Cooking with what's on hand: How to make great dinners with frozen fish or canned seafood

Cooking with what's on hand: How to make great dinners with frozen fish or canned seafood

From the What's for dinner? Tips for outdoor grilling and how to cook with what's on hand series
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Frozen salmon fillets are quickly sauteed in a skillet then paired with an herb butter and served with farro, the Italian grain. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

My freezer and pantry shelves overflow. And not just during a health crisis. The pantry shelves of most food professionals hold a variety of grains, canned chiles, condiments and broth. We utilize freezers for a convenient supply of fish and poultry, as well as to stock up on the season’s best fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Frozen fish in many cases proves far superior to the “thawed for your convenience” items at the supermarket. I prefer to have control over the defrosting. Thawed properly, in the refrigerator, seafood maintains its flavor and texture all the way to the dinner table. I regularly stock frozen salmon, cod and halibut fillets as well as shrimp and scallops.

Look at the labeling for frozen fish: Ideally it says frozen at sea. That way, you’ll know the fish was frozen at its peak flavor and texture. Always, and I mean always, thaw fish in the refrigerator — never at room temperature or under running water as this quick-thawing seriously destroys the final texture.

We look forward to a variety of Alaskan fish from a CSF (community supported fishery), called Sitka Salmon Shares (sitkasalmonshares.com), arriving on our porch. Sitka features sustainable, responsibly fished wild Alaskan sockeye and King salmon, plus other fish, that are shipped directly to the house. wildalaskancompany.com is another excellent mail order source. Be sure to have freezer space available for when the item delivers — the more you order the lower the cost per pound.

I like boneless fillets of wild Alaskan sockeye in the sauteed fish recipe that follows. Other options include flounder, cod, tilapia, haddock, snapper or halibut. Nearly any fish fillet will work as long as it’s not too thick or too thin; ¾-inch thick cooks beautifully in a skillet.

Always check the fillets for bones by running your finger over the fillet; use tweezers to remove the bones. Remove the fish skin if you wish. To enjoy crispy skin, start the cooking skin side up to brown the flesh, then flip the fillet skin side down to finish the cooking. Start the reduction for the butter sauce before cooking the fish, then finish the sauce by whisking in the butter after the fish is cooked.

Slow-simmered, nutty textured farro makes an excellent companion to mild, tender fish. Farro, a type of wheat high in protein and fiber with lots of minerals and vitamins, proves more nutritious then white rice or refined grains. Look for farro in the natural food section of large supermarkets. If stores are sold out, try ordering it online from Bob’s Red Mill or Rancho Gordo.

Farro cooks easily by simmering in water or broth until tender. To season it, stir in a generous amount of any fresh herbs on hand — new spring chives, parsley, cilantro and dill or simply the tops from green onions.

I use tinned fish when the freezer stocks are low and to avoid a trip to the store. Canned clams, seasoned with white wine, garlic, Parmesan and a bit of cream make a restaurant-quality pasta dish we enjoy all year long. Optional tinned green chiles and anchovy fillets add salt and umami satisfaction.

SAUTEED FISH WITH FRESH HERB BUTTER AND FARRO

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 40 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

If farro is unavailable, substitute 2 cups cooked brown rice or Israeli couscous (cooked according to package directions). Always use a very sharp, thin-bladed knife to slice (rather than chop) fresh herbs; this prevents bruising which causes the leaves to turn brown quickly.

  • 1 cup loosely packed tiny sprigs and leaves from fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup each: flat-leaf parsley leaves, fresh chives
  • Salt
  • 1 ½ cups farro grande (spelt) or pearled farro
  • 3 to 4 green onions, trimmed, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little for the fish
  • 3 medium shallots (or 1 small white onion), halved, very thinly sliced, about ¾ cup
  • ½ cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds frozen fish fillets, about ¾ to 1 inch thick, thawed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Expeller pressed canola oil, sunflower or safflower oil for high-heat cooking
  • 7 to 8 tablespoons softened unsalted butter

1. Use a very sharp knife to thinly slice all the fresh herbs. Mix them in a bowl. Refrigerate covered with a damp towel until needed or up to 2 days.

2. Heat 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan; add 1 teaspoon salt and the farro. Cook uncovered, stirring often, 4 minutes. Reduce heat to very low. Cover the pan and simmer, stirring once or twice, until tender but still a bit toothsome, about 30 minutes. Drain off excess liquid. Return farro to pan; stir in sliced green onions and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover and set aside to stay warm.

3. While farro cooks, put shallots and wine in a large nonstick skillet and heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until the wine is reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and garlic; simmer until reduced again to 3 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

4. Season fish on all sides with salt and pepper. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

5. Heat a large nonstick griddle or well-seasoned cast-iron griddle or skillet over medium heat until a drop of water sizzles on contact. Brush lightly with canola oil, then add the fish, skin side up in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook until fish starts to brown and releases easily from pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Use a silicon spatula or a very thin metal spatula to gently flip the fish skin side down. Cook until nearly firm when pressed, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off heat; let fish rest on the griddle while you finish the sauce.

6. Set the skillet with the shallots back over medium heat. When hot, whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, just until the butter softens and melts. When all the butter has been added, remove from the heat. Do not let the sauce boil. Stir in half of the herbs. If the sauce is very thick, gently whisk in a tablespoon or two of hot water or broth. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Stir the remaining herbs into the farro. Arrange the fish fillets on plates, top with sauce. Serve with farro.

Nutrition information per serving: 714 calories, 37 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 141 mg cholesterol, 58 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 40 g protein, 92 mg sodium, 9 g fiber

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Canned clams reach their peak potential in an easy creamy sauce you can throw together to coat spaghetti. Food styling by Shannon Kinsella. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

SPAGHETTI WITH CREAMY CLAM SAUCE

Prep: 25 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

Makes: 6 servings

  • 2 cans (6.5 ounces each) minced clams
  • About ½ cup chicken broth or bottled clam juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 to 5 shallots or 1 small white onion, very thinly sliced
  • Half of a 2-ounce can anchovy fillets packed in oil, patted dry and minced, optional
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup dry white vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1 can (4 ounces) fire-roasted diced green chiles, optional
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 12 ounces spaghetti or linguine
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves or 3 tablespoons dried parsley

1. Strain clams in a colander set over a bowl to catch their liquid. Measure liquid and add chicken broth or bottled clam juice to make 1 cup total. Reserve liquid and clams separately.

2. Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil.

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet; add shallots. Cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Stir in anchovies and garlic; cook, stirring, until anchovies dissolve, about 1 minute. Stir in vermouth; boil hard to reduce by half, about 3 minutes.

4. Stir in the reserved broth, chiles, cream and thyme; boil hard to reduce slightly, about 4 minutes. Season with pepper flakes and black pepper. Remove from heat.

5. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Cook, stirring often, until pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes.

6. Stir reserved clams into the skillet; heat mixture until hot. Drain the pasta; return it to the pot. Add the clam sauce, cheese and parsley. Toss to coat pasta with sauce. Serve with extra cheese.

Nutrition information per serving: 390 calories, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 49 g carbohydrates, 2 g sugar, 15 g protein, 800 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

(c)2020 Chicago Tribune

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