I have a few favorite people in this world, who probably don’t know they hold such a place in my heart. There’s Dee, at Highland Company Gourmet Market, who raises her own cattle, cattle that provide the best beef I’ve ever tasted. There’s Carol, at La Maison du Cheese (yes, that’s “The House of Cheese” in French, err, French-American) who bakes like a dream, a really, really delicious dream, things like croissants with brie and roasted pear inside, and pecan sticky buns.
There’s Emil and Joe at Maresca and Sons Fine Meats, who have the best pork belly and sausages. And David and Patty at Podere di Melo farm, who have the chickens that I’m forever waxing sentimental over, the only chickens that I eat anymore, whose bones make for the best, happiest stock. There’s crisp, sweet, unbelievably good apples up the road at Solebury Orchards, and even more a little further, at Manoff Market Gardens.
There’s the gang at Bobolink Dairy, who are over 2 hours away from me, but whose cheese makes every mile of the drive worth it, and whose roasted garlic and duck fat bread is liable to make me weep the whole way home. There’s Blue Moon Acres, the specialty organic lettuce farm that opens for only a few hours each week, and is known for providing some of the best NYC restaurants with their greens, the farm that I make it to practically every week despite the time constraints, and whose lettuce makes everyone I feed it to do a double take, because Really? Is lettuce supposed to taste this good?
And there’s The Seafood of Buckingham Valley, or Buckingham Seafood, as everyone calls it. It’s almost indecent, really, for us to be able to buy such great seafood, fresh as can be, out in the country where we’re already spoiled with pastured eggs and heirloom pork, and all the fresh apple cider we could ask for. But, thankfully, this isn’t just a farm-area, this is a foodie-area, and we want it all, the best of everything, and (it never ceases to make me smile) there’s wonderful people willing to give it to us.
Everyone who lives here and likes fish talks about Buckingham Seafood, and how dedicated the family-run business is to their product. They love fish, that’s for certain. Sometimes, we’ll go there and Nick will tell us that they’ve been restraining themselves from eating all of the tuna that day, cut from a fatty piece of belly, and that we’d be crazy not to buy it while it’s still there.
Their whole fish is always as fresh as can be, with clear, glossy eyes, and the smell of sea, not fish. Jim and I make a lot of whole fish, it’s a weeknight go-to meal, and though it may seem daunting if you’ve never cooked whole fish before, it’s really easy, well, maybe not easier than sauteing a fillet, but cheaper than fillets, and worth learning. The main thing, I think, is to make sure that the first few times you try your hand at whole fish, you’re cooking for people who you don’t feel uncomfortable telling them there might be a few bones to pick through. Because while it’s easy to fillet a whole fish, it can make you a little bit anxious the first time, and unless you’re with friends, you’re liable to sit there picking out bones long enough that the fish turns cold. After a few times, though, you’ll get the hang of it, and know just where most of the bones lie, and how to fillet around them, or where to quickly pick them out of the fillet.
Steamed with ginger and scallions was the first preparation that Jim and I ever used for whole fish, and it’s a simple winner. With nothing more than pantry staples and a whole fish (snapper or black bass are good choices) you can put together a delicious meal in about 30 minutes. We usually serve this with plain white rice on the side, sauced with some of the liquid that remains in the baking dish, but I’ll also braise some green beans with garlic and ginger if I’m feeling energetic enough at 8 o’clock on a weeknight, the time we usually get around to making dinner.
But before you go running off to find a local fish market, I want to thank you for your comments last post. They cheered me up during rough nights, when I read through your condolences, and it was wonderful to hear how many of you would like an onion and peanut butter sandwich!
Whole Snapper with Ginger and Scallions
1 (3-lb) whole red snapper or black bass, cleaned, leaving head and tail intact
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts cut into very thin 2-inch strips and greens reserved separately
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very thin matchsticks
3 tablespoons light soy sauce (preferably Pearl River Bridge brand)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Put baking dish in roasting pan.
Rinse fish and pat dry, then rub inside and out with salt. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with scallion strips (white and pale green) and ginger.
Stir together soy sauce and sugar until sugar is dissolved, then pour over fish. Add enough boiling-hot water to roasting pan to reach halfway up side of baking dish. Oil a large sheet of heavy-duty foil, then tent foil (oiled side down) over fish and tightly seal around roasting pan. Carefully transfer roasting pan to oven and bake until fish is just cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes.
While fish bakes, cut enough scallion greens diagonally into very thin slices to measure 1/2 cup (reserve remainder for another use).
Just before serving, remove foil from fish and sprinkle with scallion greens. Heat oil over high heat until just smoking. Remove from heat and immediately pour oil over scallion greens and fish.