August 15, 2021. Dear Kids– This recipe makes me smile because it features a Ritz cracker topping, which was the only way you two kids would eat fish when you were very young The buttery cracker topping was one of the “tricks” in my Getting My Kids to Eat Something Other Than Chicken Fingers Arsenal- a way to create a “gateway” fish that would hopefully get you hooked (Dad Joke) on other sea creatures higher up on the tasty food chain.
You both have come a long way from those days when it comes to seafood, thanks in part to growing up near the bounty of the ocean on the northeast coast of the US and the fact that you have a mom who’s parents would let her skip school on the first day of trout season to go fishing when playing hookie involved an actual hook (Second Dad Joke with same pun if you’re scoring at home).
You now eat most sustainably produced seafood- raw oysters, being a notable exception. However, this exception does often come to mind since one of you immediately spit a raw oyster into my hand just after I talked you into sampling an oyster from a seafood platter at one of Mom’s fancy work parties back in the day and haven’t tried one since.
You also even enjoy, in varying degrees, catching fish. You were quick to take to fishing, with such a fierce independence exhibited by your insistence on baiting your own hooks with chunks of mackerel and all the cuts, scrapes and impalements that came along with it; only allowing help to reel in a catch if the risk of losing your pole to the sea was imminent; and aggressively repelling any help as you struggled to hold up a striped bass that was literally half your size, for trophy photos.
On the other hand, you both have your own styles when it comes to fishing. One of you has clearly been more dedicated, going out most days whenever we were near the water and waiting hours for a fish, or no fish, while the other has been much more selective with time spent with a rod and reel in hand, but having an amazing ability to make the most out of the time on the water, which some would call luck, but you claim is skill.
All this history, is a perfect setup for this Fish In A Dish- Chowder Style recipe, which will have you thinking of the rocky coast of New England wherever you make it and which gives you everything you would find in a fish chowder, down to the crackers on top for a fraction of the time and dishes. A one dish meal that turns into something much more elegant than the sum of its parts.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 1 1/2 pounds of cod or other mild and flaky white fish, cut into 4 portions
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 pound Yukon Gold potato, peeled and grated on large holes of a box grater
- 1-2 ears of fresh corn, with kernels carefully cut off or 1-2 cups of frozen corn
- 8 ounces clam juice (usually found in the same aisle as canned tuna)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup dry white wine, optional
- 15-20 Ritz Crackers, crushed with clean hands
- 2 tablespoons unsalted cow butter, melted
- 1/4 cup of minced parsley, mixed with zest of a lemon
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
COOK AND PLAY
Take a trip back in time and across the world with “Let’s Get Away From It All” by Della Reese, while you grate your potatoes, watch out for your knuckles on the box grater and see if you can hear the chowder reference in the tune.
1. Fish Seasoning. Set up a middle oven rack and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season cod with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Zap Those Taters. Place potatoes in a micro safe bowl, zap on high for 90 seconds, stir and zap another 90 seconds or so until potatoes start to soften to the bite. Stir corn into potatoes, season well- stirring in salt and pepper.
3. Cracker Topping. Stir melted butter into cracker crumbs and set aside- if you’re good, you can do this while potatoes are in the microwave.
4. Chowder Base. Place fish in middle of a large gratin or other oven safe dish or pan, use a large spoon to arrange grated potato, corn and any liquid from bowl around the fish. Pour clam juice, cream and wine, if using, evenly over potatoes and corn. Top fish evenly with cracker crumbs.
5. Dish In Oven. Roast fish until just opaque throughout- 10-20 minutes, depending on thickness of fish and while keeping an eye on crumb topping to cover loosely with foil if it gets too dark.
6. Serve it Up. Serve dish family style, sprinkling parsley with lemon zest over top, and with a large spoon for self service or get fancy and portion chowder sauce into shallow bowls and top with portions of fish and parsley. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.
Something Fishy- I Hope Not! If you don’t have time to catch your own fish, which will most assuredly be fresh, the way to judge fresh fish is to, ironically, make sure it doesn’t smell fishy, of ammonia or of any other off smell, but smells slightly briny, like the deep sea. Fresh fish also looks fresh- shiny and moist not dull, dry or with any build up of any kind on the fillets. The flesh should also bounce back and not leave a crater when pressed. Buy fish at reputable markets, with high turnover, and don’t be shy about asking the vendor (aka “fishmonger”- what a powerful term!) when the fish came into the case, if you or they can smell the fish and can poke it with a glove or plastic wrap if you have any doubts about freshness.
A Fish Tail. Like any food that is not even in thickness, like a chicken breast or carrot, you want to get it as even in thickness as possible so it cooks evenly. In the case of fish, that means avoiding or folding over the thinner tail end of the fish. “Center Cut” fillets are of uniform thickness because the tail ( the triangular end of the fish fillet) is cut away, but are more expensive. To save money on that college budget, buy the less expensive fillets, with the thinner tail ends in tact, and simply fold the thinner, triangular tail end under the filet to create a uniform thickness on the tail end.
This Is How The Magic Happens. Something magical happens in this recipe as the grated potatoes and corn cook in the clam and cream broth- a transformation into a luscious and rich, risotto-like mixture, with the grated potato standing in and acting like the short grained rice in a risotto and without any of the cost or constant stirring needed to make a risotto. There is a bit of a balancing act to achieve this result, however, but it’s an easy one as long as you have a game plan.
As the recipe is written, the challenge is quickly met by par cooking the potatoes in the microwave and a piece of foil stands by the ready to cover the cracker topping if it gets too dark before the fish is cooked. Upon further reflection, I think the better technique would be to combine the potatoes, corn, cream and clam juice in the dish and reduce the mix slightly in the oven or on the stovetop (if you dish is stovetop safe) for 10-15 minutes to get the broth and cream bubbling and reducing and the potatoes cooking, then push the potatoes and corn to the side, place the fish, topped with the crackers, in them middle of the pan and cook until the fish is done. If this was not a Dad Blog and the “Test Kitchen” wasn’t moving soon, I would have cooked the recipe again in this manner and updated the recipe. Perhaps I’ll do that once everything settles down, but until then you have this.
Fun Potato Fact. Honestly, this fact isn’t that much fun, but it’s good to know that the traditional chowder potato is a medium starch, all-purpose potato, like a Yukon Gold, that will hold some bite as it cooks and not a high starch potato, like a Russet, which is more likely to break down and loose all its texture as it becomes one with the sauce.
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