Every once in a while, a parent hits on a winner. Tonight I made a simple supper of pan-fried pickerel, lemon-caper potatoes and steamed green beans. Carrying on a tradition I picked up from my dad, I offered a taste of the first fish out of the pan to my husband and toddler. D then followed me back to the kitchen yelling, "More fish! More fish!" At dinner, while I enjoyed the lemon caper potatoes (recipe from The Moosewood Collective's Simple Suppers) and thought they really worked well with the simply-cooked fish, my son proceeded to eat one and a half fillets of fish all on his own. He may have eaten one bean, and I'm pretty sure he didn't touch the potatoes.
I can't entirely take credit for the popularity of fish in our household. D worships "Grandpa Gene", who is a fish aficionado. As soon as D heard that the fish came from Grandpa Gene, he was sold. The fish fillets had been quick-frozen up north where they were caught, probably within minutes of being pulled in, and were just gorgeous—fresh and delicate. I have, however, come very close to perfecting the fish pan-fry. So I will say that the preparation did justice to the quality of the ingredients.
What is the perfect fish fry? The simplest of breading and seasoning, a roomy pan with lots of hot oil, and a determination to not overcook.
Years ago, we discovered the gorgeous texture of flour made from kamut, an ancient variety of wheat. It is more coarse than white flour, but less grainy than cornmeal, and as a breading, it provides a light, crispy, delicate and flavourful coating. I added only sea salt, fresh ground pepper and some dried dill weed—fairly generous amounts—as seasoning, blended them with the flour, pressed the fillets into the mixture and added them to hot canola oil a few mm deep in a stainless steel frying pan. I cook them for different lengths of time depending on thickness, but no more than 7 minutes total on medium heat. You can check that the centre of the fillet flakes easily when you press on it with tongs or a spatula.
As for the potatoes, simply cook some potatoes, toss the juice and zest of a lemon with a small handful of chopped capers in a large bowl, add the hot drained potatoes, drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and toss with salt and pepper. I'm always amazed at how delicious these tangy little vegan delights are—and how well they go with the fish.
I suppose I could fret over the fact that all my toddler ate tonight was fish, but I read somewhere that you should make sure that your child eats a balanced diet during a week, not during any given day. He stuffed his face with potatoes a couple nights ago. Tonight was a apparently a protein night. Next time I'll thaw more than three fillets of pickerel, so my husband and I can also eat our fill.