I get my inspiration for dinner in all sorts of random ways. Sometimes just a whiff of something wafting through the air will remind me of a ghost of flavors past. Sometimes a color engenders a need for the flesh of something similarly hued. But usually, I trawl food porn websites like Tastespotting or FoodGawker (neither of which has ever accepted any of my photos for their site — a challenge I will continue to try to overcome!) for images that get my juices running. I also skim the menus for restaurants I can’t afford and try to make what I read there, so that I can enjoy their chef’s imagination without having to pay those prices (sorry peeps, we’re on a *very* tight budget these days). For this meal, I have The Phantom Gourmet to thank – sort of. I often have their TV show on local Boston-area restaurants playing in the background while I’m futzing around on Sunday mornings. Sometimes they have my complete attention, but more often than not I just hear what they’re talking about — and that’s what happened here. I vaguely overheard something about creamed corn, and something about a skillet — and that’s all I needed. Creamed corn is one of my favorite side dishes, hailing from my mother-in-law’s down-home redneck kitchen; she’d pick the corn herself from their garden and spent hours and hours creaming it and freezing it in gallon bags to eat throughout the year. I never went to visit without picking up a few frosty sacks of that golden goodness, but now that we live 2000 miles away I have to make it myself. And although I LOVE her simple Southern recipe, I have made some adjustments to mine to amp up the deliciousness to Lolita standards. In this case, a piping hot cast iron skillet blisters a healthy serving of cheesy creamy corn, topped with some flaky pan-seared flounder, chunks of bacon, gemstones of purple beets, and an artful drizzle of bright, herbaceous cilantro oil. A filling but also light warm winter’s night meal, wholesome and delicious. I think Rose, my mother in law, were she here in Boston instead of down in rural Georgia, would agree.
Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil
1 bag frozen yellow corn
4 slices bacon
1 bunch cilantro
3/4 lb flounder filets
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbs butter, divided
2″ sprig fresh rosemary
sea salt, cracked black pepper
flour for dusting
juice of 1 lemon
My beets will take the longest, so I get them started by scrubbing them clean. I’m really only planning to use a few little cubes — I have a vision, y’see? — but cooked beets hold well so I’ll use the leftovers tomorrow in a salad. (I know I said I hate leftovers, but beets are an exception, since they taste as good cold as warm.)
They get doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and paired with my sprig of rosemary, then wrapped tightly in foil paper. I throw them in the oven on 350 for an hour or so – until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork. (In all honesty, I was baking cookies in the oven at the same time, and I sort of just let these go until I’d made all 6 batches. You can’t really overcook a beet. But I was worried that my cookies would taste like rosemary, since the oven was so redolent with the scent … they didn’t.) It takes beets a while to cool, so I let them do so on the counter for about 20 minutes, so I could peel them and dice them before setting them aside.
Next, I remove the leaves from a bunch of cilantro and throw them into my blender thingy. I add about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and a blend the hell out of it until I have a thick green viscous liquid.
… using a spoon to press as much flavor and color out as possible. I pour the oil into a squeeze bottle. The rest of the green delish mush can be frozen and used to flavor something needing a pop of cilantro paste later.
This last bit went really fast, and I didn’t get to catch the picture. After my fish is fully cooked, I move the pan off the heat, and place my two 8″ skillets onto two hot burners on my stovetop. Using my hand blender, I whir a cup of my creamed corn into a thick mush before returning it to its saucepan for a hearty stir. Then I pour half of the corn into each skillet – which are now hot – bringing the liquid gold to a bursting, bubbling boil.
I layer my planks of tender seared flounder over my thick, rich cheese and corn gravy. A handful of perfect ruby beet cubes provide cool bites of sweetness, while the unctuous chunks of bacon stud the dish with salt and savor. Generous squirts of cilantro oil add green to the visual and grass notes to the palate. The sizzling pans keep the meal hot until the last bite, which Clayton and I scraped up with some crusty buttered bread. I need to use these cast iron babies more often, because every time I do, magic like this happens.