Collard Lake in Florence, Oregon is the land of foggy mornings, warm buckwheat huckleberry pancakes, cups of rich, black coffee, sweaters and wool socks; gloriously sunny afternoons (although at times windy), tomato and cheese sandwiches, hours spent sun bathing on the dock, deliciously good books (this trip featured The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes), canoe rides, fresh seafood, blackberry crisp, blue jeans, creamy golden sunsets and sand dunes. None of these activities would take place with such poignancy and leave such heart-breaking nostalgia without the presence of such top-notch individuals as my family. Despite the painful absence of my sister Katherine, my most recent trip to Oregon was as memorable as always. And when you wake up to a view like this:
what could possibly prevent total and utter bliss?
As a sprite young girl, I an enthusiastic eater and would frequently over-stuff myself to the amazement of certain cousins and my grandmother. I had no control; it was all or nothing. Life has taught me to restrain myself (to some extent) but I still march to an all or nothing beat. And now I've channeled some of my enthusiasm into cooking which I had ample opportunity to do with my family and especially my dad while I was at the lake. (I must mention that my mom, having discovered Julia Child and the French Way contributed amply to a degree of freshness and deliciousness that I haven't seen from anyone in a long time.)
The mighty creation pictured above of breaded rock fish with chanterelle cream sauce is my dad's own creation and my principal reason for writing today's post; it was a stroke of genius. At home dad plans the meals every week (with assistance of course) and does the grocery shopping. He doesn't have as much of an opportunity to practice frequent spontaneity in the kitchen. On vacation things are different. When we found the chanterelles and fresh rock fish, what we needed to do was quite obvious.
In the kitchen I set to work making the Chocolate-filled Jelly Roll from the Joy of Cooking. My mom took over the zucchini, new potatoes (from her garden!) and the salad, and dad made the fish. He was, however, happy to put up with and answer all of my how-to specific questions while he prepared the meal. So without further rambling, here's the recipe.
Breaded Rock Fish with Chanterelle Cream Sauce
for six people
The recommended serving of fish is 6 ounces per person
About 2 1/2 lbs of white fish (this recipe works best with thin fillets so they'll cook fast in the pan)
A lot of rye crackers (Ryvita!)
Salt and pepper
- Find yourself some fresh fish (it should smell like the sea - so nothing except salty water)
- crunch up a bunch of the crackers with a rolling pin or glass bottle until you have fine crumbs (you'll want about a 1 1/2 C to be safe)
- Put the crackers onto a large plate, add salt and pepper
- Cut the fish into portion-sized pieces and set aside (this will bring them to room temperature)
- Make the sauce (see below)
- After you make the sauce, press both sides of the fish onto the plate, patting extra crumbs onto the top, turn the fillet and do the same to the bottom*
- Heat up two skillets (med/high) with a couple TBS of oil in them until almost smoking.
- Put breaded fish into pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until the flesh is just barely opaque. It will also be just firm to the touch. I like to poke a knife tip inside and test it's temperature by pressing the knife tip to my lip. When the knife's hot, she's done.**
* Often breading fish recipes require first that you coat the fillets in egg and then dredge through flour to create a kind of batter. I tested the rye cracker press-on method last night and it worked beautifully. The rye crackers give a subtle earthy taste to the fish. The perfect accompaniment for a rustic cream sauce. Also note that it's important to not bread the fish before you make the sauce because you'll run the risk of soggy crumbs!
** There are many ways to test for when a fish is done, and it (like anything) takes practice. I recommend doing everything you can to master this skill so you don't eat over-cooked fish, which is a highly unpleasant experience and the reason why so many people think fish is impossible to cook and disgusting. What a crime.
2 Cups chanterelles
1 TBS butter (or more)
2 TBS fresh thyme
1 1/2 C wine
1 C heavy cream
- Get yourself some chanterelles (these are seasonal depending and the ones we found weren't expensive, but they weren't the most flavourful - according to the tasting panel).
- Slice them into big chunks.
- Fry them in butter and thyme, or other fresh herb that you want to feature, until they're just soft.
- Set aside in a bowl.
- In the same pan, reduce the wine about 2/3
- Then add the cream to the wine reduction and reduce again until the cream is thick, bubbling and the spoon leaves streaks in the pan.
- You might want to add a bit more cream at the end to round out the sauce
- Add the cream and wine reduction to the mushrooms, mixing to coat all the mushrooms. Any mushroom juice is precious; don't drain them!
- Set the sauce in a covered bowl on the back of the stove, or if you're lucky enough to have a small thermos, like the kind kids take soup to school in, use that to keep the sauce warm until you're ready to serve it.
- Spoon the sauce onto the cooked fish and top with chopped fresh chives or herbs.
Then, hopefully you've got a lady like my mom Sal around to grate zucchini, salt it, squeeze and drain out all the water, and fry it up with shallots. If you're lucky she'll also roast some potatoes in a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, make a killer salad, and share her big-hearted laugh. A lady after my own heart (or am I a lady after hers?)
Oh yeah, by the way, the jelly roll ruled. You can find it in the Joy of Cooking under Roll Cakes - Chocolate-filled Roll.