Unstuffed fish

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One of my early favorite restaurant dishes was flounder stuffed with crabmeat. This was often laden with bread crumbs, cream, or both, and always delicious—if a bit heavy. I sought to find this recipe recently, and to my surprise, couldn’t find one in my many cookbooks, despite a careful review of “Curries and Kebabs,” “Step by Step Lebanese Cooking,” “Kids’ Favorite Recipes,” and “The Art of Mixing Drinks.” Lest you think I am being funny, I also struck out in my cookbook simply entitled “Crab,” despite the promising opening line “It’s a crabby world out there!”

Therefore, as this column (and this lawyer) often does, I winged it.

Roumel Rule #1: use quality ingredients. Sorry Dad, I know you never got over Mom mixing Crown Royal with ginger ale for her bridge club. You’ve been rolling over in your grave about this, starting 50 years before you were buried. But the fact remains, even when mixing ingredients, use the best of everything.

Roumel Rule #2: measure nothing. Yes, recipes include precise measurements. But they are arbitrary. When Bill Buford was interning with Mario Batali for his book “Heat,” he asked Batali why his pasta recipes varied from 1 clove of garlic to as much as six. Batali shrugged.

One more note about measuring: as you gain more experience in the kitchen, you get a feel for what a dish needs. Sure, sometimes, you blow it. I’ve oversalted and otherwise ruined many a dinner by adding “more cowbell.” Those problems can be avoided by a minimalist approach.

That’s what I was going for when I made my unstuffed fish. I started with a nice whitefish fillet, a heap of snow crab legs, and some hefty shrimp. You don’t need to add much to that. I steamed the crab, sautéed the shrimp in butter, and mixed in the crab meat. Then I added lemon and fresh dill, and some chopped green onion. Tossed this on top of the separately baked fish, and viola.

I did actually commence to stuff the fish. I tried a delicate sidewise cut, to no avail. Some recipes call for rolling the fish, or “sandwiching” the stuffing between fillets. Ultimately I decided on the simpler approach. To the best of my faulty memory, this is what I did:

Unstuffed, Unmeasured Fish

Delicate fillet like whitefish, flounder, or sole

Crabmeat (I used snow crab legs)

Shrimp (these days I’m using flash frozen wild caught Gulf shrimp; thaw first)

Butter

Oil

Dill, chopped fresh, and/or parsley

Green onion

Salt and pepper

Lemon

Maybe some paprika. I forget.

1.  Rub the fish with oil, salt, pepper, lemon, and some fresh dill. Let sit for at least a few minutes or longer in the refrigerator if you can.

2.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the fish, skin side down, probably about 15 minutes for a thin fillet.

3.  Steam the crab legs. Let cool and remove the meat and roughly chop it.

4.  Chop and sauté the shrimp in butter. When it is done, toss it with the crabmeat, lemon, dill, green onion, salt, and pepper.

5.  Carefully remove the fish and place it on a serving platter. Top with the crab and shrimp mixture, more fresh herbs, perhaps a dusting of paprika. Serve immediately.

I would offer this with steamed new potatoes with butter and parsley, and fresh broccoli with lemon. A salad here is overkill, though starting perhaps with oysters or a cold soup, like gazpacho or vichyssoise, would be grand.

I recommend a crisp chardonnay. Much as I appreciate a sauvignon blanc, this classy dinner deserves a classic wine.

Pour as much as you want – no one’s measuring.

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and wrote a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.
 

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