I’ve lived in Maine for nearly 36 years, but I’m originally from upstate New York on Lake Ontario, an area that was settled by Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Poland. The town where I was brought up is located in what is often referred to as “the haddock belt” and I was raised in a big Catholic family where Friday night fish dinners were the norm.

Even to this day, you don’t have to drive very far between Buffalo and Albany to find a “fish fry stand” or a church, grange or VFW Hall serving a Friday night fish dinner. That fish, served on a bun, in a basket with fries, or on a plate with veggies is always haddock that has been brought in from the shores of Cape Cod or even as far away as Iceland or Norway.

In my hometown, it’s a very typical thing to say, “Let’s go out for a fish.”

Ever since I can remember, I have loved haddock and it’s still my No. 1 meal to order when I go out. I know ALL the best places, both in upstate New York and here in Midcoast Maine. I’ve been on many a pilgrimage to locate the perfect fried haddock. It’s definitely a “thing” for me!

Believe it or not, I have a way to cook haddock at home that I like even better though. It’s super easy, economical and certainly healthier than that crispy delicacy I’m so very fond of. This rendition of haddock is a great week-night meal and also something special enough for company.

As a matter of fact, the first time I ever enjoyed haddock prepared this way was at a dinner party at a friend’s house in Scarborough. I thought it was genius of her to make such a simple, delicious dish. Judy served the fish with oven fries, fresh green beans, and a salad. The evening proved to be wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable and there was minimal clean-up.

Since that evening many years ago, I have come up with this standard haddock meal that all my friends and family members are familiar with and request again and again.

To complement the fish, I serve potatoes with some green vegetables that I roast together on a sheet pan and add a simple salad of butter lettuce with red grapefruit sections, topped with a dressing made by mixing a bit of the juice from the grapefruit with a tablespoon or two of blood orange-flavored olive oil. These bright but mild flavors don’t over-power the delicacy of the main dish.

For dessert, I use some of the puff pastry I have in my freezer at all times. I think it’s truly amazing what can be made with this versatile, ready-made pastry. In a future column, I’ll give you many more ideas and recipes for using it besides the Chocolate Flowers — my go-to dessert when I need an elegant sweet in a hurry.

Fish in a Dish
2 pounds haddock filets
Milk
1-2 sleeves Townhouse or Ritz crackers, crushed into crumbs
2-4 tbsp. butter
Freshly ground pepper
Honey (optional)
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. (This temperature is flexible. What you want to obtain is flaky, but still moist fish. I use this higher temperature and shorter cooking time so the fish can share the oven with the spring vegetables.)

Place the fish in a buttered oven-proof dish — a baking pan, casserole, or individual ramekins.

Pour milk over fish just to bring the level up to the top of the fish. Completely cover top of fish with cracker crumbs. (I definitely prefer Townhouse crackers over Ritz — they are more buttery!)

Dot with butter, sprinkle with pepper, and add a drizzle of honey — just a touch.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or longer, depending on the thickness of the fish. Milk should be mostly evaporated with the haddock flaky and the topping browned. Serve with lemon. Yield: 4-5 servings

Spring Vegetables with Potatoes
1 large leek, white part only, sliced diagonally in 2-inch chunks
1 pound fingerling potatoes, cut in half length-wise
1 pound small green beans, trimmed
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed and cut in half
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place leek and potatoes on sheet pan and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes. Stir.

Add green beans and asparagus, stirring to coat with oil. Roast for another 10-15 minutes, until everything is tender.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Yield: 6 servings

Chocolate Flowers
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 (6-ounce) bag chocolate chips
Confectioner’s sugar
Whipped cream
Chocolate syrup
Fresh berries for garnish, optional

Thaw pastry for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry into a 12-inch square then cut into 4 6-inch squares.

Place 1/4 cup chocolate ships into the center of each square. Bring corners together, twisting and fanning out pastry. Be sure edges are sealed. Place pastries on baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for at least 10 minutes.

For serving, swirl chocolate syrup onto 4 individual dessert plates, dust pastries with confectioner’s sugar and garnish with whipped cream and berries. Yield: 4 servings

 

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