Tuesday, June 8, 2004

When I was a child, I could always tell when fish was being served for dinner. The telltale sign was the aroma of popcorn wafting through the house.

That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone who doesn’t know my mother’s culinary approach. Frying was the only technique my mother used to prepare fish. And perch, which can have an assertive aroma, was the only fish she fried. It took the sweet, nutty fragrance of popcorn to disguise the strong fish smell.

Now that I do my own cooking, popcorn is no longer an added bonus on fish nights. Instead, I have my own methods for preparing fish that I’m sharing here.

• Rinse the fish under cold water. If the fish has any odor, first soak the fillets in milk for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water.

• Coat the fish in a bread-crumb mixture that includes grated lemon zest. The scent of fresh lemon is a lovely aromatic foil to fish.

• Bake, don’t fry. Oven baking is a less pungent and less messy way to cook fish. In addition, you’ll find that baking allows you more control over cooking time, so you’re assured delicious results.

If you’ve been hesitant about serving fish, the following recipe for perch will alleviate any anxiety. It is succulent and flavorful and can be served without a popcorn disguise.

New potatoes with butter and dill

6 small (about 1 cup) new potatoes


1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon minced fresh dill weed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a small pot of salted water. Bring to a boil. Cook at low boil for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain well and set aside.

Place butter, dill weed, pepper and salt to taste in the pot. Return potatoes to the pot.

Heat over low heat, tossing frequently for 3 minutes or until butter melts and coats potatoes.

Makes 2 servings.

Lemon-scented perch

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 large perch fillets with skin, about 10 ounces

1/4 cup bread crumbs

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Lemon wedges

Place butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt butter on medium setting of microwave oven, about 30 seconds. Dip perch in butter to coat.

Place perch, skin-side down, on cookie sheet. Combine bread crumbs, sliced almonds and lemon zest in a small bowl.

Press bread crumb mixture over perch to coat.

Bake perch in preheated 400-degree oven for 12 minutes, or until a knife inserted into fish shows no raw spots. Serve perch with lemon wedges. Makes 2 servings.


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