Dialing Down

During the current crisis, my schedule includes “musts” like brushing my teeth and “lesser musts” like taking the dog for an official “walk,”complete with time outs for sniffing and a visit to his favorite fire hydrant. There’s a grocery store less than a block away, but I haven’t been there in two weeks.

Taking stock, I have apples and oranges in the fridge, along with some cheese, yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, milk and low-fat (but really good) peanut butter. Add some basic condiments, canned goods and a few ready-to-use Chinese sauces, and that’s about it. The freezer is well stocked, as long as you’re in the mood for cod or chicken.

I defrosted some of the cod for dinner last night. It’s a mild flavored fish, which is a nice way of saying it’s a bit bland. That can actually be a plus, if you’re planning to pair the cod with an aggressively flavored sauce or pasta. I’ve also used cod in soups and stir-fries, since its sturdy flesh doesn’t fall apart after it’s cooked.

With time to spare, I browsed some of my favorite cookbooks, beginning with two written by Donna Hay, an Australian who knows how to format a recipe and make it doable, even for cooks with limited talent or time or both. A lot of her recipes use Asian ingredients, which feeds my passion for dishes from that part of the world, but she also does recipes rooted in the cuisines of Italy, Australia and the whole of Western Europe.

I’ve made her recipe for Caramelized Lime Fish before. The recipe calls for nesting the cooked fish on a bed of fresh cilantro, sliced scallions, and cucumbers sliced into ribbons. Scallions, cucumbers and cilantro aren’t part of my current inventory. Neither are fresh limes, although I do have some bottled lime juice. 

As for the soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar and chili flakes, those I have. Fish sauce is a must-have condiment for anyone who has any interest in making Southeast Asian food, a list that includes Thai and Vietnamese. It keeps well, and it’s widely available in mainstream grocery stores.

My pantry does include rice, so I simply used that as an accompaniment, along with some frozen veggies. I’ve always cooked with the idea of freezing or refrigerating what’s left and using it for another meal. I recently read an article that advised against freezing rice, but I’ve never had a problem. Frozen in serving-sized packets, it’s like money in the bank.

Caramelized Lime Fish

Serves 4

2 pounds firm white fish fillet

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons lime juice

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)


3 small cucumbers, sliced into ribbons

1/2 cup cilantro leaves

4 green onions, sliced

  1. Cut the fish into large pieces.
  2. Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat.
  3. Add the oil and fish, and cook for one minute on each side or until brown and sealed.
  4. Combine the lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, soy and chili (if using).
  5. Add the sauce to the pan. Cook, turning the fish once, for 4 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and the reduced sauce is sticky.
  6. Plate on a nest of cucumbers, cilantro leaves and green onions (if you have them). Spoon the remaining sauce over the fish and veggies.

From “The Instant Cook” by Donna Hay (Fourth Estate, $34.95) Fourth Estate is an imprint HarperCollins/Publishers

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