Simple Fried Fish, or Where Food Comes From

Simple Fried Fish, or Where Food Comes From
Here's Cash at age two holding a whole fish, from our fish share, on which I later practiced my filleting skills.

Here's Cash at age two holding a whole fish, from our fish share, on which I later practiced my filleting skills.

As the summer (very slowly) approaches, I always crave more fish on the dinner table. We like to have salmon and tuna sashimi pretty often, but also, it's wonderful to pan-fry a white fish such as haddock or cod for a simple hot-weather dinner. Tonight, (on our way home from scootering and biking on Halifax's amazing Oval) the kids and I stopped by Hooked Halifax. I actually intended to buy some salmon fillets, but I spied some small, whole fish, called Tom Cod, that were from the Minas Basin, right here in Nova Scotia. So I asked Dave how he would cook them. He suggested pan-frying them whole, and peeling the spine and bones out once they were cooked. He offered to gut them for me, and asked if I wanted the heads to stay on, to which I answered an emphatic yes. I think it's so important to let kids know at every turn where their food is coming from. 

An early fan: Polly at 22 months, enjoying an oyster

An early fan: Polly at 22 months, enjoying an oyster

Now here's a fun fact: Hooked Halifax is selling these Tom Cod for $5 a pound. Dinner for our family of four ran me less than $7. It's locally caught AND inexpensive, plus you get the whole animal, which is sustainable and educational. Hooked Halifax is a superb operation. They know so much about where their fish is sourced from and they get so excited about kids who like oysters! Dave always shucks one for each kid, that they can snack on in the shop. Last weekend, we visited Hooked downtown, in the Historic Farmer's Market, and Cash ate 11 oysters (!). 

Our kids love fish, and they also adore oysters, of which we bought a few tonight. Polly was so tired that she ate two oysters for dinner and went to bed. Cash, however, ate a whole Tom Cod plus another half and declared several times, "I love this fish!" 

I think that if we talk to our kids about where and how their food is grown and raised as early as possible, we give them tools to make sustainable and healthy food choices later in life. The child who knows that fish have heads and were caught and killed for us to eat them is the child who may think more critically about where his food comes from, how high on the food chain he'd like to eat, and for what other reasons we might choose certain ingredients. After dinner, we ended up having a thoughtful discussion about vegetarianism. 

Cash at dinner tonight, showing me the spine of the fish. That's the head on his plate - you can see the head more clearly in the title photo of this post. 

Cash at dinner tonight, showing me the spine of the fish. That's the head on his plate - you can see the head more clearly in the title photo of this post. 

One of my favourite meals as a child was when my Dad used to make fried fish, which my sister and I called "Spicy Fish" because of the coating he used. His big trick was frying in bacon fat. My version uses olive oil and butter, and breadcrumbs. This is a very straightforward meal, and we make it often. If you have whole, small fish, such as the Tom Cod we ate tonight, omit the breading steps, and simply fry the little fish in butter and oil in a hot pan.

Tonight at dinner we told Cash his Papa would be proud that he loves fish so much. Hats off, Dad, and thanks for all the fish.

Simple Fried Fish

1 lb white fish fillets, such as haddock or cod
Olive oil and butter, for pan
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 cup breadcrumbs (I love panko, the flaky Japanese-style breadcrumbs, because they produce such a crunchy coating - they actually contain yeast! But I often make my own breadcrumbs, too. Whatever works for you!)

Dry the fish with paper towels, and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Preheat a heavy, non-stick pan (cast-iron is ideal) to medium-high, and add the olive oil and butter. (Olive oil helps prevent butter from burning too quickly and adds lovely flavour, too.) Place the flour in one bowl, the eggs in another bowl, and the breadcrumbs in a third bowl (much like young Cash is demonstrating in the nearby photo).

To cook, dip each fillet into the bowls in this sequence: Flour, eggs, breadcrumbs. Then place the fillet in the hot pan. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until browned (depending on the thickness of your fillets) and then flip over and cook for 2 minutes on the other side. Eat immediately, accompanied by a squeeze of lemon, a little lesson in food sourcing, or, as my Dad would have, with a few boiled potatoes.