in the throes of a severe nostalgic episode, that these would not be "your father's fish sticks."

O joy! O rapture! Home made fish sticks! I called my mother. "Wanna come over for dinner? We're having fish sticks! No, we don’t need any ketchup." (On a curious side note worth recording, my mom, aware of Erin's famous chicken skewers, had misinterpreted the nature of the meal. My brother asked her what she'd be eating at my house, and she responded, with waning certainty, "Fish-on-a-Stick?").

We had a full house that night: Our residents Lenny & Squiggy (Josh & Adam); sous chef extraordinaire Sarah MFB and Adam, uh…2 – both Sarah’s boyfriend and Erin’s old college chum; and my mother, popularly known as Jane. It was a Thursday night, Holy Thursday if I recall, and of course in addition to eating, we had gathered for our weekly TV funnies.

Now it was time for the main event ("Remember the Main Event" -- sorry, just a little nautical humor). Served with fresh tartar sauce, with spring rolls on the side, the fish sticks were plated, photographed, and presently consumed. I loved them, but...

Erin wasn't bowled over by it. Something was lacking. The nucleus of the meal was sound, but the electrons needed a little charge.

My taste buds, abused by years of Drake’s coffee cakes and Yodels, could find no fault. But my psychic inner-ear picked up these whisperings from the ocean of archetypes Jung dubbed the Collective Unconscious: You should only serve fish sticks on Fridays!


Erin’s Intro: What’s a minced fish? I don’t know, but we aren’t having any. This isn’t your average frozen fish stick. We’re using fresh Tilapia, and GF ingredients, of course. And for once, we aren’t frying anything. I know, sad. But considering we’ve fried every type of food we can get our hands on in the past six months, it’s time for a break. I first called this recipe “boring”, but I changed it a little, and decided it’s not boring, it’s “simple”, and there is nothing wrong with that. It’s a great GF meal, especially for kids. Prep them ahead of time and bake them later for an after school snack. Or bake them for a house full of hungry grownups. Either way… preheat oven to 350°.

4 Tilapia fillets
1 Cup Rice Flour
1 ½ Cups Corn Meal
2 Eggs + ½ Cup Milk, whisked
Salt and Pepper
2 Tbs Cajun Seasoning
Fresh Lemon Wedges
Cooking Spray

Put rice flour, corn meal, and egg mixture into three separate shallow dishes. Slice Tilapia fillets into strips, about 4 strips per fillet depending on the size. Lightly season fish with salt and pepper. Mix Cajun seasoning into the corn meal. Dredge each strip in flour, shake off, and coat in egg mixture. Then, press the fillet into the corn meal mixture so it is completely covered. Repeat with remaining Tilapia strips. At this point the fish can be chilled in the refrigerator until ready to bake. Set fish sticks on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spray the fish sticks with cooking spray. Bake about 6-8 minutes, flip and spray the other side, bake 6-8 minutes more. Fish should be white and flaky. Squeeze fresh lemon onto the fish sticks before serving with tartar sauce, or ketchup, if you’re into that.

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