A number of years ago I attempted to become a vegetarian. I had already given up red meat years before (as I have written here before), so it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice to stop eating poultry and seafood. I knew a number of meat-free recipes, so the proverbial ‘hole in the plate’ would not exactly be a problem for me.
I had no social or political motivations for that move, and I wasn’t exactly planning to be strict about it. I would not refuse to eat an occasional hot dog during a summer outing or a chicken-based meal when at a restaurant – I just would not cook any of it at home. I kept at that for about a year and a half, when Renata and I took our first trip to Brazil together back in 2007. And then I was reminded of my love of seafood, which for whatever reason had remained a bit dormant during my initial seven years in New York.
As I remember we had just visited Fortaleza’s artisan center in the downtown area, and then we decided to go to the Dragao do Mar Cultural Center, a massive structure built in a former red light district where you can find a library, a bookstore, art galleries, cinemas, a museum, a planetarium, an educational center, restaurants and performance spaces. We sat, ordered a beer and peered at the menu. We were immediately taken by the house dish named after the legendary 19th century abolitionist whose nickname gives the center its name. As memory serves, it was grilled fish served with a tomato-based sauce, rice and spiced yucca flour (farofa). We ordered and were delighted with it, and there ended my vegetarian project – also, I had vowed I’d go to the beach to eat stewed crabs – a local tradition – so the idea of going meat-free was pretty much doomed from the moment we stepped off the plane.
Today seafood is a staple in our diet. I cook fish or shrimp at least twice a week (usually on Fridays) and I cannot get enough of it. I often cook moqueca (Brazilian fish stew with palm oil, coconut and vegetables) but I try to find new ways of cooking and presenting the dishes. I also like to make seafood on my electric grill and am always trying to find new recipes to change things up during our customary dinner-and-movie sessions we usually have on Sundays at home – a time when I take more time to make more elaborate dishes that I don’t have the time to prepare during the weekday rush.
I always try to get the freshest product possible. I do buy frozen fish when there is nothing else available, because there is a huge difference in flavor. I recall buying fish in Fortaleza during that same 2007 trip to make moqueca – I got fresh coconut milk, recently caught shrimp and other spices. A few days later in New York I attempted to cook the same dish using refrigerated fish from the supermarket, canned coconut milk and other ingredients – the flavor was dramatically different – it just missed that freshness that I encountered in Brazil days before.
Recipe: Fish in Polish sauce
(From the book Russian, Polish and German Cooking)
Note: this dish is Polish in name only – it is not at all part of the country’s cuisine
4 flounder fillets (or other firm fish)
6 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the fish on a sheet of greased aluminum foil on a broiler rack. Melt the butter in a small pan and brush a little on the fish. Season with salt and pepper.
Broil the fish under medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until just cooked. Transfer to a warmed plate
Add the eggs, dill and lemon juice to the melted butter in the pan. Heat gently for 1 minute. Pour over the fish just before serving. Garnish with lemon slices and serve with boiled baby carrots or sautéed potatoes.