On the rare occasion that I ordered fish in Dallas, it was always at a pub, and it was always fish and chips. Everything is delicious deep-fried and served with fried potatoes, and since I was eating fish at most once or twice a year there, it really didn’t feel like an overindulgence to have fish in its most unhealthy form when I did decide to be in a fish mood.
I should probably add that being in the mood for fish only ever happened in pubs (particularly one pub) for a reason. I have a psychological block against eating seafood when I am nowhere near the sea. I know the fish is safe, that it’s transported frozen and often quickly but I just can’t do it.
After four or five shots of whiskey, I can happily store all thoughts of seafood safety elsewhere. And after four or five shots of whiskey, any pretensions to a healthy dinner plan have long since scurried off leaving only a choice between a reuben sandwich (delightful, except that it always comes with too much dressing, and no amount of explaining the proper dressing/sandwich ratio or wheedling to leave it on the side will sway the bartender one whit) and a plate of fish and chips with a mild, earthy curry sauce to dip them in.
Here, I am not afraid to eat the fish. Even the fish that originated in the Honduras and therefore, one can safely assume, has undergone just as much transport and freezing and potential issues as any trout sold in Texas. Like I said, it was a psychological block, not a sensible one. So here, we eat fish, often tilapia, often Honduran, about twice a week. Fish and chips are lovely for tipsy bar nights (of which I have enjoyed none since the move) but rubbish for reasonable weeknights on days when I want to feel a net benefit from my cardio routine. But fish and potato remains a sound and worthy combination, and crisp textures will win in any kitchen, any time. What is a cook to do?
Luckily, I have a cast iron skillet. It turns out that crispy baked potato and fish are just as tasty as fried ones. Probably tastier, in fact, because enjoying them in my own dining room obviates the need to breathe in all that not-so-lovely bar smoke while eating.
Ingredients (serves 2)
1/2 lb white fish fillets
1 largish baking potato
1-2 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 t lemongrass
1/2 t salt
white pepper, to taste
Heat the oven to 400°F. Combine lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in an 11-inch cast-iron skillet (or other large, heavy metal pan).
Cut the potato into about 1/8 inch slices. You could use a mandoline. I hated my mandoline, so I gave it to a friend back in Dallas. A sharp knife does the job nicely.
Arrange the slices in concentric rings in the skillet. Look how pretty!
Brush the tops of the potatoes with just a touch of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, white pepper, and lemongrass.
Bake for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender but not yet crisp or brown. Place the fish on top of the potatoes and return the skillet to the 400-degree oven for another 10 minutes.
Serve with steamed asparagus or something else lovely and green.
I always intend to zest the lemon over the fish just before baking, but it never seems to happen. Nevertheless, this is a mild, lemony, healthy way to enjoy fish.