Lenten meals for less: Cook lesser-known fish species
By DAVE MASCH
March 09, 2011 12:00 AM
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Do you remember when fish were inexpensive, and often thought of as food for the poor?
This was especially true for finnan haddie and salt cod (bacalhau in New Bedford). Both are now nearly luxuries, costing more than most cuts of beef and pork, and far more than chicken. This phenomenon has made it more difficult to pay for the traditional seafood eaten on Fridays of the Lenten season, which begins today.
So how do we enjoy fish more frequently and not destroy our food budget?
I look for specials in supermarkets and fish markets. If I find a special where the fish looks good, I still insist on smelling it; I worry it might be on special because it is getting old. If it does not smell bad — like rotten fish or ammonia — I will buy it. If they won't let me smell it, I don't buy it.
I also look for little-known varieties of fish that may have once been considered trash fish but are actually delicious, or new varieties that are often the products of aquaculture.
I also always have several kinds of canned fish in my cupboard, including salmon, tuna, sardines and herring. I can make a decent, inexpensive meal with any of them.
I am not enough of a snob to deny that I am fond of a casserole of tuna, noodles and canned mushroom soup, especially with some cranberry sauce on the side.
I always hope to have leftover cooked fish to make fish hash or fish cakes. So should you.
If I have a meal of fish and potatoes, and peas or broccoli, I will chop up the leftover fish with a medium onion and add whatever vegetables I have around — a beet, a carrot, a bit of turnip — add a dash of nutmeg and the leftover potato. Fry it up over medium heat until a crust is formed. Turn over, brown the other side slightly. Serve topped with a poached egg. I usually have a little hot sauce with mine.
Joe Moran, who fished and cooked on a Woods Hole-based boat owned by Henry Klimm, says, "I use an equal amount of fish or clams and potato in clam hash or chowder. But some old Yankees would go as much as three parts potato to one of clams or fish. They were a mean (cheap) bunch."
On my first trip to sea many years ago, I asked an old salt named Bill Clarkin if he had ever been seasick. He thought for a little and he said to me, "No, but when I was I blamed it on the cook."
That may happen at home as well. One of my daughters refused to eat when I added a beet because the hash came out pink. But try the recipes below and you will be within your food budget and probably complimented, maybe even thanked, for the meal.