Looking forward to spring and fresh fish

It’s March — lots more daylight and sunshine! Easter is coming. The promise of crocus, daffodils and tulips poking themselves up from their winter beds and shoots of new green grass aren’t too far off. The store has Easter candy out and colorful displays of all things spring. I heard and saw a robin singing its melodic song high atop a spruce tree. That is a sure sign of spring.

But, nature plays cruel jokes on us and there is dirty slush on the road pulling your vehicle to one side or the other, our Kenai Peninsula roads have standing puddles big enough to almost kayak in, and cars are so covered in everything nasty you can’t tell what color they are. Don’t you just love it when your windshield gets spattered by the vehicle in front of you with a steady shower of muddy water and you turn on the windshield wipers, clean it off and 3 seconds later it’s gross again? Yup, it’s March, that not-quite-winter but not-yet-spring time.

I am heading to the kitchen and I’m ready to cook something besides soup and stew with root vegetables. Doesn’t a nice, lightly dressed, fresh green salad sound good right about now? As usual, this time of year I am yearning for a piece of freshly caught fish; that would be just a little bit of heaven. I can make the salad happen easy enough, but I’m going to have to do some sweet talking to score a piece of fresh fish. The winter king salmon derby is this weekend and maybe someone in my life will get lucky and share their special fish with me!

My fresh fish craving inspired me to look through seafood recipes and I found a recipe for cod cakes. We have plenty of cod in the freezer and it is a favored white fish of mine. Serve the cod cakes with tartar sauce, or, if you are so inclined, make a remoulade sauce with bit more kick to it. A perfect Sunday night supper with a little salad.

Codfish Cakes

4 peppercorns

1 bay leaf

1 lemon, cut into eighths

1- pound cod fillets, or other white flaky fish such as halibut or rockfish

2 tablespoons butter

2 ribs celery, trimmed and diced

1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

1 heaping tablespoon mayonnaise

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 eggs

½ teaspoon Frank’s hot sauce

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

¼ teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt or Johnny’s seasoned salt

1 ‘‘sleeve’ saltine crackers, crushed, or 1 heaping cup panko bread crumbs

2 tablespoons parsley, roughly chopped

¼ cup neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed

Directions: To poach the cod, fill a shallow, wide pan with high sides with about an inch of water and set it over high heat. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf and one wedge of the lemon to the water and allow it to come to a simmer. Place the fish into this poaching liquid, and cover. Cook, barely simmering, until the flesh has just begun to whiten all the way through, about 6 to 8 minutes. Using a wide spatula, carefully remove the fish from the water, and set aside to cool.

Empty the pan, and return it to the stove, over medium-high heat. Add the butter, and allow it to melt, swirling it around the pan. When the butter foams, add the celery, onions and garlic, and sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables soften and the onions turn translucent, then transfer them to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, mustard, eggs, salt, pepper, Old Bay and seasoning salt, hot sauce and then add this mixture to the bowl with the sautéed vegetables, pour the crushed saltines or bread crumbs over them and stir to combine. Add the parsley, and stir again.

Flake the cooked fish into the binding sauce carefully, keeping the flakes as whole as you can manage, then gather them into small balls, and form them into patties, four to six for a main course, six to eight for an appetizer. Place them on a sheet pan or platter, cover loosely with plastic wrap and transfer them to the refrigerator for at least an hour to set.

Set a large sauté pan over high heat and the oil. When the oil is shimmering, remove the fish cakes from the refrigerator, and carefully slide them into the hot pan on a spatula. Sauté the patties until they are golden brown, approximately 4 to 5 minutes a side. Work in batches if necessary. (A small smear of mayonnaise on the exterior of the patties will give them a crisp crust.) Serve them alone, or with greens dressed in a lemony vinaigrette, with the remaining wedges of lemon.

Remoulade Sauce

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons Dijon- or Creole-style mustard

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon capers

¼ cup finely chopped celery

1/3 cup finely chopped scallions

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons grated horseradish, fresh or 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic (optional)

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon Cajun or creole seasoning

Directions: Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Put first four ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend well. Add capers, celery, scallion, cilantro and parsley. Mix well. Add seasonings, mix. Taste and adjust to suit your palate.

Serve with seafood.

Until next time, think spring and make a little lighter fare in the kitchen. Even if it’s still cold and white (or gray) out there, we can imagine spring is closer than ever.

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