The Cook in Me: Something Smells Fishy©
The Nose Knows!
I was planning on taking a seafood dish to a dinner that my Cooking for One Meetup group was having one evening. You would think that living on the Gulf of Mexico equates to eating a lot of seafood. However, that was not the case during the time I stayed with my son's family while house hunting in Southwest Florida. Despite the fact that there are more fresh seafood markets in the area than I could ever have imagined, we could only get seafood when we went out to restaurants. Now, I love seafood. My son loves seafood. Three out of his four children love seafood. Seafood is very reasonably priced here, and we all know that it is one of the healthiest proteins out there for our bodies. It can easily be grilled, fried, baked, sautéed, poached, marinated in citrus and served raw (ceviche), and broiled. Fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as Vitamins D and B2 (riboflavin). It is rich in calcium and phosphorous, and is a great source of numerous minerals including iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium. It is also an excellent lowfat source of high quality protein. Fish is rich in calcium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, iodine and magnesium. We should all eat fish several times a day with that kind of report card!
Not at my son's home, however, for a very simple reason. My daughter-in-law will not permit it in her house. She has an uncanny ability to sniff out even the most indistinct odor of any kind of seafood, no matter how fresh or how much effort you've put forth to remove the odor from the house. I've tried burning candles, opening doors, deodorizing with industrial strength air freshener, turning on the exhaust and all other fans, finding stinky shoes to mask the odor, setting Odor Eaters on the counters, chopping tens of pounds of onions, dousing the sinks and counters with vinegar, bleach and other cleansers, handling the fish and opening cans of tuna outside and then running the waste directly to the outdoor trash cans, and just about any other possible thing I can imagine. I can't get away with it, however. She still knows if there has been seafood in her kitchen!
But it's not her fault, God love her. She is not allegeric to it exactly; rather, the smell of seafood makes her sick to her stomach. And I fully understand the problem. I cannot stand the smell of . . . well, offhand I can't think of anything that I can't stand the smell of other than dirty toddler diapers, but that's not the point. If it makes her sick, it makes her sick, and I respect that. And it is after all, her home and her kitchen. Since I was living under her roof, I had to take those facts into consideration as well as the fact that she was kind enough to permit me to stay with them (and stay with them. . . and stay with them. . . ) until I found my own place.
On the few occasions that I made myself a tuna sandwich or a salmon salad, I made sure I not only opened the cans outside, but I thoroughly rinsed the cans clean with hose, then ran them directly to the trash containers on the outside of the house. And I made sure only to do it when she was out of town for a couple days, hoping and praying that any odor of fish would have dissipated by the time she returned home. It worked as far as I knew because she never said anything about it, at least not to me. At the time I agreed to bring the Seafood Casserole, everyone in the household was supposed to be out of town for the weekend at a softball tournament. It shouldn't have been a problem. The plan changed, however, but I can't remember why, nor does it matter. Everyone was now going to be home that weekend. Because I had already agreed to bring the Seafood Casserole, and because others had planned their dishes around it, I couldn't switch gears at the last moment. It was going to take some lengthy preparation time, and I knew I had no choice but to make the casserole at home and take it with me, all ready to bake when I got there. It also happened that my daughter-in-law, Jennifer, was working that day. So I figured I had several hours to rid the house of any lingering odors, just in case there were any. My fingers were crossed!
As I left for the fish market that morning, I was already starting to panic about how I was going to pull this off without leaving behind any aromatic evidence of my beautiful dish. I started doing what I'm very good doing when I can't find another way out of a situation or commitment I've made. Those of you who know me can just imagine me finding ways to justify it to myself all the way to and from the fish market. (By the way, we do have a lovely fish market here with the most wonderful variety of fresh fish and seafood from which to choose. And they always have specials on the end pieces that are left after cutting out the beautiful filets and individual serving pieces that the market supplies to the seafood restaurants here. It's almost as fun shopping there as it is the Farmer's Market!)
My rationalization process went something like this. "All the fish is fresh so there really shouldn't be much of an odor. . . . If I clean everything outside, then just quickly sauté or poach the fish & seafood ingredients in wine before incorporating them into the sauce, I should be all right. . . . After all, I'm not really baking the casserole in the oven until I get where I'm going, and surely cooking the individual components won't emit too strong an odor. . . . I'm also baking French Bread to take with me, and that always leaves a heavenly aroma when it's baking. Maybe it will mask any slight fish odor. . . . Jennifer won't be home until about eight o'clock this evening, so that's plenty of time for any lingering smell to disperse. . . . I'll leave one of the seafood casseroles and a loaf of French Bread for Scott and the girls so Jennifer doesn't have to worry about fixing dinner when she gets home. . . ," and finally, "maybe she won't mind a little seafood smell just this one time."
Despite my best attempts and intentions, my plan failed. Unfortunately the preparation process took longer than I thought, resulting in the various fish and seafood components sitting on the counter in the kitchen giving off their (wonderful aroma to me) unpleasant stench (to Jennifer) for longer than they should have. Perhaps it was because this occasion was the first time I made the dish and it always takes a little longer the first time you prepare a new recipe. Or maybe it was because I kept getting interrupted by my son who kept coming into the kitchen warning me, "you'd better get that smell out of the house before Jennifer gets home from work." (Really? Do you think so?) I also had to stop halfway through making the casserole to mix up the French Bread and get it rising so that it would be finished baking by the time I was ready to leave. For whatever the reason, it seemed to take me forever to get that thing put together. As a result, I was running very late and I didn't get to clean the kitchen and give it one last going-over the way I wanted before I left.
However, the casserole came out beautifully and it was one of the hits of the dinner party. I think everyone had at least two helpings and wanted to take some home. There was not one crumb left in the serving dish at the end of the evening, always a good sign at these events. It paired well with a Chablis, a light salad and the French Bread, and I would have been satisfied if there was no other food there that evening. But alas, that is never the case with this group. When you have fourteen or sixteen people that enjoy cooking, live alone, don't get to cook for more than one person very often, and enjoy showing their repertoire of culinary delicacies, it results in too much food. But we don't care; everyone gets a chance to sample a little of everything, and on most occasions there is enough for everyone to take something home for another meal. All in all, the evening was a success.
Facing the Music
Knowing that when I got home I was going to have to face the consequences of bringing fish into the house, I began thinking about whether I had done everything I could have in removing any evidence of my preparation process. Had I turned on the exhaust fan in the kitchen and all other ceiling fans in the house. Check. Had I left the kitchen window open as well as the door to the lanai? Check. Had I washed and put away the preparation dishes, pots and pans? Check. (Well, except the pan I baked the bread on, but that wasn't a problem). Had I put the leftover lobster and grouper in the freezer? Check. Had I left an appropriate number of candles, pleasantly scented with comforting kitchen odors, burning? Check. Did I take out the trash where I threw out the shrimp shells and the garbage from cleaning the fish and shrimp? . . . Uh oh. It was probably still sitting in the trash can in the kitchen. . . in the Florida heat. . . with the kitchen window and door to the lanai open in what was probably 97 degrees on a good day. . . . Not good.
When I arrived home, my youngest granddaughter ran out the door as soon I turned into the driveway. I thought, she's either really glad to see me or Houston, we have a problem. It only took a second to find out.that, "Mom's really mad," As usual, she was acting as the "family crier," the bearer of all good and not-so-good family news, spreading the updates on the Striggow family happenings where ever she went. She followed me to my room where she gave me a play-by-play of the evening and what I had missed. It was pretty much everything I was afraid would happen. Mom wasn't happy about the smell and the fact that there was nothing waiting for her for dinner when she arrived home. Because I thought it best that I keep a low profile for awhile, I jstayed in my room that day and the one that followed, just to be safe. (It should be noted, however, that on the positive side, both my granddaughters and thier dad loved the casserole and the bread.)
When I did finally emerge after a few days, my son advised me in no uncertain terms that I was never again to bring or fix fish or seafood in the house again. I understood. I did not want to disrupt the harmony in the household. So I honored that request for the rest of the time I lived in their home. I apologized to Jennifer, and told her it was not an intentional attempt to disrespect her or in any way undermine her kindness and generosity. Really, I cannot say enough good things about her, her devotion to her marriage and my son, and her dedication to her children. She is a Godsend and the best thing to ever have happened in my son's life.
As a final note to the story, however, I want you to know that the first meal I cooked in my new home was a baked, lemon-crumbed Swai that was ever so delightful, accompanied by brown rice with toasted, sliced almonds and cranberries, and my Summer Savory Salad with a lovely Chardonnay. My oldest grandson and his partner were here to enjoy it, together with a friend of theirs visiting from Ohio. My son and my grandchildren know that if they ever get a taste for any of the fruits of the sea, they can come here to savor them. I'll happily do the cooking, and I'll even spring for a steak for Jennifer!
Today I'm giving you the recipe for the Seafood Casserole that I made for that Meetup dinner. I think you will find it a delicious combination of several varieties of fish and shellfish. You can use the same ingredients I used or use a combination of your own choosing. Because I couldn't find Chablis for the sauce as the recipe indicates, I used a Chardonnay instead and served it with a Chardonnay. It came out beautifully. Just one caveat, however; if you're going to make this dish, have everything ready to go before you begin cooking. Once you've started, the process moves quickly. Also, keep your seafood components refrigerated until you're ready to add them. Finally, be prepared to provide multiple servings for each guest and be ready to share the recipe!
©2013 by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced or reprinted in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
Superb Seafood Casserole
Yield: About 8-10 servings
2 cups Clam Juice
2 cups. Heavy Cream
1 cup. plus 6 Tbsp. White Wine (e.g. Chablis, Chardonnay), divided
6 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
2 lb. raw Shrimp (26-30), peeled and deveined OR
1 lb. raw Shrimp (26-30), peeled and deveined AND 1 lb. Scallops, cleaned and washed (I bought the giant ones and quartered them)
2 lbs. Cod, Grouper, Halibut or other mild, firm white fish, raw cut into 1-in chunks
1 lb. Lobster Meat, cooked & cut into 1-in chunks
10 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, at room temperature, divided
1 Tbsp. All Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Pepper (or more, to taste)
Paprika, to taste
2 cups Leeks, both white and green parts, thinly sliced
2 cups Carrots, peeled & shredded
1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
¼ cup Tbsp. fresh Parsley, minced or snipped
2 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1. Combine clam juice, cream, white wine and tomato paste in a large saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and add the shrimp. Cook 1-2 minutes.
3. Flip shrimp over and cook the other side until pink and opaque.
4. Remove srimp ohto a medium bowl with a slotted spoon.
5. Add the pieces of cod (or other fish of your choice) to the stock mixture and cook just until cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.
6. Using a slotted spoon, remove to the same bowl as the shrimp. Set aside.
7. Once the shrimp have cooled enough to handle, slice in half lengthwise, if desired, and return to the bowl.
8. Add the cooked lobster to the bowl.
9. Continue to cook the sauce until reduced by half, about 12 minutes.
10. Combine 1 Tbsp. of the butter with the flour in a small bowl and mash together with a fork.
11. Whisk the butter-flour mixture with the salt and pepper into the sauce and continue to simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
12. In a medium sauté pan, melt 3 Tbsp. of the butter over medium heat.
13. Add the leeks and the carrots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes or more, depending on the vegetables.
14. Add the remaining 3 Tbsp. of wine and season lightly with salt and pepper.
15. Cook 5 minutes more.
16. Add the cream sauce and the cooked vegetables to the bowl with the shrimp.
17. Toss to blend well.
18. Turn into a buttered baking dish.
19. If not baking right away, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
20. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375° F.
21. Place the casserole dish on a baking sheet.
21. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl.
22. Add the Panko, parmesan, parsley and garlic to the bowl with the butter and toss with a fork to combine.
23. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the casserole.
24. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top has browned and the dish is bubbling.
Serve hot, accompanied by a light Salad, crusty French Bread, and a Chardonnay or Chablis.
©2013 by Kathy Striggow