Monday, April 6, 2009

Here, fishy fishy fishy

I work for a crisis agency, and one of the parts of my job is to occasionally take a shift as the on-call person for our hotline. This used to involve carrying a pager, until recently when our answering service informed us we were the last people using such devices and made us switch to cell phones. The long and short of this is on occasion, for a 12 hour block of time, I must remain sober and accessible, in town and ready to talk on the phone or, as the case may be, respond to a hospital or other such place. Whatever I do during this time, therefore, is with the understanding that I may have to drop what I'm doing and leave for hours at a time. In other words, I can't call and order pizza, because I may not be there when it arrives. Nor should I pop a quiche in the oven. Of course, sometimes the phone never rings, and so I get paid only for my accessibility. Over the years I've tended to relish the things I can get "paid" to do, like watch a movie and sleep in, or go to the zoo, or various other marital pursuits.

Saturday night, I got paid to eat fish tacos and make a "chopped" type desert, cuddle my daughter and play on the floor with her, and fall asleep watching tv. Not a bad job, I have to say.

Fish tacos sound strange, but it's a west coast thing that has caught on in the past few years. If you're not familiar, please erase from your mind any reference to the El Paso packet of taco seasoning. There's a time and a place, but it is not with fish tacos.

We made ours with catfish that we soaked in buttermilk, both to cut down on the fishiness of the catfish and to use up the buttermilk we had in our fridge. (I mean, what the hell else are we going to do with buttermilk?) We then coated it in cornmeal seasoned with salt, pepper and cayenne and let it get good and crispy in a pan with some oil. A smear of homemade guacamole, a few diced tomatoes and onion, and some fresh chopped parsley and cilantro finished the taco, served in a tortilla, of course.

Oh, but I forgot the remoulade! My Darling Husband suggested it, which I thought was very brave of him. I combined light mayo (about half a cup) with the juice of most of a lime, along with a healthy pinch of salt, a few cranks of pepper, a few dashes of cayenne and about 1/4 tsp each finely minced cilantro and parsley. It was tangy and creamy and the perfect accompaniment. We both enjoyed it. :o)

We had felt the hankering of a Chopped sort of challenge, but it was my turn and, being that I was on-call, it seemed ill advised. As a sort of compromise, we settled on a Chopped desert. Darling Husband presented me with steel cut oats, guava paste and creme fraiche.

I'm not big on making deserts. As I think I've mentioned, I don't actually enjoy baking. I'm not adverse to eating desert, mind you, but I'm well aware of my limitations. I was pleased that he was so gentle on me in choosing my ingredients.

I started off by making oatmeal, as I didn't know what else to do. I followed the directions, combining 3 cups of water with 1 cup of oats, bring to a boil with a pinch of salt, reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes. Then I microplaned in some brown sugar, as mine had clumped beyond salvage, and some tamari glazed almonds. I also chopped some of the almonds and added them in for crunch. I stirred in an egg yolk and about a cup or maybe more of flour. I spread this gluey mixture in the bottom of a pan, approximately 1/3 inch deep and baked until crusty on top, with a tanned appearance.

The guava paste was much more solid than I expected, almost rubbery. It resembled canned cranberry sauce that had somehow gelled much more than it should have. I cut it with a knife, and found it to be very sticky. I hacked off a wedge, chopped it and tried to melt it in a small sauce pan. I only succeeded in sizzling it. Apparently, there's not enough liquid in it to melt. I added some water and that helped, but I ended up using a stick blender to puree it.

When the oatmeal cookie/cake had cooled, I used cookie cutters to cut some out and arrange on a plate, which I topped with vanilla ice cream. I smeared the guava around the plate and topped with chopped tamari almonds. The creme fraiche I whipped and added, unaltered, to the side of the plate. Mmmmmmh. The oatmeal was chewy and not too sweet, but hearty and good. The almonds gave a nice crunch and also a tartness to add dimension. The guava was rather sweet, but also tart, too. All and all, a nice balance with the ice cream.

I've chosen three ingredients for Darling Husband to use to make desert. Dried cherries, fresh ginger and chestnut puree. I really don't know what I would do with them, but I'm looking forward to what he'll come up with!

Oh, and my phone never did ring Saturday night. That's good for me, and I like to think that it was good for our community, too, that no one needed me that night.


  1. 'Other marital pursuits...' Lol. You're cute.

    Regarding what else to have done with the buttermilk... We COULD have made pancakes. But the fish was pretty awesome, I must say. It was crispy and flavorful and REALLY simple. I think it may be my new favorite way to bread things... Better than panko, WAY better than flour. It almost gives the evenness of flour with the crunch of breadcrumbs. It's the best of both worlds. :)

    And oo... Good ingredients, sweetie! Wheels are turning...

  2. CORRECTION: I added an egg white, not yolk, to the oatmeal mixture.

    I agree that the cornmeal breading is pretty much the best way we've come up with. Although there's something to be said for a scallop dusted in searing flour... cornmeal would be too heavy, I feel. But I certainly agree. It's amazing. Remember when we did the shrimp like that??

    Oh, and don't worry. We can still have pancakes, honey; there's more buttermilk to be used!

  3. Yes, honeybear. It would be WAY too heavy for our yummy seared scallops.

    I'm trying to think what else would be good in the cornmeal... Chicken? Some sort of veg? Twinkies?

  4. The first time I ever heard of fish taco was in this blog, yesterday. The second time was tonight looking at the menu of the Aquarium Restaurant in Nashville. There it was, fish taco at $15 a plate! They used mahi mahi instead of cat fish.
    (Now, if I could just get the awful image I conjured up when I first saw the words "fish taco" out of my head. I pictured a Taco Bell taco with flaked fish instead of ground beef.)