Thursday, March 3, 2011

In Pursuit of the "Perfect" Meal

Our meal last night was almost "perfect." While it was delicious, the quest for perfection, at least according to my extended family, doesn't directly link to flavour. It's my dad's term for a meal with no leftovers. This rarely happens at my parents' house, because their concept of "enough" is generally most other people's concept of "overboard". So while good food tends to disappear faster than not-good food, If there is too much of it, there will still be leftovers, in spite of my brother-in-law's Herculean efforts.

At our house, we usually aim for leftovers, so in the unlikely event of a "perfect" meal, according to my dad's definition, I am usually overwhelmed by anxiety, wondering what we'll have for lunch tomorrow, since my plan for leftovers fell through.

Last night's dinner, fish with grits and greens, from Moosewood's Simple Suppers, was close to a perfect meal, from all angles: my expectations of flavour, ease of preparation, my family's enthusiasm, and my dad's aim of no leftovers. I think there is a tiny amount of grits left over, but that is easily remedied. And the good news is that we had enough leftovers in the fridge from previous meals, so not having leftovers wasn't as stressful as it has been in the past.

Fish is, perhaps surprisingly, one of D's absolute favourite meals. He will inhale a full fillet all by himself. He didn't go much for the grits or the greens, but his enthusiasm for the fish made up for it. We usually prepare fish simply by dipping it in kamut flour and salt and pepper (and sometimes dill), but this preparation was absolutely delicious, and just as easy:

Four fish fillets (the original recipe calls for catfish, but we went with northern-caught pickerel)
Mix together on a plate:
1 t. smoked paprika (or regular paprika if you don't have smoked)
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried thyme
2 t. brown sugar
1/8 t. cayenne (optional)
1 t. each salt and black pepper
Press fish fillets into mixture to coat, and then fry in 2 T. hot olive oil for 4 minutes per half-inch thickness of fish, per side

1 bunch collard greens (kale would work, too, but collards are traditional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
2 T. water
1 t. Tabasco sauce (optional...I'm slowly training D to handle spicy food, but I usually serve hot sauce at the table, so he doesn't reject the food outright. He asks to sample the hot sauce though, making sure to have a glass of milk close by)

Strip the tough ribs from the greens, chop the leaves. Heat oil in a pan large enough to hold the greens, then add garlic and stir for a few seconds. Add greens, salt, and water. over and simmer for about 10 minutes, until tender. Toss them with hot sauce, if using.

3 c. water
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. quick cooking grits (cornmeal)
1/2 c. grated Cheddar cheese (I used smoked cheddar)

Bring water and salt to a boil, then pour in grits in a steady stream. Cover and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes, until thickened and tender. Stir in the cheese.

The fish was highly seasoned, tender, and a little bit sweet, which matched the character of the fish perfectly. The meal sparked a discussion about how so many 'hot weather' foods, like curries, hot and sour soup, and corn grits, taste so amazingly good in the dead of winter. Meals that include polenta or grits seem to hold their heat all the way into your belly, which is a sensation I find comforting. We'll be making this again!!

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