Sometimes I decide to make something for dinner because it’ll be a challenge, or we have an ingredient or leftover to use up. And, sometimes I want to make something simple so we can enjoy two episodes of Better Call Saul instead of just one.
This meal *almost* falls under “too easy to blog about”, but I know there are folks out there for whom anything can be overwhelming or proverbially out of reach. This one’s for you.
Woodman’s has a package of inexpensive, frozen, wild-caught salmon that comes as two large, skin-on, separately-frozen fillets. This is basically all you need, but we’ll dress it up a little, to make it look fancy.
Preheat the oven to 400° and get our baking sheet and parchment paper ready. If you don’t have a lemon handy, a little lemon juice will work. Cracked some pepper and salt, sprinkle capers around, and top with sprigs of thyme (this is the fancy part).
I usually bake it for 10 minutes and check the flakiness, then put it back in for 2 to 4 more.
I’d like to note here that salmon and eggs have something in common: albumen. It’s the white protein that surrounds an egg yolk, which keeps the baby chicken safe during incubation. It also seeps out of a salmon steak or fillet when cooked. This can be kinda gross to people who aren’t expecting it, so I usually try to scrape as much off as I can before plating.
While the fish is cookin’, grab your favorite medium bowl and whisk together white wine vinegar, lemon juice, canola oil, and a little agave nectar. Cut up some radishes, carrots, cucumber, and tomatoes and toss in the bowl with a whole bunch of spinach. There are some fancy sprouts pictured, too, but those aren’t required. I almost forgot to tell you to salt and pepper the salad, but you know to do that already.
Everything comes together so quickly! Plate and eat.
Salmon and Salad
English is weird; the "L" isn't pronounced in one of those words.
This is gunna be a three-parter. One part recipe, one part product review, and one part local business promotion.
I’ll start with Lake Edge Seafood. A relatively new, unassuming fishmonger and restaurant in the Lake Edge strip mall off Buckeye and Monona. They took over the corner spot held by an upscale second-hand store and I hope they do well. The interior is nice; full of the sort of tables everyone gets for their new restaurant. It’s not overly ocean-themed (like a place that rhymes with Bled Blobster), and while it smells fishy, it’s a good fishy. Like, Gramma’s-been-cleaning-bluegill-all-afternoon-and-that’s-what’s-for-dinner fishy.
I stopped in last weekend, on a whim, to get some fish and found their deli case to be clean, crisp, well-stocked (for a Saturday, seeing that they’re closed Sundays and Mondays), and the wares were all very good-lookin’. I’d gone in the search for cod, but they didn’t have any, so I asked for enough tilapia (at $10/lb) for two hefty sandwiches. The guy said it was cheap enough that he’d recommend two fillets and we may end up with extra. I said that we’d contend with that challenge.
In order to get the scoop about bluegill (a fish that I love, adore, and wish there were more of), I asked if they ever had any on hand. He said if I called a day ahead of time, they could get some and that they’d have to order 5 lbs but wouldn’t be opposed to putting whatever I didn’t buy into the cooler for sale. Since then, I’ve been considering the possibility of putting in a 5 lb order, packing it all up nicely, and freezing it. I’ll let you know if this happens.
If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in and take a look around. They have some dry goods for sale as well. Unless I think of something else, I’ll move on to the second part: the product review.
I am both methodical and spontaneous in my decision-making. Contradictory, I know. Just ask everyone around me. Or don’t.
I had been considering, researching, vetting, questioning, and otherwise obsessing over air fryers for at least the last year… basically, since I purchased Gina’s Skinny Taste, One and Done and sorta skipped over the chapter that is specifically air-fried because I don’t really care for fried foods (crinkle-cut potatoes are the exception). I don’t care for fried foods because they make my stomach hurt and I can feel the grease hanging out in my mouth… I can feel the breading seep into and out of my pores… not super enticing, right?
So, I hemmed and hemmed (I don’t “haw” very well) and waited for a while. My hesitation came from a place of efficiency and practicality. “Why,” I said to myself, “do I need a Vitamix, an Instant Pot, a Pizzaz, two (that you know of) slow cookers, and an air fryer?” I contend that everything has a use, and some things can be stored because they are used less often. So, the Pizzaz went into a cupboard, and the tiny slow cooker found a home next to the huge one in the basement, which means I now had room for the air fryer.
But it wasn’t until one fried fish taco Tuesday when the results were delicious but they hung with me for a while, that I decided if fried fish tacos were going to be in my life, then it was air fryer time.
Still not completely convinced, I looked again at the ones I’d been eyeballing and all of the negative product reviews cited melting, smoking, and otherwise defective machinery. A friend suggested one of the Phillips’ models, but those were about three times more than I wanted to spend on something I wasn’t *absolutely* sure would make making food better.
I finally settled on a $50 version: the GoWISE USA 2.75qt. According to my purchase history, I’ve had this for less than a month and I’m pretty sure we’ve used it three times a week, on average. It continues to impress, and I look forward to thinking up creative meals, but for now, the fried fish sandwiches using fresh tilapia from Lake Edge Seafood are the current stars of the show.
Now it’s FINALLY recipe time. This may seem simple, but sometimes simple is needed, just to see what you’re dealing with.
You’ll need two buns, some mayo, dijon, relish, leaves of romaine, slices of tomato, two tilapia steaks, an egg, a cup of panko, some cayenne, salt, and pepper. And the air fryer.
I usually make the tartar sauce first, both because it’s easy, and to get it out of the way and in the fridge so the flavors can marry. If you only need enough for these two sandwiches, I’d use 1/3 c mayo, 1 tsp squirt of dijon mustard, and however much relish you like your tartar to have. If you want to make extra, it’ll keep at least a week in the fridge; I mean, it’s mayo, mustard, and pickled stuff.
Now you need a small bowl for the egg, but big enough to sloosh the fish into. Also, grab a plate, the panko, and spices.
Onto the plate of panko, sprinkle a generous amount (2 tsp) of cayenne, a couple turns of ground pink Himalayan salt, and a couple turns of freshly ground peppercorns.
Mix it all up with a fork, whisk that egg, and preheat your air fryer. Most of the recipes I’ve seen suggest running it at temp for 5 minutes before cooking in it.
Dip the fish in the egg to coat on both sides and lay on the panko plate. I usually use my fingers to get panko on the top side so I’m not shaking the fish and getting panko all over the kitchen.
Cook each piece separately (if you bought a smaller fryer) for about 7 minutes on the first side and 4 to 5 on the second, storing the first piece under a piece of foil on a plate. When the second piece is done, place the first on top and cook them together for 5 minutes so they’re both hot.
Last night, we made the executive decision to cut down the middle of each fillet and that made it much easier to handle. It also revealed that an entire fillet per sandwich was a bit much, so we had the rest with eggs for breakfast.
Toast, heat, or otherwise warm the bun and top with tartar, romaine, and tomato slices. Place fish and serve with crinkle chips.
2tilapia filetsor other whitefish in a hoagie shape
2tspcayenne pepper powder
2long bunshoagie, brat, etc.
2beefsteak tomato slices
Mix all ingredients together, store in the fridge until ready to use.
Preheat air fryer on 400º for 5 minutes.
Mix panko and spices together on a plate or other dredging vessel. Whisk egg in a small bowl.
Coat a piece of fish with the egg, and dredge in the panko mix. Place in the fryer for 7 minutes, flip and cook for another 5. Repeat with the second piece. Put the first piece back in with the second for another 5 minutes, checking frequently for good color.
I treated myself to Chrissy’s 2nd book, Cravings, Hungry for More and, of course, started out by making one of the most difficult recipes in it. In fact, she cites that this one is ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT RECIPES IN HER LIFE.
It’s in the Thai Mom chapter, which makes sense if you’ve ever seen, smelled, or tasted Tom Yum. There are some “weird” ingredients, but I contend that if you know where to find them and have them in your kitchen, you may think of a whole new palette of food to which you can add some oomph.
The weirdish ingredients are lemongrass, Thai chiles, galangal, fish sauce, and kaffir lime leaves. They are worth the scavenger hunt if you’re not in a city with a Thai bodega or somewhere not a traditional grocery store. Although, the lines are blurring with “traditional” and “ethnic” stores. I prefer, however, to go to Viet Hoa under the guise of needing lemongrass and leaving with that, a cleaver, and yet another soup bowl.
Thankfully, I already had kaffir lime leaves saved in the freezer from some other very adventurous dish, and the fish sauce never (?) goes bad. Woodman’s has started carrying Thai chiles, and you can substitute ginger for galangal. So, really all I needed from Viet Hoa was the lemongrass. Oops!
After the chopping, the dish is pretty simple to put together except for the Thai chiles… I didn’t want to have to wash the food processor, and super-fine-knife-chopping isn’t my forté, so I got to pull out the mortar and pestle, which I’m pretty sure has been used one time. Ever.
A very brief time later, it became obvious that I wasn’t going to make a paste, and did it really matter? Who knows. I was tired of wearing nylon gloves.
Happily, I had some leftover noodles from a box of Costco soups that we just didn’t get around to finishing. So, as Chrissy suggests, I saved the flavor packets and used the two bags of noodles. The peeled shrimp get thrown in at the end and cook for a couple of minutes.
Now we feast!
Get her book and treat yo’ self to this dish. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
Full disclosure: I’ve never been to New Orleans and my only litmus test for a good po’ boy is Bab’s brief stint on Willy St. (where Ha Long Bay currently resides) and New Orleans’ Takeout.
Last night, however, I think I made the best catfish po’ boys this side of Lake Pontchartrain; let’s see how I did it!
I started four hours before dinnertime with a 10 oz. bag of Josie’s Organics Power Mix and added red onion and pickled pepperoncinis.
Next comes about three tablespoons of mayo, some Dijon, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, minced garlic, onion powder, sweet paprika, and a little Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning.
Mix all this together and put it in an airtight, leakproof container because you’re going to be flipping and flopping it around to get everything good and coated. Store in the fridge until you’re ready to put the sandwiches together.
Next up, the remoulade. I didn’t take pictures because it’s simply mayo, paprika, Louisiana hot sauce, and some more Chachere’s. Mix all this together and store in the fridge until assembly time.
When you can’t stand waiting any longer for that delicious slaw, turn the oven on and get your parchment paper out! Three fillets were one-half fillet too much for our huge sandwiches, so plan accordingly. These were frozen, but it seems they take about the same amount to bake… roughly 10-12 minutes. I sprayed ’em with avocado oil and seasoned them with some more Chachere’s and placed them in a 400° oven.
I sliced the French bread loaf and scooped out some of the dough. Who needs that to take up space when you have all this other deliciousness?
When there are around three minutes left on your oven timer, pop the bread in to warm up.
Now it’s all about assembly: bread, cheese, tomato, slaw, fish, remoulade, bread. And a side of mildly dirty rice.
This is an amalgamation of several Niçoise salad recipes and, since it requires many dishes and methods, it gets five eggplants for difficulty.
I was recently talking to the fella about rating the recipes and timing and how to get everything in the right order and how that seems to come naturally to me, so I’ll try to incorporate reasoning into the recipes that I write so it helps make sense of the whole thing.
For this dish, you can either start with the eggs or make them while the veggies are roasting. They can be hard boiled at any point prior and I use Gwennie’s method because it makes sense to me. So, for this recipe, it’s a nine-minute egg. The eggs can sit in the ice bath in a metal mixing bowl until you’re ready to plate, as far as I’m concerned. The colder they are, the easier they are to peel.
As the salad is served room temp, you can roast the veggies next (or first, depending on your egg situation). This will give them time to cool enough to put atop your mixed greens, which are typically fragile enough to wilt under the heat of a roasted veggie. My recently-discovered trick: after the eggs are peeled, wipe out the metal bowl, put all the veggies in and pop in the freezer for about five minutes.
I’ve been keen on the bag of peppers from Costco since I don’t care for green (they make me burp) and the red/yellow/orange are usually over a dollar a piece at Woodman’s.
Baby potatoes cut into halves will be chewy in about 35 minutes at 400°. The peppers, thankfully, go along for this ride nicely. Spritz with avocado oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, Herbamare, or any of your favorite seasonings and spices.
While your eggs are cooling in the sink, you can steam the green beans using the leftover egg water. You still want the freshly crunch, which is why steaming (for about eight minutes on medium heat) is the best method here.
While waiting for the veggies, you can make the dressing and mix up the tuna. The dressing is just* olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. The tuna is a handful of parsley, capers, minced shallot, and two cans of tuna packed in oil. If you have an abundance of oil left in the can, add it to the dressing. It’s all going to the same place, so it doesn’t *really* matter, but it helps bring all the flavors closer together.
A couple of the recipes I referenced for this specifically call for Niçoise olives (holy crap, they’re expensive on Amazon!), so if you have a patient helper, get them, otherwise, Kalamata olives will do just fine (and they’re already pitted—a huuuuuge time-saver).
Fill a bowl with greens (these are the organic mixed greens from Costco, but we’ve been having varying degrees of luck with them lasting more than a day past “best by”) and tomatoes. It looks like a lot of food but will scrunch down into the bowl after everything else is piled on.
Top with the warmer veggies and dressing. This should, hopefully, get things closer in temperature. I was a bit anxious and hungry, so I may have pressed a bit on this step.
Top with tuna, olives, and a couple of crusty bread slices (as if it weren’t enough food already) and serve to your best friend(s).
A veritable mashup of crunchy, soft, savory, tasty goodness.
Place eggs in a pot and cover with cold water until an inch over (it's really hard to see what a liquid inch is when you're looking down into the pot). Turn heat on high and watch for boiling bubbles.
As soon as the water boils, turn off the heat, move pot to a cold burner, and set a timer for nine minutes.
Fill a metal bowl with ice cubes and put in the sink. When the egg timer goes off, run some cold water in the metal bowl and put the eggs in there to cool.
For the roasted veggies:
Preheat oven to 400°.
Slice potatoes into halves, slice peppers into strips, and arrange on a baking sheet (covered with parchment, if you like to make your life easier). Spray with avocado oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, herbamare, and/or your favorite seasonings from Penzey's. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, remove veggies and parchment to another surface to cool.
For the steamed green beans:
Place a steamer basket into a pot of water to make sure you haven't overfilled it. Turn the heat on.
Break off bean ends and cut beans in half. When the water is near boiling, arrange in the steamer basket and set a timer for seven minutes, cover. Remove basket and set on counter to cool (there is a theme here).
For the dressing:
In the vessel of your choice, add olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper (and some dijon mustard, if you're feeling fancy). Shake, whisk, or otherwise mix together and hold for later.
For the tuna salad:
Empty two cans of tuna into a bowl and add capers, shallots, and parsley. Mix well with a fork.
Peel eggs, slice in half.
Place mixed greens in two bowls, throw in the sliced tomatoes, drizzle dressing over the greens.
Assemble veggies, top with tuna salad and olives. Place eggs pleasingly around the bowl edge and serve.
I’ve had my share of mock-tuna dishes made with a slightly mashed chickpea mixture and think this would hold up well if you wanted to make it vegetarian; do this and omit the hard-boiled eggs to make it vegan.
My Take on Dressing
The sooner you learn how to make (and enjoy the simplicity of) your own dressing, the happier you’ll be. No more half-used bottles of Ranch in the back of the fridge, no more zero-calorie (and tasteless) Caesar dressing, no more salads doused with high fructose corn syrup and whey powder. *Just* oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper (also dijon mustard and agave nectar).
And, if you do want Caesar, Ranch, or whatever, you can enjoy the pure calories of buttermilk cuz you haven’t been using the bottled kind.
Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings was a gifted cookbook that I honestly didn’t think much of at the time (it’s a pretty decadent cookbook—the mac ‘n’ cheese has nearly 10 cups of dairy), because I was doing Gwennie’s detoxes, trying to eat more raw veggies, and generally eschewing cheese, pasta, and bread.
Since giving the book a second chance recently, we’ve enjoyed her tuna melts, mac ‘n’ cheese, Cobb salad, and sriracha Caesar salad. For an unknown reason, I got it in my head to give her dad’s fried fish sandwich a try. Gastrologically, this was not a good idea, but they sure tasted real good.
Aside from my digestion, I’m also wary of making fried fish because the smell sticks around the house, but it was nice enough outside to have the windows open, and I remembered to put a curtain at the base of the stairs so it wouldn’t get up into the bedrooms.
Since I don’t own a deep fryer, we filled the cast iron with vegetable oil and turned it up, using the thermometer to check progess. I wish I had timed it so I could tell you, but I think it’ll depend greatly on heat source and vessel.
I “cheated” by using pre-shredded red and green cabbage with carrots mixed in. It is definitely more expensive per ounce, but I’d rather use that than buy two heads of cabbage to end up throwing away three-quarters of them. Really, the whole point of learning all this is about convenience and knowing that you can, and how to, substitute what you have in the fridge for what’s in the cookbook.
I have an overabundance of jars of relish, so I didn’t make the sweet pickles from scratch either. Come on.
The frozen fish (we opted for catfish) will thaw quickly in a bowl of running, cold water. If it floats, just plop a bowl on top!
The batter is a tricky mixture of corn starch, flour, an egg, frozen vodka, and cold seltzer water, which is why I made the coleslaw and tartar sauce first. The required speed with which the fish are battered and put in the oil is a bit intimidating. So, the batter gets mixed up RIGHT BEFORE the oil is ready. Prepare your paper towels and get your tongs set!
I can smell the oil as I type (or maybe it’s cuz I’m writing this from a bar with a deep fryer). We waited for the suggested 3 minutes, but the desired golden-brown didn’t happen. In the interest of keeping things less, rather than more, greasy, I pulled them after about 5 minutes.
The second batch was a little darker, but that’s because the oil was slightly dirtier and probably a little hotter.
While all this is happening, the buns get toasted with butter and cheese.
When the fish is cool enough, it can be sandwiched, topped with tartar and slaw, and enjoyed!