December 16, 2022. Dear Kids– Looking for a change from holiday lasagna? Try the Minny-ME Hot Fish Dish- a mashup of Minnesota’s Hot Dish and a few of Maine’s seafood classics (Minny-ME- get it?). There’s even Make Ahead directions in The Lecture.
Not familiar with Minnesota’s Hot Dish? Think Tuna Noodle or Green Bean Casserole, but only in the best, home cooked with love kinda way. The Hot Dish, the backbone of many an upper midwestern church supper and family reunion, is a classic, one dish casserole that started out with ground beef, canned vegetables and canned cream of something soup. Topping options abound, having exploded during the Hot Dish glory days, if there ever was such a time, to include tater tots. hash browns, chow mein noodles, potato chips, and fried onions (the kind you buy on a shelf, not make in a pot). Now, there are as many hot dish variations, gourmet and not, out there as there are lakes in Minnesota- I particularly like a chicken and wild rice hot dish.
As for Maine’s contribution to this dish, it comes from the various old school lobster and seafood newburgh type dishes served around the holidays, seafood chowders and bisques served all year round and a topping inspired by the buttery cracker topped baked haddock found on the tables of homes and seafood eateries throughout the state.
I also wanted to keep your budget in mind and give you the flexibility to use whatever fish or seafood you could afford. If you can find a “chowder mix”, it will likely be the best bargain ($4.99/lb in my local fish shop), but any mild white fish would be a good catch too. Moving up the money chain- shrimp, scallops, crab and lobster- which are hard to resist for the holidays and make the best of all holiday gifts if you ask me- certainly better than a tie from your kids (it’s a joke- I love that tie!).
I like to think I’m known for my Fish In A Dish recipes- Taco Style, Chowder Style and Thanksgiving Style– and the Minny-ME Hot Fish Dish is similar, with a bit more effort to make a sauce. Still I think the payoff from the deep and satisfying flavors in the sauce is holiday worthy and worth it. I hope you do as well.
Happy Holidays from all of us (really, there’s just me) at Dad’s Dinner Diary!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
Servings: 4-6 (recipe easily doubled)
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 1-2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1-2 tablespoon canola oil
- 2- 2 1/2 pounds total mild white fish- like cod, haddock or hake- and/or deveined shrimp, scallops lobster and/or crab.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1-2 leeks- cleaned well with white and pale green parts minced- about 8 ounces
- 2 celery stalks, minced- about 4 ounces
- 1/2 fennel bulb, minced- about 5 ounces and optional
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup dry sherry
- 8 ounces clam broth, optional
- 2 cups half and half or milk, depending how rich you want to go
- 4 ounces fontina or other mild, melty cheese, optional
- 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 2 cups cooked farro
- 32 Ritz Crackers (a standard sleeve)- about 6 ounces
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil
- fennel fronds, optional for garnish
Cook & Play. Play “Hot Dish” by Lizzo, (which is explicit, but I’ve heard worse), who got her start in Minnesota, and get to making your hot dish. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, “Hot Dish” is 69th on the list of 69 Lizzo songs ranked by Rolling Stone, but it doesn’t get much better for a Dad Joke, so I had to recommend it. Perhaps you could balance things out by also listening to the song ranked #1, “Truth Hurts”, which has the added bonus of mentioning the Minnesota Vikings- the Dad’s favorite football team!
1. Gone Fishin’. Set up middle oven rack- preheat to 375°. Add 1 Tbsp each, canola oil and butter, to oven safe, 3-5 quart, high-sided skillet or enameled cast iron braiser (a short Dutch Oven) over medium heat. In single layer batches, adding more oil/butter as needed, lightly salt & sear fish/seafood- just a few minutes on each side to just cooked- it will cook further in oven. Set fish/seafood aside in large bowl. Note. Precooked fish/seafood may be used instead of or with the raw, but add to sauce at end of Step 3.
2. Fix The Leeks. Add 4 Tbsp butter to pan, scraping up tasty fish bits off bottom of pan. Mix leeks minced, celery and fennel into fish bits. Add a pinch or two of kosher salt, dried thyme and cook until veggies are tender- 5 minutes or so.
3. Roux The Day. Add flour to pan, stir 1-2 min. to toast the raw flour taste away. Add sherry and stir a bit to combine and cook off harshness of alcohol for a minute or so. Add clam juice, if using, with half & half and/or milk and bring to a simmer- stirring to prevent any lumps. Season with hot sauce and 1/2 tsp kosher salt. Simmer sauce until it thickens and melt in cheese if you wish- taste and adjust seasoning. Off heat, stir in farro and reserved fish/seafood (sturdier seafood first and fold in any delicate filets last) with accumulated juices.
4. Get Baked. Transfer pan to oven and cook for 10 minutes. In the meantime, crush crackers (it helps to start the crushing in the sleeve) in a bowl and mix in butter or oil. Once dish bakes for 10 minutes, carefully and evenly spread Ritz crumbs over hot dish and bake until fish/seafood is 145°- 10 to 15 minutes or so more, but use an instant read thermometer to be safe and sure. It’s not likely, but if crackers are browning too fast, cover loosely with foil. Serve immediately with a nice salad on the side.
Rainy Days and Overcooked Fish Get Me Down. I don’t like over cooking food- that’s why they invented instant read thermometers! I especially don’t like to overcook fish and, as you may have noticed, the risk of overcooking any fish in a casserole (so many lobster mac and cheese recipes do this) runs high. That’s why I suggest the fish/seafood is just cooked before the dish goes into the oven. I am also comfortable adding raw fish/seafood to the sauce at the end of Step 3 and cooking it in the oven (times vary).
To Make Ahead. This dish can be made a day ahead- make the recipe through Step 3- safely/quickly cool, cover and refrigerate. When ready to cook, continue with Step 4, reducing oven to 350° and baking the dish straight from the refrigerator, adding time as needed- and extra 10-20 min- but use an instant read thermometer to be sure. I am also comfortable with any risk in using raw seafood in this make ahead method (I mean you cook it fully in the oven and there’s sushi), but if you or your guest include the elderly or have health issues you need to decide if you are as well. If it helps, I just came across an Ina Garten recipe for scallops in a cream sauce that holds raw scallops in a cream sauce in the fridge. I’d give you the link to that recipe here, but it’s behind a New York Times paywall and who needs that for the holidays!
What The Heck Is A Braiser? It may not be an essential pan for the Young Adult Kitchen, but an enameled cast iron braiser is a great addition to your kitchen pots and pans when you’re looking to upgrade because of its versatility- stovetop and oven safe and looks great on the table. Le Creuset is top of the line, but here’s a link to a reasonably priced enameled cast iron braiser if you’re more towards the bottom of the line, which is where most of us start out.
More Pans? I prefer to keep this recipe a One Pot Wonder, but if your one pot is not ready for holiday or other company and you have a more attractive, oven safe pan, just transfer the creamy goodness to that pan at the end of Step 3. The classic 13″x9″ pan would work, of course- you could even use small crocks for individual servings if you really want to be tres stylish.
Cheese and Seafood. Some folks, particularly with Italian cuisine, think mixing seafood and cheese is a no go, but how can the Filet-O-Fish and Lobster Mac and Cheese be wrong? As the song goes, if loving that is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Nevertheless, it’s really up to you to add it or not. If you do add it, start with a mild cheese to see what you think and experiment from there if you feel you need more cheese flavor with whatever seafood you happen to be using.
So You Really Want Lasagna? When I was a much younger man, didn’t know all that much about cooking and many years from being a Dad, my signature dish was Seafood Lasagna. I haven’t made it in years, but if I did, I would simply use this recipe, without the farro and Ritz of course, and layer it between cooked lasagna noodles, saving half the cheese or adding an additional 2 ounces for the top layer.
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