Normally, when I buy fish it's because we are in the mood for something light and healthy. I grill it, I bake it, I steam it, I have only once fried it (and the deep fat fryer was subsequently given to the concierge in our old apartment building). Usually, when I buy the fish I have a good idea which healthy option I'm going to choose. Lately, though, I've been trying to buy my food in advance instead of stopping at the grocery store every evening and so I bought some whiting on Saturday without a clear idea of when or how I would prepare it.
On Monday, when I took it from the fridge, I made a momentous decision: I would do something different with the fish, something not necessarily healthy. (This is heady stuff!)
So what did I have in the fridge to accompany my fish? An open bottle of heavy cream needing to be used...mmmm...some frozen thyme I also bought over the weekend...mmm...bread crumbs and almond slivers, all good with fish. The problem when you start throwing around ideas in your head is keeping to a limited number, so that you don't end up with a confusing culinary mess. I stopped there. And I came up with a delicious fish dish. I'll be making this (or variations thereof) again over these coming cold winter months, as it was so very satisfying and tasty. Also, it took less than half an hour to prepare - yay!
Sinful Fish (serves 2)
250g (1/3 lb?) white fish filets (in this case, strips of whiting)
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs frozen or fresh thyme
1 Tbs frozen or fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2 Tbs slivered almonds
Preheat the oven to 400C/375F. Spread the bottom of a small baking dish with the butter (softened or melted, whichever you find easier). Pour in the sherry. Layer the fish evenly in the dish. Sprinkle it with the thyme and parsley. Dribble the cream over the fish. You might need to use a spoon to take some from the valleys and make sure you cover all the peaks. I'm guessing how much cream I used here, but it really wasn't much. Sprinkle evenly with the breadcrumbs and then scatter the almond slivers over the top. Put in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, long enough for the cream to bubble away and the almonds and breadcrumbs to start to brown.
To keep with the self-indulgent tone of the meal I was creating, I decided to make a side dish of pasta instead of the ubiquitous fish-with-rice combination. While the pasta was boiling, I browned a couple of cloves of chopped garlic in butter and grated a handful of Parmesan. This is almost my favourite thing to do with pasta: just cover it with loads of butter, garlic and cheese. Mmmm.
Once I plated the fish, steaming from the oven, it looked beautiful. The Critic will back me up on this: it was gorgeous. However, rather than let his dish get cold I told him: go, eat, I'll photograph mine. The photo didn't do it justice. I'm not going to give you a photo of something mostly white (pasta) next to something pale brown (fish) because it won't make you want to try this recipe and I think it turned out GREAT. The cream and almonds set off the nuttiness of the fish filets and the breadcrumbs gave it a nice little crunch. The thyme and parsley added that extra touch that kept the whole dish from seeming bland. It all melted in your mouth in a savoury, nutty bite. What's more, there was enough fish sauce left in the bottom of the baking dish to drizzle over the pasta, where it only enhanced the garlic, butter and Parmesan combination.
All in all, this was one of my most successful inventions. However, I do have a confession to make: somewhere in my Fanny Farmer cookbook, there is a similar recipe for fish filets baked in cream with herbs. I didn't look up the recipe and I don't think it called for sherry, bread crumbs or almond slivers, so I can claim this one as my own. But I was inspired by Mrs. Farmer, I must admit!