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Over the years, we've collected a great many recipes from the Gulf states. Given the cool weather ahead this month we offer warming options soups and fish and, just to start on an unusual note, a seafood "pie."
On a day when we got blown off of Mobile Bay we discovered this dish at a local fisherman's cafe. The owner told us it was a family recipe. Over the years, we discovered you can make it ahead if you add the potato topping at the last minute. Variations include added vegetables, shrimp and cheese stirred into the potatoes or sauce:
Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain, add half the butter and mash. Season to taste, beat in the egg and set aside.
Place the fish fillets, milk, onion, carrot and bay leaf in a saucepan. Season lightly, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and discard the onion and bay leaf. Strain the liquid and place fish, peas and carrots in a baking dish. Reserve.
Heat oven to 400 degrees Melt half the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in flour. Cook for one minute. Remove pan from heat and stir in the strained milk - a whisk helps. Cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Stir in the nutmeg and cream. Check seasonings and pour sauce over fish and vegetables. Mix gently and sprinkle on the parsley.
Spread the potatoes over the filling and top with butter. Bake for ten to fifteen minutes until topping browns.
Note: Make this in individual dishes if you like. They do not freeze, but will keep in the refrigerator for three or four hours before brought up to heat in the oven.
This was the only fish entree on the longest table of Texas barbecue we ever saw - this during a political fund-raiser for LBJ. Louis suspects it's a version of a traditional Vera Cruz dish, but it is a wonderful treat on a cool winter night. He serves it with tortillas. I like it better with hard rolls. We agree it goes nicely with rice.
Cook onion in olive oil in a pan with garlic over low heat until translucent. Add beer, tomatoes, parsley, sugar, oregano pepper and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer five minutes.
Heat oven to 350 degrees - 325 degrees for convection ovens. Place fish in a greased baking dish. Season fish cavity with salt and pepper - add the odd lemon slice if you like.
Stir olives into above sauce and pour over fish. Cover and bake 45 to 60 minutes. Turn off the oven, pour the pan juices from the cooked fish into a saucepan and return the fish to the oven to stay warm. Combine two tablespoons water with arrowroot or cornstarch. Mix this with pan juices in a saucepan and cook over medium high heat until the sauce thickens. Pour sauce over fish and serve.
SNOWBIRD FISH CHOWDER
Given good stock, it's easy to whip up solid dishes. The most basic dish is fish chowder. Here's our simple recipe based on the wonderful chowder we enjoyed at a small restaurant on Marco Island a few years back before the hotel towers sprouted. The owner was "new to the island" as she'd only been there 35 years.
Brown the pork cubes or bacon until crisp and remove from the pan.
Leave two to three tablespoons of the fat in the pan and sauté onions. Add the potatoes, fish stock and fish chunks. Simmer covered for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fish flakes.
Stir in milk and bring up to serving temperature, but do not boil! Add salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe also works with clams, chunks of crab meat, scallops, shrimp or even corn if you simply reduce the amount of cooking time to suit. Therefore, we stash a few cans of canned clams at home or onboard "just in case" the fish do not bite.
The levee restaurant where we discovered the world's best catfish beer breading also featured Shrimp Creole served over "dirty rice." The owner tossed raw shrimp in to the sauce and served it in cast iron skillets so it cooked at the table. This seemed very odd, but delicious We wrote the recipe on the back of a menu, but in a couple of decades of transcriptions we've lost that. I do remember red check oilcloth on the tables, dead critters and big fish on the walls and rather too much wine.
You can make the sauce ahead and simply have to bring it up to heat and toss in the shrimp ten minutes ten minutes before serving. Add a rice cooker full of hot dirty rice and the cook can join the pre dinner conversation before serving this wonderful winter dish. Note: we do this with small shucked crayfish and very thin slices of fish fillets with and without the shrimp too.
Get the stock ready with heads, etc. first or use fish stock. Melt the fat over high heat in a deep pot to catch the splatter. Add half of the onions and cook three minutes.. Reduce heat and cook until onions are nicely brown. Add remaining onions, bell peppers, celery and butter. Raise heat to high, and cook until tender or about five minutes.
Stir in the bay leaf, garlic and peppers. Add the Tabasco, basil, thyme and one-half cup of stock. Reduce heat to medium and cook five minutes.
Add tomatoes and cook ten minutes. If liquid sloshes about in the pan use only a cup of tomatoes. If the pan is on the dry side use the entire amount. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring now and then. Add rest of stock and simmer for 15 minutes.
MAKE AHEAD NOTE: You can do the above a day ahead if you like. Then reheat the sauce. Remove the hot sauce from the heat toss in the shrimp and cover the pot for five to ten minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Serve over rice on heated plates.
ODDS 'N ENDS RICE STEW
Louis never catches or brings home ingredients in the amounts needed. My recipe calls for four pounds of fish and he turns up with two pounds, or 20, a few dozen shrimp, the odd squid etc. Even when he does bring home a batch of flounders or trout or bass sizes differ.
I rarely know how many will be here for dinner. "Eat now, and talk later" means we might have four or seven or ten. Therefore, I stockpile a batch of recipes like this one that accepted assorted fish and shellfish and serve informally out of the cooking pot into bowls to ease cleanup. This one feeds six or eight and calls for about three pounds of seafood
Cook squid in fish stock for 30 to 40 minutes or until tender. Add mussels or clams during last few (5+?) minutes. Remove shellfish when shells open. Reserve stock as you drain the squid. Beard mussels - pull off the green byssus or attachments. Add saffron to stock, taste for salt and simmer.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over high heat until fragrant and stir in rice. Keep stirring so rice coats with butter, but do not brown. Stir in onion and garlic and sauté until the pan is dry.
Then add wine and cook until wine reduces to near dry. Add most of the remaining stock. Cover and cook very, very slowly for 10 minutes. Stir rice. If rice gets entirely dry, add remaining stock bit by bit. The key to the best results is minimum stock added in very small amounts and copious stirring so rice does not stick to the pan bottom. Cover the rice and let it cook a bit longer. If the rice is not tender at this point add a bit more stock - water works if you run out of stock - and c
Now add the fish, squid, muscles and shrimp and cook for a couple of minutes until squid pink up and fish turn translucent. Stir in the parsley, add lemon to taste and serve in bowls with hot French bread on the side.