I’ve been second guessing myself lately. In the face of other home chefs I’ve met, what I see other bloggers do in their kitchens, what’s been on the covers of magazines and on the menus of fine restaurants, and what folks’ve been whipping up on the myriad cooking competitions I watch on TV, I’m thinking that my cooking has become too pedestrian lately. It’s not been haute couture. It’s not been “gourmet”. It’s not been particularly inspired, or overwhelmingly challenging, or slavishly time-consuming. I haven’t suffered, or bled, or burned, or cried over deflated souffles. At least — these are the self-deprecating remarks that have been echoing inside the caverns of my brain recently. And I don’t like them. Because, frankly, this blog is about what Lolita eats, and this is what I’ve been eating — and enjoying, dammit! — all summer long. Why should I feel guilty about freshly picked vegetables, locally sourced meats and seafood, and cooking al fresco on my little electric grill to save energy and escape the stifling indoor heat? Why should I spend more money than I can afford on ingredients to compete with the black truffles and sharks’ fins and lobes of foie gras I see on cooking shows? Why should I eschew deliciousness if it isn’t hoity-toity? I shouldn’t! And I won’t! So I’m taking my second guesses and I’m throwing them in the compost pile, where they can fester for themselves before they eventually disintegrate into the earth, and I’m going uber-pedestrian today with this little gem: a slap-yo-mammy fantastic combination of farmer’s market flounder and fruit, with some Star Market crushed Cheezits for a buttery topping. Cheezits, you say? Like, those little square crackers in the big red box? Clayton loves ‘em for his lunches, and so, having these one hand — the Swiss cheese variety, no less, oooh la la! — I subbed them for the more suburban-traditional Ritz Cracker topping with an outstanding result! Sharp and savory crunchy crackers coating a buttery, flaky, so-fresh-they’re practically still wiggling flounder filets served with a sumptuous salad overflowing with tender sweet berries, plump tart tomatoes, and creamy North End mozzarella cheese. There’s nothing like a light, ultra-quick, and super simple dinner of fish and salad to get your motor running. Hoity-toity be hanged — this was the shiznet!
1 lb fresh flounder filets
1 cup Cheezit crackers (this is the Swiss Cheese variety, but I venture to guess they’ll all work)
3 tbs butter
green leaf lettuce
golden and ruby raspberries
the juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and cracked black pepper
This meal was so easy to make I barely had enough images to shoot for pedagogical purposes, but I snapped some nonetheless. I started by putting my Cheezits into a zipper bag before I pounded them with the flat of a large spoon.
WARNING! The next image is grody. Grody, but instructional…
The delicate pink little figure eight you see here is called Phocanema decipiens — commonly known as nemotodes, or the cod, or round, worm. It’s a tiny wee parasite that enjoys living in the flesh or stomachs of white fish, and it’s pretty dang common. It’s got a real interesting lifestyle, and if you want to know more, here’s a good description of how this bugger found it’s way into my kitchen. The average supermarket consumer doesn’t see them – or really know about them – in their cod or flounder or hake because these buggers die off when fish is frozen, which most of it is before coming to market. Even the “fresh” fish sold at Whole Foods was frozen before it got to their glistening displays, although it was likely frozen at sea during the haul and brought to market within a few short days of the catch. But for fish sold fresh off the boat, yanked right out of the water, never frozen and delivered same day, by folks like my new old friends Carolyn and Chris Manning at Fresh Fish and Lobster (from whence I purchased my filets, at the Harvard University Farmer’s Market), one or two of these little wigglers is par for the course. This guy was inching across my cutting board searching for escape when I saw him, squealed like a frightened child, and then snatched him up with my paper towel. But before I threw him in the trash, it occurred to me that you, dear readers, might not be aware of this arc on the cycle of sea-life – despite how unnerving it is to know about. So I opened my paper wad and took focus while I watched him wriggle and coil – still *very* much alive. But cooking fish well will kill off these guys; you don’t really want one setting up shop in your innards (which they can, albeit rarely, do). OK – ’nuff gross stuff. Let’s get back to the yummy.
I’ve patted dry my fish filets and laid them out in a single layer in a large oblong pyrex baking dish greased up with butter. They get sprinkled with salt and pepper before I blanket them with pulverized snack crackers.
I’ve melted my butter, and I now pour it over the crackers and fish as evenly as possible. My oven has been preheated to 400°, and I slide my dish – uncovered – into its maw to bake for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile – I assemble my simple, but elegant, salad. These golden and ruby raspberries are from a Concord farm nearby, the lettuce and onion from Busa Farms, the tomatoes from our roof-deck garden, and the mozz from The Cheese Shop in the North End. We’re talking super-fresh, totally organic, completely locally sourced, and ma-and-pa business purchased. A squeeze of lemon juice and a dousing of EVOO is all the salad needs.
After about 15 minutes, my cracker-crumb crust has toasted perfectly, and my fish is fully cooked and sizzling on bottom. NICE. Using two flat spatulas side by side, so that the fish don’t break in half (and since I don’t have a super-large fish spatula), I gently lift each filet and place them on my plates. There’s two for each of us.
Flaky, buttery, mild fresh fish topped with a Swiss Cheezit crust and baked to perfection; firm lactic mozzarella draped over crisp leaves of lettuce and studded with thumb-sized, supremely sweet, bursting juicy red and golden berries and tiny little grape tomatoes. Both warm and cooling, of the sea and of the land, tonight’s dinner satisfied even the gourmand in me with its freshness and flavor. I plan to put on the ritz when the weather turns colder and cooking for hours indoors help keep heat in the house, but for now, Ritz’s poor stepcousin the Cheezit is a welcome house-guest, and can come to my dinner table any time.