Fighting Frozen Fish Apathy
I got into sort of rut with frozen fish filets. Melt some butter in a skillet, toss in a few cloves of minced garlic, season the fish with salt and pepper and maybe a dusting of flour and some dill or curry powder or Old Bay, cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, and voila: dinner. Practically instant, and usually at least moderately tasty. But so boring.
So boring that at least once in recent memory, I let a package of filets go to waste. For the first few days after I’d pulled them out of the freezer, I could tell myself they might still be partially frozen. And I think there was something else in the refrigerator in more eminent danger of spoiling. And then I might have ended up eating dinner out once or twice. And I might have had one of those days when I ordered take out because taking even five minutes to put a piece of fish in a pan and flip it once while nuking some peas seemed too onerous. So the fish entered this sad limbo state where it might have still been edible and I didn’t really want to throw it away, but I also wasn’t particularly excited about opening up the package in case it wasn’t. Which made it all too easy to just ignore it for a few more days until it had reached an even sadder state where I was pretty sure it wasn’t edible and I didn’t really even need to open the package to find out. Wasteful, profligate, shameful, I know. Lots of people don’t have enough to eat and people like me use far more than our share of resources.
Anyhow, this recipe isn’t going to solve world hunger or save the environment, but it managed to keep me from wasting another package of fish that was probably a day away from limbo. The sauce only takes a few minutes to throw together and reduces while you cook the fish, and it’s decidedly un-boring: velvety coconut milk infused with the classic combination of garlic and ginger, a little funk from the fish sauce, acid from the lime, mild heat from the curry paste, and bright cilantro to finish. If you wanted it spicier, you could double or triple the curry paste or use green instead of red. Including the Brussels sprouts, which I halved and braised for about 10 minutes in a cup of water, the whole meal took about 30 minutes from start to finish.
Recipe: Sautéed White Fish with Red Curry Coconut Sauce (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated cookbook)
2-4 servings (each 6-8 oz fish)
- 1-2 lbs boneless, skinless white fish filets—cod, tilapia, whitefish, catfish, etc.
- 2 Tablespoons fat—butter, bacon drippings, oil, etc.
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (optional)
- 1 Tablespoon fat
- a small knob of fresh ginger (about 2 teaspoons minced)
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2-4 teaspoons red curry paste
- 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 3 Tablespoons water
- juice of half a lime (about 1 1/2 Tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1-2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- salt and pepper
1. Heat 1 Tablespoon of fat in a small saucepan while you mince the ginger and garlic. Add them to the oil along with the curry paste and brown sugar and cook for about a minute
2. Add the coconut milk, water, lime juice, and fish sauce and simmer over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, until reduced to about a cup.
3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons of fat in a large skillet and season the fish filets with salt and pepper. Let the fish sit for a minute, until it starts to glisten and then dust with flour, if using.
4. Cook the fish in a single layer in the skillet, 2-3 minutes on each side for thin filets (1/4-1/2” thick), 3-5 minutes for thicker filets (1/2”+).
5. Add the cilantro to the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve filets with sauce and lime wedges.