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4 seafood recipes to try during Lent

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Lent. It’s a time for reflection. A time for humility. And definitely a time for fish.

For most American Christians, Lent began Wednesday (for the Eastern Orthodox churches, it began Monday). That means believers will spend the next seven Fridays avoiding meat.

A large number of people during Lent turn instead to fish (though the Orthodox churches avoid fish with backbones, as well).

For this Lenten season, I made four appropriate dishes, two with fish and two with shellfish. Each one was so delicious that I’m afraid they may not be entirely in the spirit of somber reflection and self-sacrifice.

But that’s OK. They’re great to eat when it is not Lent, too.

I started with the most typical of all Lenten meals, at least in this town: fried fish. I humbly suggest it was better than anything you could get at a church, but that is probably because I made a relatively small batch, instead of the churches’ assembly-line cooking, and I used a slightly more expensive ingredient than they use.

The ingredient I used was panko bread crumbs for the breading. I had planned to use the traditional cornmeal, but I discovered as I started to cook that I had run out of the traditional cornmeal. So, panko – which I did have – it was.

And I’m glad it worked out just as I totally intentionally meant it to, because panko makes everything fried taste better. It gives it an extra crispy snap that is simply delightful.

Next up was a dish I hadn’t made in some time but has long been a favorite: Shrimp with Soy, Garlic, Ginger and Lemon. When I first met the friends of the woman who was to become my wife, this is the dish I made. One plateful, and they decided to like me.

With the ingredients listed in the name (shrimp, soy, garlic, ginger and lemon), it is not surprising that it has a certain Chinese flair. It is even stir-fried, though I have also had considerable success modifying the recipe slightly and cooking it on the grill.

Unlike simpler stir-fries, it requires a three-part procedure to cook. First, you make a marinade with all of the ingredients in the title, and more – sherry, for one. After you marinate the shrimp for an hour, you strain out the marinade and thicken it with a slurry of cornstarch and water to make an amazingly flavorful sauce.

Then comes the stir-frying of the shrimp, with more garlic and ginger, plus red bell pepper. Your house will smell as great as your dinner will taste.

My third dish was another old favorite and a traditional way to prepare fish: en papillote. The phrase means “in paper” or “in parchment,” and it refers to a way of wrapping fish or occasionally chicken in a sealed parchment packet along with vegetables and a splash of liquid, often wine.

You bake the packets in the oven, and the fish gently cooks in the steam that is created inside the packet.

This particular version begins with salmon, which is placed on top of a bed of sauteed carrots and mushrooms. Dill is placed on top of that – a natural with salmon – and plenty of shallots to provide a mild, earthy onion flavor. The fish was cooked to perfection, and the whole dish from presentation (everyone oohs and ahs when you cut open the packet) to taste was stunning.

My final dish came from a cookbook by Legal Seafood, the popular East Coast chain of seafood restaurants. The book says that the recipe is one of the restaurants’ most popular pasta dishes, which makes sense when you consider the main ingredients: scallops, heavy cream and mushrooms.

Imagine seared scallops served in an exquisite cream of mushroom soup sauce. Now imagine that the sauce gets its low notes from garlic and scallions, and its high from white wine, and it’s all piled atop bowtie pasta.

Yeah. It’s that good.

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FRIED CATFISH

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

1 cup milk

1 pound catfish fillets

Vegetable oil for frying

1 1 / 2 cups panko bread crumbs or cornmeal

2 tablespoons pepper

1 / 2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt to taste

Lemon wedges

1. Pour the milk into a bowl and let the catfish soak in it while you heat about 1 1 / 2 inches of oil in a large pan to about 375 degrees. Mix the panko or cornmeal in a plastic bag with the peppers and salt.

2. Drain the fillets; then shake them in the panko in the bag. Shake off any excess coating and fry them until golden brown on both sides, a total of about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Per serving (based on 4): 402 calories; 19 g fat; 13 g saturated fat; 66 mg cholesterol; 25 g protein; 33 g carbohydrate; 7 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 643 mg sodium; 125 mg calcium

Adapted from “Fish” by Mark Bittman

SALMON WITH FRESH DILL EN PAPILLOTE

Yield: 6 servings

5 carrots, peeled and trimmed

3 / 4 pound large mushrooms

4 tablespoons butter, divided

Juice of 1 lemon

3 / 4 cup scallions cut into 2-inch lengths

Salt and pepper

1 / 4 cup chopped fresh dill leaves

2 pounds salmon fillets, cut into 6 equal-size pieces

6 tablespoons chopped shallots

6 tablespoons dry white wine

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

2. Spread a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil or parchment paper on a flat surface. Invert a 12-inch round cake pan on the foil and trace around the pan with a sharp knife to make a 12-inch circle. Repeat this until you have 6 circles.

3. Cut the carrots crosswise into 1-inch lengths. Cut each piece lengthwise into matchstick strips.

4. Cut off and discard the stem of each mushroom and cut the cap into thin slices.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and lemon juice. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the carrots, scallions and salt; then cover and cook 7 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle the dill on top and stir well. Cover and set aside.

6. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan. Place the foil rounds on a flat surface and brush them with the melted butter. Spoon equal portions of the carrot mixture on each circle slightly below the center, leaving a margin large enough to fold over.

7. Lay a slice of salmon over each mound of vegetables. Sprinkle each serving with a tablespoon of shallots, a tablespoon of wine and salt and pepper.

8. Fold the foil to completely enclose the contents, while leaving some room for expansion. Crimp the seal as tightly as possible. Arrange the packages on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes.

Per serving: 351 calories; 18 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 104 mg cholesterol; 33 g protein; 10 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 496 mg sodium; 48 mg calcium

Adapted from “The Seafood Cookbook; Classic to Contemporary” by Pierre Franey and Bryan Miller

SHRIMP WITH SOY, GARLIC, GINGER AND LEMON

Yield: 4 servings

12 ounces shrimp, shelled but with the tail left on if possible

1 1 / 2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon plus 3 / 4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger, divided

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons minced garlic, divided

1 / 4 teaspoon pepper

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons medium-dry sherry

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons oil (not olive)

1 / 2 cup cubed red bell peppers

1 / 2 bunch watercress with bottom 1 inch of the stems cut off, optional

Hot cooked rice or Asian noodles

1. In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the ginger, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of the garlic, pepper and sherry. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Drain shrimp, retaining the marinade.

2. Mix the water with the cornstarch and the reserved marinade, and stir well to dissolve the cornstarch. In a small saucepan, bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Set aside.

3. In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the shrimp, the remaining 1 teaspoon of garlic and remaining 3 / 4 teaspoon of ginger. Stir fry over high heat for 30 seconds. Add the sweet red peppers and cook, stirring, for another 30 seconds. Add the sauce and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat and immediately add the watercress, if using. Serve at once over rice or Asian noodles.

Per serving (using 2 cups total cooked white rice): 297 calories; 8 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 137mg cholesterol; 24 g protein; 32 g carbohydrate; 3 g sugar; no fiber; 481 mg sodium; 65 mg calcium

Recipe from “The Frog-Commissary Cookbook” by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller

SCALLOPS AND MUSHROOM BOWTIE PASTA

Yield: 4 servings

4 to 6 ounces portobello mushrooms

1 cup heavy cream

1 / 4 cup dry white wine

8 ounces bowtie pasta

Vegetable oil (not olive)

1 1 / 2 pounds sea scallops

1 cup chopped scallions, white parts only, or sweet onions

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 / 4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

1. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and coarsely chop them. Slice the caps and set aside.

2. Place the mushroom stems and the cream in a small, nonreactive saucepan. Bring the cream to a boil and gently boil for at least 10 minutes or until the cream is reduced by half. Pour in the wine and boil for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Set the mixture aside. This sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before using.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook until cooked through but still firm, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the brand.

4. Meanwhile, put enough oil in a very hot pan to film it lightly. Add the scallops and sear lightly on both sides (they will continue to cook as the recipe continues); their surface should be a light, nutty brown. Add the mushroom caps, scallions and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes or until the mushrooms are barely cooked through. Stir in the reserved mushroom sauce and reheat gently.

5. Drain the pasta thoroughly and mix with the scallop mixture. Sprinkle with the parsley. Season liberally with salt and pepper to taste.

Per serving: 439 calories; 16 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 62 mg cholesterol; 23 g protein; 62 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 1,059 mg sodium; 58 mg calcium

Adapted from “The New Legal Sea Foods Cookbook” by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer