Until the seventh month of my pregnancy with my first child, I had been a vegetarian. That means I ate no meat for much of my adult life. It also means that as a thirty-three-year-old woman who hadn’t eaten chicken since she was sixteen, and who had never eaten fish growing up (unless you count frozen fish sticks, and I don’t), I had no clue what to do with either.
While I’m still not keen on preparing birds with bones— I know, I know, if I’m going to eat it I ought to be authentic, but I just can’t go there—I will readily cook the boneless, skinless variety. Over the years I’ve amassed quite a few chicken recipes, but after awhile, one can only eat so much chicken—no matter how it’s prepared.
In an attempt to mix things up a bit, I resolved last year to introduce more fish (sustainable, low mercury varieties) into our weekly meal rotations. The problem is, though, I have even less expertise when it comes to cooking fish than I did when I started eating chicken again. For some reason, fish really intimidates me. It could have something to do with the time my husband and I went to dinner with our friends Guy and Kym to this fancy-pants restaurant in Berkeley,CA. Kym, who is a worldly sort, ordered a fish entree. When her dinner arrived it looked as if it were poised to swim upstream. On the plate was no mere fillet—it was the whole fish, complete with scales and eyes. So, Kym, my well-traveled friend, sent the plate back in horror and ordered something else. The way I see it, if Kym couldn’t handle fish, then I’m really in the deep end. Maybe the key is to not attempt to eat or to cook a fish that’s staring you down.
Last night we had some friends over for dinner and I decided to grill some salmon. It’s in season now and our local natural marketplace has some gorgeous wild-caught fillets in stock (not an eye in sight, thankfully). I looked up a recipe for a simple red pepper glaze for the salmon and felt fairly confident of my ability to pull the dinner off.
Our guests arrived, I lit the grill, then started sauteing vegetables to add to the couscous. My three-month old started howling, so my husband did his best to calm her down while I finished up the couscous and glaze and made a salad. He put the salmon on the grill for me, and then took the baby upstairs for a diaper change. After a few minutes, I flipped the salmon and coated it with the red pepper glaze. Ok, not too bad, I’m thinking. I’ve got this.
Meanwhile, however, my kids and our guests were playing with balls, bats, toys, etc. in and around the kitchen. Somehow in the middle of the chaos I let myself get distracted. And then it hits me. Fish is one of those finicky things that requires focus and undivided attention; two things a harried mom of three rarely has in great supply at dinner time. Maybe, I think, we should have ordered take-out.
So, my husband comes downstairs with the baby, puts her in her bouncy seat and starts setting the table. The couscous is a little “wet” as I’ve added too much liquid or too little couscous because I was busy chatting with our guests, so I pour off some liquid and add some salt and pepper to season. Amid the whirlwind of wine being poured into glasses, (stainless steel reusable) straws being put into glasses for the kids—I completely forget about the salmon on the grill. Crap!
Not unexpectedly, the salmon is, well, a bit crispy. So we’re left with couscous the kids probably won’t eat and a green salad. Oh well, I quip, there’s always cereal. The hungry assembled around the table aren’t laughing.
Luckily, the salmon fillets were on the thick side so even though the tops were looking grim, the insides were just slightly overcooked and thus, most of the fish was still edible. And two of the three kids ate some couscous, a minor victory as well.
However, given the narrowly averted dinner disaster, I’ve decided to follow a couple of simple rules next time I plan to cook fish: Use a timer and try to minimize distractions by keeping the kids out of the kitchen. If that fails—and it likely will in my house—try making something positive out of the situation.
There was a bit of salmon left over from last night’s dinner, so today I tried my hand at making a frittata. I have always enjoyed them when eating out or at other people’s homes but I had never attempted to make one myself. Using this recipe as a guide, I added some of the leftover salmon, a handful of mixed greens that included spinach and kale, onion, red pepper, and some grated parmesan cheese.
Turns out last night’s nearly charred salmon was easily transformed into today’s positively yummy frittata. And that, my friends, gives me hope for the next kitchen mishap. (It’s really just a matter of time.)
Keep cooking, Y’all.