Part of an occasional series about cooking from scratch, even though I don’t actually like to cook.
Last night’s dinner was partly a happy accident and partly the result of advance planning on my part. Allow me to explain. (I should also mention that there was less cooking from scratch involved and more opening packaging, which is not how I normally do things, but again, I shall explain all.)
My family really likes fish and chips. You know, the kind you get in a traditional English pub, along with a side of peas. Or, in a more recent example, at a slightly skeevy walk-in shop in New Zealand and then consumed in the camper. But what’s a family of Anglophiles to do when not in England or New Zealand or any other marvelous Commonwealth countries? (Okay, 75% of the Jenworld crowd loves the stuff. Me? I’m okay with it.)
I should be able to make fish and chips at home, but I don’t own a deep fryer and, even if I did, it’s not really my inclination to batter and deep fry anything, especially not fish that will make Jenworld stink to high heaven. Rather, I prefer to bread things using slightly healthier ingredients and then bake everything. Pete would tell you — and he would be right — that it’s just not the same as deep fried at all, but I find that my baked substitutes are reasonable alternatives to needing a quadruple bypass at 48.
While I was at Whole Paycheck last weekend, I looked in the freezer section and found some breaded fish filets and I also picked up a bag of frozen fries, just to have on hand for a last-minute fish and chips mini-festival.
And then there’s Pete’s and my food obsession with poutine. Of the three ingredients — fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds — the cheese curds are the most difficult for us to source locally. As in, it’s damn near impossible. We’ve visited different stores and talked with the professionals behind the cheese counters. We’ve spoken with local dairy farmers. We’ve even looked for mail order sources. No luck. The closest we’ve come is using fresh mozzarella that we’ve drained thoroughly and coarsely chopped, but it’s just not the same, I tell you.
Yesterday, a friend — a really good friend, it would seem — tweeted to me that he’d found cheese curds in a local store. (Locals, it’s the Kroger at Hydraulic and 29. On the end of the freestanding fridge in front of the deli counter. Caveat: They’re not fresh enough to squeak.)
I immediately emailed Pete at work to see if he wanted poutine for dinner and he agreed with alacrity, but also with a bit of hesitation, because why get excited if the elusive cheese curds did not materialize?
We got massive thunderstorms yesterday — the kind that come with tornado warnings — so I wasn’t able to rush out immediately and corner the local cheese curds market. Luckily Mother Nature’s hissy fit abated by mid-afternoon and I was able to zip out to the store to find the alleged cheese curds. Success! By 5:30, I was preparing the various components of dinner.
Those of you who know my children know that they do not like poutine, so I draw your attention to the first part of this post where I discussed a secret stash of fish and chips in the freezer. And we always — ALWAYS — have peas in the freezer. Because you can’t have pub grub without peas.
While dinner was baking away, I ate a small plate of mixed raw vegetables so that 1) I’d get some healthy foods and 2) I wouldn’t be so hungry that I’d be tempted to ingest a huge amount of poutine. Mission accomplished.
Dinner was delicious and everyone was happy. I had some of the girls’ fish and was pleased with the flavor — the bread coating was crunchy, not mushy, and in my opinion, it was better than battered fish. Heresy, for fish and chips purists, I know, but I don’t care. I’ll totally buy those filets again.
So that’s how we were able to have some pub grub on a rainy Tuesday evening without actually being in rainy England or Canada. I will say that I could have cooked more of dinner from scratch and here’s how, broken down into the different ingredients:
- Fish – There are certainly battered options available in pretty much all grocery store freezer case and you could probably fry them on your stove top. On the other end of the spectrum, you could make the fillets at home. For the traditional battered version, try this recipe. For a healthier option, try this one.
- Fries – Both of the linked recipes above include french fry recipes, but what I do at home is super easy: I cut Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes into long wedges, toss them with a bit of olive oil and kosher salt, and then bake them on a greased baking sheet at 400 until they’re golden brown (turning at least once so that they’re cooked evenly).
- Gravy – You can buy gravy in jars, cans, and envelopes or you can make it. The sad irony of last night’s dinner is that we’d had pot roast the night before and didn’t think to save the leftover broth, which would have been the perfect start to a good brown gravy. Luckily, you can also start brown gravy by making the beef broth using bouillon or you can buy the broth. You have lots of options here, depending on your time, budget, and kitchen skillz. Here’s a basic gravy recipe that you can refine to suit your own tastes.
- Peas – Open your freezer, pull out a bag of frozen peas, pour some in a bowl, microwave for 2-3 minutes, and then add a little salt and butter to taste. Easy peasy.
So that’s how we had pub grub for dinner last night. The only thing that would have improved it would have been even we’d eaten in a more pub-like atmosphere. During Virginia’s Garden Week in April, I visited an estate that has a small free-standing pub on its grounds. It had everything — a large wooden bar counter, wood paneled walls, a red and black tartan carpet, a stone fireplace with a roaring fire, and even comfy leather chairs by the fire. Now wouldn’t that be an amazing thing to recreate in the Man Cave in our basement?