Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Good Snapper/Bad Snapper

Sad but true: It's not easy to buy fish at the supermarket.

Nothing against my local ShopRite, which has armed me well with sea creatures over the years -- notably wonderful squid (see below) and tiny cockles that give off beautifully briny juice when they open and offer a little bite of meat that's better than finding a pearl in an oyster -- but sheesh, a good filet is hard to find.

I wanted Margy to have one helluva Sunday dinner. Work was kicking her ass, and it was finally her day off (she works Saturdays), so some royal fish was in order. I never make filets, so I figured we'd try that for a change. I had some potatoes from the farmers market, and again was looking to break with tradition, since I usually make rice with fish. So fish filets with potatoes -- that's what got me started.

As I often do before a weekend kitchen project, I opened some cookbooks for inspiration. I turned to my pal Tom Douglas from Seattle -- we've never met, but my meal with Margy at the Dahlia Lounge just after we got engaged was memorable enough for me to pretend Tom and I are buds -- and found a recipe for pan-roasted fish with green lentils in his Seattle Kitchen book. The lentils I had on hand were brown, but so what. They were imported from Italy, and that was more than good enough for me. Plus they were really round and adorable, begging to be eaten. Margy and I'll give 'em a good home... I rinsed them, then boiled them in water until tender. I chopped and sautéed the holy trinity of onion, carrot, and celery, plus some minced garlic, and added the cooked, drained legumes. Once everything was hot, I tossed in plenty of fresh herbs from our garden -- sage, thyme, rosemary -- and stirred in a small amount of butter and a few tablespoons of chicken stock. We then not only had a savory little bed for our fish to luxuriate upon, but a bunch of lentil lunches for the week ahead as well.

Anyway, the fish. What you see here was Margy's piece. Mine was just as nice looking, but too big -- and far too tough. When you buy a whole fish, you can see the shape it's in. The eyes should be clear, the gills red. Cloudy eyes, pale and shriveled gills... have a hamburger instead. But with filets it's not so easy. I bought two fine-looking pieces of red snapper at ShopRite, and one of them (again, with nothing to distinguish it visually from the other) sucked. Margy got the good piece. And guess what? She shared it with me.

The other one sleeps with the fishes.

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