Paper Fishes

24 Oct

I suffer from intense paper towel-guilt.

Unlike my battle with saran wrap, this guilt stems not from the product’s inefficiencies.  No. My paper towel-guilt is born entirely from my own inefficiencies.  There is nothing I hate more than having to grab the roll of towels, yet again, because I have caused a huge mess in the kitchen (living room/bathroom/dining room) due to my need to act first and think later.

Isaac and I are currently upstate.  We both desperately needed the break–for our sanity and health–and, we needed to get someone in to clean the chimney.  It sounded like the perfect excuse for taking a few days off.  Yesterday, after having to shame-facedly ask the chimney sweep how to start a fire in a wood-burning stove, I set to making a chicken stock out of the carcass of the frankenchicken I had pot-roasted two weekends ago.

Everything was going along swimmingly until it came time to strain the stock.  I pulled out a storage container and my sieve and started pouring… the soup all over the counter top.  Swearing loudly, I set the pot of stock down and grabbed the paper towels.  As I was mopping-up the mess it occurred to me that I would be better off putting the sieve in a bowl with a pour-spout, pouring the stock into the bowl, then transferring it into the storage container.  Apparently there is some truth to that old adage “haste makes waste,” and I’m living proof of it!

But there is one time where I never feel bad about using paper towels, and that’s while cooking fish; especially breaded and pan-fried fish.  I proclaim to not be a big fan of fish, but this is really a load of rot.  I do like fish, just most of the time I don’t care for how other people prepare it.  When I finally give in to Isaac’s wishes and cook fish at home, nine times out of 10 I love it.  And then I get all enthusiastic and say, “I love fish! I’m  going to eat it all the time!” And then I run out at lunch and get a salmon salad and remember that most people cannot cook fish to save their lives.

But there is one person out there that can cook fish, reliably and beautifully, and can translate his recipes into print. It’s Nigel Slater.  I love Nigel, as if he were a favored uncle.  I love the way he thinks and the way he writes and the way he talks about food and gardening and eating, the way his recipes are just so barely recipes, more like sketches.

I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired in the cooking-sense lately.  I attribute this entirely to the credit crisis.  I wake up and work.  I go to work and work.  And then when I get home I lie on the couch and shut my brain off, and sometimes work.  My Google reader is permanently stuck in the 1000+ mode.  I can’t remember the last time I had the chance to really sit down, relax and browse through some blogs, bookmarking recipes I want to try and absorbing inspiration.  But, seriously, after spending 12 hours a day, or more, staring at a computer screen, the very last thing I want to do is get home and stare at one some more.

So, last week, in an attempt to reboot my creative cooking processes, I grabbed Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries and burrowed into the couch.  As always, Nigel provided, amply.  In one of the fall months (I can’t remember which, and don’t have the book up here with me) was a recipe for fennel, pear and watercress salad and another for haddock breaded with tarragon bread crumbs and anchovies.  Though they were part of two separate meals, they sounded like they’d be divine together to me.  And they were.

I made Nigel’s breading mixture a bit more bold with the addition of finely minced garlic, and carried the tarragon into the dressing for the salad, and I used sole instead of haddock because our fish monger didn’t have any.  And the meal was perfect.  After a quick drain on some paper towels, the fish was crispy, moist and utterly delicious.  I immediately wanted seconds, but resisted.  The leftovers were perfect a few nights later, warmed in the oven, and served over a bed of watercress and buttery lettuces.

So, no recipes from me, because they really are Nigel’s and you deserve to hear about them from him, and then take them and run with them and make them your own.  Even if it does involve using paper towels.

12 Responses to “Paper Fishes”

  1. Julie October 24, 2008 at 12:47 pm #

    I love Nigel too. I find reading him very satisfying and love the almost poetic way his recipes read. Curled up on the couch with a fire in the woodstove and Nigel in hand sounds like a completely relaxing way to spend time. Which it sounds like you need!

  2. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) October 24, 2008 at 2:58 pm #

    I’m so glad that the country is providing respite and clarity and peace of mind. I am always glad to be in my little country house, too.

  3. danamccauley October 24, 2008 at 4:10 pm #

    That sounds (and looks) like a great meal. I could dig in right now.

  4. Christina October 24, 2008 at 7:21 pm #

    Enjoy your reprieve upstate–you certainly deserve it.

    Lovely meal.

  5. WillB October 25, 2008 at 6:20 pm #

    Sometimes you just have to make a mess. Don’t you get satisfaction out of how great it looks when you’ve cleaned it up? And I love fish too, but you get the same ol same ol – a smelly house. Yet another reason for that outdoor grill! Just get one with the extra burner alongside and voila! No muss, no fuss – and no smelly house! (I must confess – it was a great day for quiche, so I whipped up a crabmeat, asparagus, mushroom and swiss masterpiece. Yum! And only a little smelly.) Enjoy the short days – just right for settling in with a good (recipe) book!

  6. ann October 27, 2008 at 7:51 am #

    Julie — It was so nice. And this is an absolutely *delicious* recipe. If you have Kitchen Diaries, I highly recommend looking it up.

    Lydia — Its becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity these days!

    Dana — It was wonderful, thanks!

    Christina — You know how I spent at least one night. thanks for the recipe :-)

    Will — I can’t wait for my grill. Yay!

  7. Sandie October 28, 2008 at 12:22 pm #

    There isn’t a thought in this post that I can’t identify with. Thanks for the introduction to Nigel Slater. I’ll be looking into his “sketches.”

  8. Marielle October 28, 2008 at 2:27 pm #

    Hi. My name is Marielle and I am a paper towel addict. I can’t live without them–I’ve recently tried. I soon found myself sneaking to the corner grocery and paying too much because I couldn’t wait for a trip to Costco or to WalMart. I hate WalMart, but they have the nifty Bounty Select-a-Size and Costco doesn’t. I appease my guilt somewhat by using these smaller paper towels.

    Just recently my husband confessed his paper towel addiction. We are not a family in recovery.

    During a recent attempted withdrawal we drained fried white corn tortillas on newspaper. What the… We thought newspaper was absorbent. We use this fiasco as an excuse for our addiction.

  9. Sally Moon October 29, 2008 at 4:24 pm #

    I also use select a size..it helps with the guilt.

  10. ann October 30, 2008 at 7:46 am #

    Sandie — You;ll love him! i guarantee

    Marielle — you made me laugh so hard, thanks

    Sally – thanks to yyou too, i’ll have to loo kinto those!

  11. Toni October 30, 2008 at 11:13 pm #

    I’ve never made excuses for my paper towel addiction. As environmentally conscious as I try to be, paper towels are off the radar for some reason. I have a friend who uses cloth towels to dry her lettuce leaves. Are you kidding??? No thanks!

    I confess I have yet to look into a Nigel Slater book, but I’m such a fan of your posts that I’ll be heading over to Borders this weekend. I love, love, love your photos Ann……..As always……

    And oh yes, do I understand the need to get away from everything!

  12. Jill November 4, 2008 at 3:40 pm #

    The only way to kill an addiction is to go cold turkey. I’ve bought cloth napkins and lots of dishtowels. The withdraw was short and I’m now guilt free…at least where paper towels are concerned :o)

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