Lettuce Eat Local: Something’s fishy around here

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Amanda Miller
Columnist
Lettuce Eat Local

 

“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” 

Does any parent of small children not know this classic book beginning penned by Dr. Seuss? We go in spells around here of which books make the Top Hits list; newly received or library-borrowed books typically have some period of popularity, and sometimes the sheer ease of reach for books that didn’t get put away yet renders them most likely to be picked again, but other times there seems to be no rhyme or reason for what literature appeals most to Benson at any given time. 

I take that back: sometimes there is rhyme, or at least rhyming cadence, to his best books, and the reason often involves tractors, dinosaurs, or Curious George. This week has been strongly about an old Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger too!) book we found, and if Brian and I have to read it fewer than five times a day currently, we’re winning. Benson also pages through it daily, either “reading” to himself or his baby doll.

A week or two ago, though, we had One Fish Two Fish out in the limelight, probably not unrelated to the fact that Brian was gone for the weekend on a fishing trip with some guys from church. Except for the weekend before, when we were on our anniversary trip, Brian has done nothing but farm for what feels like an inordinate amount of time. He loves fishing and has never done a guided tour like this before, and hasn’t even taken the time for any “regular” fishing for the last several years, so I was very pleased he made it work for him to go. 

His son, however, wasn’t quite so impressed. Benson had a very hard time understanding why he couldn’t go with Daddy, and while we are used to Brian being out of the house from early until late these days, we at least see him for a few minutes here and there. It was a very good reminder of how intentional Brian has been to swing by before he heads to the field or between jobs: a great perk of living right on the farmstead. (Plus, living on the property means I’m the one in Brian’s absence who found myself late at night pushing feed and finding a new baby calf that needed to be fed — which was perfect, just enough to make me feel like a real farmer without having to do any actual work.)

“Train wreck” was the best way to describe Benson’s attitude most of the time Brian was gone, and mine also was starting to deteriorate towards the end; me and this ballooning belly were very ready to have someone else be this feisty two-year-old’s wrestling and blanket-cave-crawling partner. 

Fortunately, Brian’s absence was short, and he brought atonement in the form of fresh striped bass fillets, so we’ve been eating fish even more than we’ve been reading about them. I’ve never had much experience cooking fish, as growing up my Dad didn’t like it and now landlocked Kansas is not the best locale either for price or freshness; but I’m delighted to experiment. I know best pan-frying with cornmeal and creole seasoning, but I tried another very simple pan-frying with just flour and lots of pepper finished with capers and fresh lemon that was fabulous. 

To really venture into new waters, however, I made a Thai-inspired rice and fish dish with ginger and coconut milk. It was nothing like Seuss’s red or blue fish, and it was neither sad nor glad nor bad; it was just fully delicious. We have two more packs of fillets in the freezer, and I’m already looking forward to them. 

Creamy Coconut Rice and Fish Packets

The bass cooked up so flaky and tender, the rice so bright and flavorful. For some reason it feels labor intensive to make foil pouches, especially if I refer to it by the cooking term “en papillote,” but honestly it’s so hands-off and with less clean-up than pan-frying. I used brown rice for its nutty notes and pleasant chew, but white rice would be fine — just note it needs to be cooked before being cooked again with the fish, a detail I almost missed when referencing the initial recipe. You can make these in individual-portion packets (4 or so), or 2 large packets. 

Prep tips: as mentioned, I used striped bass, but any nice white fish fillets should work great. You can substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce…but you shouldn’t. 

⅓ cup rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar or brown sugar

1 jalapeño, sliced thinly (deseed if desired)

two handfuls of chopped fresh cilantro

1-2 tablespoons fish sauce

1” piece fresh ginger, grated or minced

½ cup canned coconut milk

1 – 1 ½ pounds striped bass fillets

3-4 cups cooked rice

Heat vinegar, sugar, and jalapeño just until sugar is dissolved. Stir in one handful of cilantro and the fish sauce, ginger, and coconut milk. Separately, season fish with salt and pepper. 

Lay out a piece of foil (see note) and mound on some rice. Top with fish, and spoon on sauce. Fold edges of foil up and crimp to seal. Repeat as necessary.

Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes, until fish flakes easily and at least some of the sauce has been soaked up by the rice. Serve with the remaining cilantro and more salt as necessary

 

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