Fish, its Nutty Friends and its Seedy Companions

Suitable for: Rainbow Trout, Blue Gills, Crappies, Buffalo, Pickerel, Catfish, Salmon steaks or filets.

Fish, seeds, and nuts make excellent companions.  Although any cut of fish adapts to being baked with nuts, what follows are some combinations that add a tasty spark to whole fish like trout, blue gills or crappies,  and flat- or round-cut buffalo, pickerel, catfish, or salmon steaks. Amounts given will cover enough small whole fish to serve four, or four steaks; increase as needed for larger or more portions.

Whatever the variety of fish, lightly flour (if desired) and brown lightly in oil, transfer fish to a 2-3 quart baking dish.

Pour off cooking oil, but do not scrape pan (you will “deglaze” it with butter and/or liquid, scraping brown bits quickly into the sauce).

Baking thicker cuts of fish means following the general cooking-time formula of 10 minutes for each inch of thickness of the fish.  Lightly browning fish in oil will not drastically affect this formula.

Toasting or blanching nuts:  Delicately-flavored nuts such as almonds or pine-nuts benefit from additional toasting.  Heat oven to 400 degrees, as for fish, spread nuts in a pie tin or other flat pan, check every few minutes till toasted light brown. Watch carefully: toasting nuts can burn easily. Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (pepitas) contribute a nutty flavor and can be toasted the same way.

Almandine:  The classic companion to trout lightly dredged in flour and browned. Dredge and brown other small whole fish the same way. Remove fish to baking pan, deglaze skillet with 2-3 Tbsp. butter, juice of one lemon. Add ½ – ¾ cup slivered or sliced almonds and a handful of chopped parsley, pour over whole fish or lightly browned fish steaks. Bake.

Pecan-topped:  Deglaze skillet with ¼ cup teriyaki sauce. Add ½ cup chopped pecans, stir and pour over fish. Bake.

Citrus-hazelnut:  If you have access to chopped hazelnuts or filberts, this sauce gives your fish steaks real zing.  Deglaze skillet with 2 Tbsp. butter, juice of 1 orange, 1 lemon or lime, and 2 Tbsp. coarse-grated orange, lemon or lime peel.  Add ½ cup nuts, pour over fish. Bake.

Lazy pesto: While the real article makes a fine topping, this quick version provides more texture and great flavor.  Mince 2 peeled cloves of garlic, and chop ¼ cup each: fresh basil, fresh mint, scallion (if you have no mint, increase basil a bit), add ¼ cup whole toasted pine-nuts.  Deglaze skillet with 2 Tbsp. butter and ¼ cup chicken or fish stock. Stir all to blend, pour over fish. Bake.

Sesame-glazed:  Deglaze skillet with ¼ cup Chinese duck-sauce, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tsp. powdered ginger (or 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger).  Stir in ¼ cup toasted sesame seed.  Pour over fish. Sprinkle with a few drops of sesame oil, if you have. Bake.

Pepita-topped:  Deglaze pan with 2 Tbsp. butter, ¼ cup chicken or fish stock, ½ tsp. chili powder or smoked paprika, ½ tsp. cumin, ½ cup shelled, toasted pepitas. Stir together, pour over fish. Bake. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if available.

Sunflower-sauced: Deglaze pan with 2 Tbsp. butter and ¼ – ½ cup tomato or tomato-vegetable juice (regular or spicy version). Add ¼ cup unsalted roasted sunflower seeds. Pour over fish. Bake.