This coming Friday night is no ordinary Shabbat on the calendar. This Friday night will be erev chag, the eve of the momentous holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah. Come Saturday night, many will celebrate with the traditional custom of learning Torah all through the night. And many will be happy to enjoy (and indulge!) in dairy holiday meals – a custom based on the historical necessity of the time. Having just received the Torah at Mount Sinai, a completely new set of laws to live by, we were not yet equipped for accomplishing ritually kosher slaughter, nor had we kosher vessels to cook in…and thus the first Jewish dairy holiday was born.
It is no secret that I relish the opportunity to put out my finest dairy meals, designing creative dairy menus and pulling out all of the involved (and yes, highly caloric) buttery recipes that rarely have a chance to grace my table the rest of the year. On Shavuot, I feel like a painter with an empty canvas just looking forward to making broad strokes. Fish dishes take center stage (instead of meats) and get the spotlight they deserve; salads get a creamier (or cheesier) treatment; and desserts….well, all I can say is: CREAM!!!
While teaching a recent pre-Shavuot cooking class and fielding a barrage of questions, I realized just how many people feel challenged by preparing fish. It’s easy to cook fish, but very easy to ruin it as well. When people claim that they don’t “like” fish, what they are really objecting to are all of the tell-tale signs of ill-prepared fish:
“It smells fishy.”
“It’s too dry”
If you’ve ever felt this way about a piece of fish, it was most likely over-cooked or just wasn’t fresh enough by the time it was made. How do I know this? Because good, fresh fish that has been prepared well is moist, tender and flavorful (and no, not fishy). With that said, just a couple of quick reminders to boost your fish cooking attempts before the holiday (and the rest of the year too):
- A quick cook: Fish are delicate creatures to cook – their flesh cooks quickly, much faster than most people realize. Do not cook your fillets too long or the fish will be tough, rubbery or smelly.
- Flake it, Baby! Cook the fish only until it flakes easily at the touch of a fork or reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F° at the center of the thickest part (particularly helpful when cooking a whole fish).
- TIME IT! Fillets should get the “10-minute” rule – a maximum total of 10 minutes of cook time per inch of thickness (measured at the thickest part). *While this is generally true, some fish, such as tuna, is best served rare, so it should be undercooked.
- Go Fresh! Make sure the fish you use is as fresh as possible. Look for: glistening flesh, un-cloudy eyes, and a mostly odorless smell.
- Store it well. If you’re not cooking up your fresh fish that day, take it out of its packaging, rinse and pat it dry, then wrap it in wax/parchment paper and plastic wrap. It can then be refrigerated or frozen until usage. Removing the excess moisture and air will keep it fresher longer and prevent freezer burn.
Even if you are armed with these helpful basics, there are some recipes which can be made ahead and reheat well and some which…well, you’d better just eat it right out of the pan. Choose carefully as far as holiday planning and entertaining is concerned. The following fish recipe can be made ahead and then reheated gently with fairly good results; alternatively, it can also be assembled ahead and then baked immediately prior to serving time.
Whichever fish dish or cheesecake you choose, make it something that your family will enjoy. More than anything, I’m happy to celebrate the holiday with joyous foods, ones that enhance and uplift the day and remind us of the tremendous gift that Shavuot marks.
Mushroom-Stuffed Fillet of Sole
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tbsp. butter, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
10 oz. Cremini mushrooms, sliced
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups (about 5 slices) toasted, cubed bread (crusts removed)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
8 Sole fillets, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Garnishes: Fresh chopped parsley, lemon slices
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13” casserole dish; set aside.
Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. When butter is melted and begins to foam, add onion and shallots. Sauté for about 5-6 minutes, until onions are soft and translucent. Add mushrooms; season liberally with salt, pepper and thyme. Stir to blend; sauté for another 2-3 minutes or until mushrooms are wilted. Remove from heat. Gently fold in bread cubes, turning to coat well with butter. Add parmesan; mix to blend and distribute. Set aside and cool slightly.
Rinse fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Season fillet pieces with salt and pepper. Place a heaping mound of stuffing mixture (approximately 3-4 tablespoons) in the center of the fillet. Using your hands, wrap the fish around the stuffing, and carefully place the stuffed roll (seam-side down) in the prepared casserole dish. Repeat with remaining fillets. Dot each roll with small pieces of the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.
Combine sour cream, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Whisk until well blended. Spoon sauce over each fillet roll; sprinkle with paprika. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes – sauce should appear bubbly. Serve stuffed rolls garnished with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and lemon slices.
Best Wishes for a Chag Sameach,
Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross