As we all gather together this Thanksgiving, food will certainly take center stage. For many of us, however, what’s on the table may not reflect what is traditional. Choosing healthy ingredients, reducing carbon footprint and supporting agricultural sustainability are now as prominent in our recipe collections, as Grandma’s pumpkin pie and Mom’s holiday turkey. So menus have changed.
The recipe for eating clean and planet-friendly is a little complicated, though. Even a healthy dish such as baked fish can take a toll on the environment and, depending on its source, may not be all that healthy for you, either. Consider that nearly all ocean fish consume a fair number of plastic microbes that are then ingested by you when you eat the fish, and suddenly the claim that your salmon and cod are healthy choices seems…well…fishy.
Further, over-fishing of our most desirable seafood leaves fish populations depleted and unable to bounce back. “Gone fishing” takes on a whole new meaning.
And typical commercial fish farming…I won’t even go there. The problems in most standard fish farms range from high levels of pollution, sick and suffering fish, to the infiltration of escaped farmed fish into open ocean, adding a new level of threat to this massive but fragile ecosystem.
So here’s a thought—consider your local farms where ponds and streams of bluegill, trout, catfish, carp and crappie abound. Local fish, eaten with a responsible eye to sustainability, can be a great choice. If you get to know your growers, you can probably find incredibly fresh, healthy and clean fish with a very low carbon footprint and a super-reasonable price.
Of course, these aren’t the same critters as salmon and cod, and you can’t cook them the same or expect the taste to mimic their ocean cousins. So time to be brave in the kitchen, eh? And just in case there are no local sources for fish near you right now, note that you can find a suitable replacement such as Pacific Cod. See the Monterey Bay Aquarium website for more information and be sure to bookmark their Seafood Watch guide to weigh your greenest options, state by state. Then next spring grab that pole and net, pack a picnic, and head for the local pond—with your fishing license and the blessing of your local farmer/landowner, of course. You truly are what you eat.
- Two to two and a half pounds bluegill fillets (or other comparable white fish fillets)
- One large egg, slightly beaten
- Three to four tablespoons buttermilk
- One cup crushed pistachios (I pulsed them in the food processor for a fine, even consistency.)
- Your favorite dried pepper mix (How much depends on how spicy you like your food and what pepper choice you make—see below for mine.)
- Sea salt to taste
- One-half to three-quarters stick unsalted butter
- Four to five tablespoons olive oil
- One quarter cup minced fresh dill
- Two tablespoons flour (If you want a gluten-free sauce, try some tapioca flour maybe.)
- One tablespoon white vinegar
- One cup filtered water
- Sea salt to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Begin by whisking together the egg, buttermilk and seasonings in a wide shallow bowl. Then, place the crushed pistachios in another wide shallow bowl.
- Place your butter in square casserole dish- that is large enough to accommodate all the fillets in a single, spaced out layer and place in the oven to create a lovely little pool of butter in which your fish fillets will “swim.”
- Working efficiently and quickly, dip your fillets in the egg mixture and then dredge through the crushed pistachios (You can give the fish fillets a light dusting of fine flour before you dip them, which will help the coating adhere, but I skipped it because Heather loves fish and can’t have the flour—up to you.).
- Carefully place your prepared fillets in the casserole dish containing the sizzling butter and bake for approximately 20-30 minutes. Note that the time depends on the variety and thickness of your fish fillets. You don’t want them overly done, but you do want them cooked through and flaky.
- While your fish bakes, you can whip up your dill sauce. Start by heating the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once it shimmers, add the fresh dill and sauté for about a minute to 90 seconds. You don’t want to burn the fragile herb, but you want to smell the dill and make sure it infuses the oil.
- Add the flour and whisk into a smooth roux.
- Now add the vinegar and combine quickly. Then, begin to add the water little by little, whisking constantly, until you get the thickness you want. Salt to taste. Ideally, you are looking for a thin gravy. Keep the sauce warm until serving. Note that it thickens as it cools.
- Remove the fish from the casserole dish to a serving platter, drizzle sauce into a pool beside the fillets and garnish with a bit of fresh dill, if desired. Put the remaining sauce on the table for passing.
You can assume 4 servings here, if there are several other dishes offered with the meal. If you are fixing for a larger crowd, just double all your ingredients--it's pretty easy to expand this dish.
My Pepper Choices
What can I say, I’m a lucky green gal who claims amazing farmers as her close friends. My friends—Jackie Mills of The Family Garden and Frank Biver of Biver Farm—are the sources for my freshly dried exotic peppers. At my suggestion, Jackie grew fresh Aleppo peppers this past summer, and I took them over to Frank’s for drying. Frank is a genius in all things hot and peppery, so he dried the peppers—some for me and some for him. Then he retained some seeds for next year, while I filled up my spice drawer (That’s how food and friends are supposed to work, right?). Frank also offered me a new pepper variety called Lemon Drop. How could I refuse? So these are the two dried pepper choices I put in my bluegill dish. And I do think adding some heat was critical to the success of the dish–even a little will make it pop. But if you don’t have sources like mine, you can find an amazing array of peppers at Penzeys, including Aleppo.
A Word about Rosi Biver’s Dill Sauce
This dish actually began with the sauce, not the fish. I’ve gotten local bluegill from the farmers market and neighbors for several years now. What started this recipe rolling was an abundance of fresh delicious dill out at Biver Farm. Well, I couldn’t pass it up, so I sat down with Rosi to get her best dill sauce recipe. And at first I was sorta skepitcal—no butter, no cream, no kidding? Hmmmm……
“There is absolutely no butter or milk in this sauce,” Rosi stated emphatically, when I seemed unconvinced. “My Oma (grandma in German) never used butter or milk—she was very economical. But her sauce was always great,” Rosi said. Well, who was I to question a woman who can turn zucchini into apple cobbler? And, of course, Rosi was right: the dill sauce is smooth, fresh and perfect with fish. The dill sauce will be just as tasty on rye toasts, poached eggs, etc.–whatever is complimented by dill. Do give it a try!