Category Archives: Fish

Sardine Pasta

imageI’ve been on a mission lately to work my way through some of the recipes I’ve clipped from newspapers and magazines and stashed away, sometimes for years.  I sorted through my collection the other day and couldn’t part with any of them.  Apparently, there was a reason why each recipe was clipped and saved.  Of course, they serve little purpose if I don’t actually make any of the recipes.  That’s why I decide to make one recipe a week – or at least that is my stated goal – and try out some of these cool recipes.

imageLast night, I made a sardine pasta recipe that I clipped from the Chicago Tribune.  Oddly enough, my nine year loves sardines and will happily eat them on crackers for a snack after school.  When I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it.

imageSardines have really gone out of fashion, similar to canned tuna.  Once a staple of all pantries, most people find sardines fishy, oily and all around unappealing.  When I was growing up in Maine, sardine plants packing plants were a part of the working waterfront.  No longer.  The sardines for sale at the grocery store are all packed abroad and imported into the U.S.

imageRegardless, I think people should give sardines another chance.  They are a healthy fish that are affordable and sustainably fished.  I think they are pretty tasty too.  Tough to find many fish with those qualities and I love the idea of having a can on hand to make a quick meal.

imageThis recipe is called Pasta chi sari a mari, or “pasta with sardines that are still in the sea” and was based on a recipe by the late actor Vincent Schiavelli.  Admittedly, I have no idea who this actor is but the recipe was simple and delicious.

The only real change I’ve made is to add course salt to the recipe. Surprisingly, the recipe was lacking in that department, since I thought the sardines would take care of the saltiness.  Dig in!


Pasta chi sari a mari

  • Servings: 4-6
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1/4 C golden raisins
1/2 C fresh breadcrumbs
1 can (120 grams) sardines in olive oil
3 T olive oil
1 whole clove garlic
1 t fennel seeds
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/4 C chopped fennel fronds
2 T chopped parsley
1 pound pasta
course salt
freshly ground pepper

Cover the raisins in boiling water; set aside to soften.  Fill large pot with water, cover and put over high heat.  Heat skillet over medium heat, add breadcrumbs, sprinkle liberally with course salt and drizzle with oil from sardines to moisten.  Toast until golden, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

When the water comes to a rapid boil, add about a teaspoon of salt and cook al dente according to package instructions.  Meanwhile, over medium heat put 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot that will hold the pasta.  Add the garlic clove, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic turns golden brown, about 5 minutes. Discard garlic.

Put the sardines and remaining oil into the skillet and break the fish into bite sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  When the pasta is done, drain, reserving a 1/2 cup of cooking liquid.  Add the pasta and reserved liquid to the skillet.  Drain the raisins and add them to the skillet, along with the parsley and fennel fronds.  Increase the heat to medium high, stirring constantly until the water is evaporated.

Serve pasta with the toasted breadcrumbs on top.



Lemon Pepper Mahi-Mahi

I’ll share a little secret with you.  Sometimes when I am feeling less imaginative and am in need of a good recipe, I’ll rely on a recipe on a package.  While it does seem as if I am cheating in the creativity department, here’s my theory:  No business would put a recipe on the packaging for one of its products if the recipe weren’t tried and true, guaranteed to come out the way it should.  So for example, at one point or another, I’ve followed all of the cookie recipes on chocolate-chip packages and the cake recipes on the cocoa and cake-flour boxes.  And all of those recipes turn out good.

In light of the above confession, here is the meal I prepared the other night:  For dinner for my husband and me, I defrosted some mahi-mahi fish fillets from Trader Joe’s.  This type of fish is not a regular on my repertoire so I was in need of some ideas.  Luckily, the package had a couple of great recipes: Lemon Pepper Butter, and Easy Aioli.  I’ve made aioli many times in the past, so I decided to test out the Lemon Pepper Butter, especially since I had most of the ingredients on hand anyway.

First, I took out a half a stick of butter and let it soften while I prepared the other ingredients.  Next, I zested one lemon and chopped up about a quarter cup of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley.

Once the butter had softened, I combined the lemon zest and parsley with the butter using a fork.


The recipe called for Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper, which I didn’t happen to have, so I substituted Maine sea salt and freshly ground pepper (it just so happens that my father makes his own sea salt).


imageNow this handy-dandy recipe also included advice on various ways to cook the fish, depending on whether it had been defrosted or was still frozen.  As my mahi-mahi was defrosted, I had these options: on the grill, pan seared, or oven roasted.  I decided to sear the fish in a pan since I like crispy fish, and it’s too cold and snow around here to do any outside grilling.

I heated a heavy cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it was sizzling hot, added a little olive oil, and seared the filets about three minutes on each side until cooked through.


I topped the cooked fillets with the Lemon Pepper Butter and served it with quinoa (more on that another day) and a tossed salad.  The mahi-mahi came out crisp on the outside and flaky on the inside.  The Lemon Pepper Butter melted over the fish and created a delicious topping and added flavor to the quinoa.



Lemon Pepper Butter Mahi-Mahi

2 mahi-mahi fillets

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, softened

zest of one lemon

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Using a fork, mash together the butter, lemon zest, and parsley until mixed completely.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Heat a heavy-bottom pan over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with olive oil.  Sear fish fillets on each side about 3 minutes until cooked through.  Serve with lemon butter on top.

Serves 2

Catfish Sandwich


Since we try to eat fish as much as we can in my household, I am lucky to have a grocery store near me that has a pretty decent fish department.  I buy it every time I go shopping, usually at least once a week.  I base my fish selection on what looks good, what is reasonably priced, and what I feel inspired to cook.  This week I chose catfish.

When I was growing up we never ate catfish.  It is not something you typically find on a New England menu, either in a restaurant or at home.  I never knew what I was missing.


Since I moved to a part of the country where catfish is common, I have cooked catfish many times.  I’ve made this delicious fish sandwich twice, and both times it was amazing.  Amazingly easy to make, too.  Here’s how I did it:


I first made a seasoning mix of paprika, garlic powder, thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, coarse salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  (You can adjust the  ingredients to make this as spicy as you like.)  I mixed about 2 teaspoons of this seasoning into about 1/3 cup of mayonnaise.  Then I mixed the rest of the spices into about 1/2 cup of cornmeal.

I prepared a 1 1/2 pound catfish filet for cooking by cutting it into four pieces (I have found 1 1/2 pounds is the perfect amount for a family of four).  I rinsed the pieces in water and patted them down with a paper towel.

I heated about a quarter cup of vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  While the oil was heating up, I dipped the fish filets in the cornmeal mixture.


When the oil was hot (you can test the heat of the oil by sprinkling a little bit of the cornmeal mix in and see if it crackles) I placed the filets in the skillet and cooked them 3 to 4 minutes on each side.  The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the filets.  Essentially, you want the fish to be crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside when pulled at with a fork.



While the fish was cooking, I split some brioche rolls, buttered them, and grilled them on a griddle lightly over medium heat (of course, this can be done in a skillet if you don’t have a griddle).


You can use any kind of rolls you like, but I find brioche particularly delicious for a fish sandwich.   When the fish was done, I put each piece on a bun that had been spread with a bit of the spicy mayo, then topped all with some lettuce.


Catfish sandwiches – so yummy, and easy to make.  My kids really love them.



Cajun Catfish Sandwiches

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika

2 tablespoons course salt

2 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon thyme

1/2 cup ground cornmeal

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 1/12 pounds fileted catfish, cut into four pieces

4 buns

Mix all of the spices together in a small bowl.  In a separate bowl, add 2 teaspoons of the spice mixture to 1/3 cup of mayonnaise.  Set aside.  Mix the rest of the spice mixture with about 1/2 cup of ground cornmeal.  Cut the fish up into four pieces, rinse in water, and pat dry.  Heat 1/4 cup of vegetable oil in a heavy pan over medium-high heat.  Coat each of the filets in the cornmeal mixture.  When the oil is hot, add the fish to the pan, cooking 3 to 4 minutes on each side until the fish is crispy on the outside and flakey on the inside.  Lightly butter the buns and grill over medium heat.  Serve the fish on buns with spicy mayonnaise and lettuce.

Serves 4

Curried Shrimp

I had a hankering for Indian food last night.  Maybe it was brought on because I had just cleaned out my spice cabinet and that brand-new bottle of curry powder smelled so good.  I decided I would make curried shrimp, a dish that I haven’t made for a long time.  It used to be in my regular rotation, but for some reason it was kicked off that list.

Last night’s meal was so delicious, I had to wonder why curried shrimp had lost its way in the pecking order.  Believe me, it’s back.

In Maine, where I grew up, we never had anything remotely like Indian food.  The closest we had to Asian cuisine was a restaurant called China Harbor that opened in nearby Rockland when I was in high school.  The name was catchy, but the food never really caught on and the restaurant eventually closed. Rumor had it that it had been “recycling food.”  Who knows? Perhaps they had been re-serving those little bowls of steamed rice that their customers didn’t eat.

When I was in my 20s and lived in New York City, Indian became my Asian cuisine of choice.  I found all of those delicious spicy sauces and wonderful flat breads to be irresistible.

I found this curried shrimp dish in the Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine. It is as easy to make as it gets, though it probably doesn’t bear much relation to real Indian food. It nevertheless does the job when you have the urge for spicy Indian-inspired food and don’t want to go the take-out route.

I began by chopping up  a medium-sized white onion and finely chopping a jalapeno chili pepper.


I also quartered four plum tomatoes.


I usually remove the seeds from the jalapeno to tone down the heat and am always careful to wash my hands thoroughly after chopping the pepper.  I learned the hard way that any residue jalapeño pepper on your hands will be extremely painful if you should rub your eyes.

Meanwhile, I heated up a pan over medium heat and added a bit of olive oil.  I added the onion and jalapeño, and cooked them until they were soft, 3 to 5 minutes.


Then I added two tablespoons of tomato paste, two teaspoons of curry powder, and a half teaspoon of ground ginger.


I always keep a tube of tomato paste in the refrigerator, because I find it comes in handy when I only need a couple of tablespoons worth.  It prevents waste.


Yes, I know you can use canned tomato paste and freeze what you don’t use in an ice-cube tray wrapped in plastic, but I think that tubed tomato paste is a much simpler, more realistic way to go in situations like this.

I stirred the mixture until the spices were fragrant, then added the quartered tomatoes to the pan.



I continued to cook until the tomatoes began to release their juices, then added about a cup of water.  All was simmered until the tomatoes began to break down; then I added the shrimp and cooked until they are opaque.


I treat frozen shrimp as a freezer staple and always keep a two-pound bag on hand.  Shrimp are versatile –  always convenient to have available in a pinch.


Before serving my curried shrimp over rice, I added a bit of lemon juice and a little sour cream to make the sauce creamy.  (This step can be left out if you don’t prefer creamy sauces).



Curried Shrimp

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion

1 jalapeño chile

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

4 plum tomatoes

1 cup of water

1 pound shrimp

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice

Chop the onions and jalapeño and quarter the tomatoes.  Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pan, add the onion and jalapeño and cook until the onion begins to soften.  Add tomato paste and spices, cooking until fragrant.  Add the tomatoes and cook until they release their juices.  Add about one cup of water and simmer until the tomatoes break down.  Add the shrimp and cook until they are opaque.  Add sour cream and lemon or lime juice.  Serve over rice.  Serves 4.


Crab Cakes

Most people think of lobster when they think of the coast of Maine.  After all, it is the signature seafood of the state.  However, people are missing out if they don’t try Maine crab.  It has a much more delicate flavor than lobster, and like lobster it is delicious when eaten plain, without added ingredients.

As a kid growing up in Camden, on Penobscot Bay, I’d walk downtown with a friend to the fish market and buy a half pint of crabmeat for lunch.  The crabmeat you find in Maine fish markets has been removed from the shell; some has already been cooked.  We usually just ate cooked crabmeat directly from the container, but sometimes we would take it home, add a dab of mayonnaise, and eat it in a hot-dog bun. As an adult, the hot-dog method is my preference.

I love New England hot-dog buns. For some odd reason you can’t get them anywhere else in the country.  They are split on top and connected to each other on the sides.  When separated, there is a flat surface on each side that can be buttered, then grilled.  Add a little crab meat with just a dab of mayo – soft in the middle, crispy on the outside — delicious.

The other day I had a hankering for crab.  Since we now live on the Third Coast, I knew there was no chance of getting my hands on fresh Maine crabmeat, so I decided to try the canned variety you see in the refrigerated section of some grocery stores.

IMG_4327 IMG_4334

I am guessing that the crab I bought is most likely from somewhere in Asia.  It is fully cooked in the can but is kept in the fridge.  Who knows why?  Anyway, after opening the can I quickly came to the conclusion that I would be highly disappointed if I ate this crabmeat with mayo only, in a bun.  It definitely needed some extra flavor, so I decided to use it to make crab cakes.

First I mixed together one egg, a dash of salt and pepper, a tablespoon of mayonnaise, juice and zest from one lemon, and a couple of squirts of both hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  I finely chopped two scallions and some fresh dill, and added them to the mixture.  (If I’d had fresh parsley, I would have used a little of that, too.)


I also added some Bell Seasoning, another New England specialty.  Made in Massachusetts and seldom seen farther afield, it is a mixture of herbs.  According to the description on the box, it is “a blend of rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, marjoram, thyme and pepper.”  Typically used with roast chicken, it is also great in tuna salad; in that case, I thought, it should work as an ingredient in crab cakes.  If you don’t have Bell Seasoning then you can use a blend of those herbs and spices listed above.


I added the crabmeat to the egg mixture and about 3/4 of a cup of bread crumbs.


I gently mixed the ingredients together and formed them into small cakes.


About once a week my husband and I eat dinner together after we have put the girls to bed, and this was one of those nights.  For us it is a date night at home, and usually when I try new recipes.  My husband enjoys being a guinea pig, and I am able to make an adventuresome meal without worrying whether the girls will like it or not.

The crab I bought was enough for eight crab cakes, so I kept out four for our meal and individually wrapped the other four in plastic wrap, put them in a sealed bag, and froze them for a future date night.


I heated the griddle on my stove to a medium temperature.  If you don’t have a griddle like mine, use a cast-iron frying pan or other heavy frying pan.  Once the griddle was hot, I drizzled in a little olive oil and fried the crab cakes on each side for about 3 or 4 minutes until they were nice and crisp on the outside and warm all the way through.


As you can see, they looked beautiful.  I served them with a little lemon juice and a nice salad.  Certainly not Maine crab but quite delicious anyway!


Crab Cakes

1 pound cooked crab meat

1 egg

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

zest and juice from 1 medium lemon

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Bell Seasoning

2 scallions, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped

3/4 cup fine, dry bread crumbs

salt and pepper

olive oil

Mix together the egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon zest, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.  Add a dash of salt and pepper, and the scallions and fresh dill.  Add the crabmeat to the egg mixture and gently mix in the bread crumbs.  Form into cakes.  Heat a cast-iron pan on medium heat.  Add a little olive oil when the pan is heated.  Cook the cakes until they are warm through the middle and golden brown on the outside.  Serve with lemon juice and tartar sauce.  Serves 4.

Panko Salmon

One of the best things about being the cook in the family is that we eat what I feel like eating on any given night.  As I pour myself a cup of coffee in the morning, I think about what we will be having for dinner that night.  If I am feeling ambitious, we’ll have an elaborate meal with many ingredients; if not, I might pull leftovers from the freezer.

Yesterday morning I felt the need for a really healthy meal that night.  The night before I had been to a cocktail party, where I had “passed food” for dinner.  It was to time for some real nourishment, so I pulled some flash-frozen wild Pacific Coast salmon from the freezer.


I decided to prepare this meal based on a pretty standard formula:  herbs, lemon zest, and panko crumbs.  Variations of this recipe have appeared in a number of cookbooks.  I chopped up some fresh dill and parsley, and added them to about a half cup of Panko crumbs. If you are unfamiliar with Panko, these are Japanese style dry bread crumbs that can be found in almost any grocery store.  I always keep them in my pantry because they tend to add a little more crunch than typical bread crumbs.  Next I added some lemon zest and olive oil for flavor.


I seasoned the salmon with salt and pepper.  I spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on top of each piece of salmon and then pressed the crumb mixture on top of that.


Now here’s the best part:  I heated a cast-iron pan on medium high, added some olive oil, and then pan fried the bottom of the salmon for about 3 to 4 minutes.  This sears the skin of the salmon and makes it nice and crispy.


Then I popped the pan into the oven at 400º for about 10 minutes.  I was careful not to overcook the salmon; if I did, it would be dry instead of nice and flaky.


I served the salmon with artichokes that I cooked for about 30 minutes in a large pot of boiling water with whole garlic and some lemon juice.  I had trimmed the stems and the tops off the artichokes with a heavy knife.


Artichokes are one of those rare vegetables that are better overcooked than undercooked.


The meal was truly delicious.  The salmon was so good, I still have a fond memory of it as I write this today.  The combination of the lemon zest, fresh herbs, and crispy crust qualifies this recipe for a go-to meal.

Panko Crusted Salmon

 3 to 4 four pieces of salmon

1/2 cup panko crumbs

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

zest of one lemon

olive oil

 Preheat oven to 400º.  Mix chopped herbs and lemon zest with panko crumbs and drizzle a little olive oil.  Season salmon with salt and pepper, then spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on each piece.  Press the crumb mixture on the salmon.  Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, add a little olive oil, sear the salmon for about 3 to 4 minutes, then put the pan in the oven.  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through.  Serves 4.

Steamed Mussels


Maine is famous for its rocky coastline; it has very few of the sandy beaches that you find, for example, on Cape Cod.   Go to any beach in mid-coast Maine, where I grew up, and you will find tons of rocks.  As a child, I had so much fun climbing on the rocks, crunching on barnacles, slipping on seaweed, and peering into tidal pools looking for sea urchins, hermit crabs, and starfish.  One sea creature that was abundant and easy to find was the mussel. They cling to tidal rocks in coastal Maine, and their empty shells litter the beaches.

I well remember collecting live mussels at low tide with my family. We would gather them in a bucket filled with seaweed and bring them home to be steamed.

Unfortunately, because these were truly wild mussels, eating them was not nearly as much fun as gathering them.  Most of the mussels were either very sandy, or full of little pearls that were crunchy and hard on the teeth.

As an adult I love to cook mussels for my family; that’s because I am able to buy the cultivated variety in the grocery store.  Sure, these days everybody loves the idea of foraging for their own food, but cultivated mussels are meaty and tasty, and they hardly ever have pearls or sand.  Plus, living in the Mid-West I have to accept that for now those days are over.

So, I recently made a trip to my local Costco to take advantage of their Fish Friday sale.  Every week they hold a special market with remarkable prices for fresh fish ranging from such shellfish as mussels, clams, and shrimp, to such meaty fish  as halibut and swordfish.  I bought a 5-pound bag of fresh Canadian mussels – more than enough to feed my family of four.

First, I rinsed the mussels under cold water and sorted through them, throwing out any that were open or had broken shells.  With a sharp knife, I removed the mussels’ beards.


A mussel’s beard, which the shellfish uses to anchor itself to a rock, looks somewhat like a bit of black seaweed.  It is easily removed from the shell.

Once the mussels were clean and free of beards, I sprinkled them with about 1/2 cup of cornmeal, covered them with water, and let them sit for about half an hour.



Cornmeal in water causes mussels to spit out any sand they might be harboring in their shells.  If you don’t have cornmeal, you could also cover them with milk, but I find that to be a little wasteful compared to the cornmeal method.

While the mussels rested in the cornmeal and water, I chopped up one onion, two cloves of garlic, two stalks of celery, and about a 1/3 cup of fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley.


Using a large Dutch oven, which I find best for steaming mussels, I heated about a tablespoon of olive oil and a half stick of butter over medium heat.  If you don’t have a Dutch oven, use a large, heavy pot.

After the butter melted, I added the garlic, celery, and onions, and cooked them until they were soft, then added the fresh parsley.


Meanwhile, I rinsed the mussels under cold water to eliminate excess cornmeal and any sand, then dumped them into the pot and added about a half bottle of dry white wine.


I turned the heat up to medium-high and covered the pot to steam the mussels.  They were cooked in about 8 to 10 minutes – I knew they were done when their shells were open.


I put the Dutch oven, mussels and all, directly on the table.  This is a wonderfully easy one-pot meal.


I serve steamed mussels with crusty French bread, warmed, and a salad.  French bread is great for dipping in the broth. Delicious!


 5 pounds fresh mussels

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 cup butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

 Rinse mussels in cold water.  Discard any broken or open mussels. Remove the beards  with a sharp knife. Put mussels in a bowl and sprinkle cornmeal over them.  Cover with cold water.  Allow to sit for about 30 minutes, then rinse to remove any cornmeal residue and sand.  

Heat a large, heavy pot, such as a dutch oven, over medium heat, and add butter and olive oil.  After they have melted, add the onions, garlic, and celery, cooking them until soft.  Add the parsley, then the mussels.  Pour about 1/2 a bottle of dry white wine over the mussels, turn the heat up to medium-high and cover.  Cook about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mussels have opened their shells.  Serve with warm French bread.

Serves 4