The Simple Art Of Cooking: Fish Thoughts for Dinner Parties

Over the years I have seen major changes in the way people take to fish. While there are still some naysayers, fish is almost equal to pasta and chicken as a healthy mealtime preference. Fish recipes are being offered in many delectable guises and happily showing up at dinner parties too. Fortunately numerous books and articles are being written on the subject to show us the techniques and methods of preparing fish. No matter how you cook it, fish is good for your health and perfect for today’s lifestyle.

Baked Red Snapper from Salonika, a recipe that was given to me years ago, is typical of cooking fish Greek style, that is, baked with lemon slices. Always thinking local, Cor-J Seafood suggested black sea bass fillets as a perfect substitute for the snapper. The entire dish is assembled in layers with slices of tomato, lemon and sandwiched with garlic, parsley and olive oil. This do-ahead dish can be baked when ready to serve. I was recently asked if I had a recipe for spinach and feta-stuffed flounder fillets, that a friend had at a restaurant and thought it a no-brainer. While I didn’t have a specific recipe, I suggested cooked spinach and crumbled feta to spread on the fish fillets, rolled up and baked; seasoned well of course. With fresh local fennel in my fridge and summer herbs in the garden, I went that route and delighted with the results below. Serve either fish recipe with cooked rice to sop up the lemony goodness of both. If anyone ever told you to cook fish until it flakes remember—if fish flakes, it is overdone!

BAKED RED SNAPPER FROM SALONIKA
Salonika is a seaport town in northern Greece where a large Sephardic community once lived. This recipe comes from a Parisian friend — a family recipe from her mother who hailed from Salonika.
Serves 4 to 5

2 red snapper or black sea bass fillets, 1 1/4 to1 1/2 pounds each, with skin on
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 ripe plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/3 cup finely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 to 2 lemons sliced very thin

1. Rinse fish fillets in salted water and dry well with paper towels.
2. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil in bottom of a 2-quart glass or ceramic baking dish. Arrange half the sliced tomatoes in the dish. Combine chopped parsley and garlic (persillade) and sprinkle 1/3 of this mixture over tomatoes. Place 2 fillets skin side down over mixture.
3. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil over the fish and season with a sprinkling of salt, pepper and 1/3 more of the persillade. Top with remaining fillets, skin-side-up and coat the fish with remaining oil. Season again with salt, pepper and remaining persillade, and a healthy dash or two of cayenne to your taste. Scatter remaining tomatoes and the lemon slices over top of the fish. Cover baking pan securely with aluminum foil, shiny side down. Can be prepared several hours ahead of time to this point. Cover with a tent of plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 350°F when ready to serve.

4. Bring fish to room temperature if refrigerated and place in preheated oven. Bake fish for 35 to 40 minutes or until fish is opaque and the flesh still moist. Serve over hot buttered rice, if desired. Spoon over pan juices and serve immediately.

*Note: local black sea bass is an excellent substitute for the red snapper

STUFFED FLOUNDER FILLETS WITH FENNEL AND HERBS
The rolled, stuffed fillets make for a simple and flavorful do-ahead company dish.
Serves 4 to 6

1 fennel with fronds, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup water
2 scallions, trimmed, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh herb mixture: chives, tarragon and flat-leaf Italian parsley
6 flounder fillets
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Lemon zest and juice from 1 large lemon
Panko crumbs

1. Discard any bruised outer layer of the fennel bulb. Trim away the base of the fennel. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise, remove the core and then cut into julienne strips between 1/4 and 1/2 inch wide. Rinse the fennel then soak in a bowl of fresh water for 15 minutes. Drain, pat dry and set aside. Reserve fronds for garnish, if desired.
2. Heat oil and butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the fennel. Sauté fennel about 6 to 8 minutes, turning the pieces until they become pale golden brown on all sides. Add the scallions and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes longer, and sprinkle vegetables with salt and pepper. Add the water and cover the pan tightly: cook over low heat 5 to 8 minutes, or until the fennel is tender. Add the herbs, remove from heat and taste for seasoning. Set aside to cool.
3. Rinse the fillets and pat dry with paper towel. Sandwich the fillets between two large squares of wax paper and, with the flat side of a meat pounder, pound the fish lightly to make them of even thickness throughout. Spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon of the stuffing on each fillet and roll up from the tail end. Lift the fillets onto a buttered shallow baking dish with a lip. Sprinkle the fillets with salt, pepper, grated lemon rind and juice. Can be prepared up to a couple of hours ahead and refrigerated covered with tent of plastic wrap.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

4. If fish was refrigerated, bring to room temperature and top with panko breadcrumbs. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes and serve.

Visit Silvia’s website at www.savoringthehamptons.com to read her latest blogs and discover more recipes.

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