recipe: arctic char and hush puppies

I did not select this recipe because it included hush puppies, but it is an awfully appropriate menu item for us these days. I pulled it out of my “try this” file for our first California dinner after a long weekend of house shopping in Austin (more on that later). Honestly, I never understood why anyone liked hush puppies, those dense lumps that manage to be at once dry and greasy. Turns out they are something quite different right out of the fry oil, just cool enough to eat, and stuffed with tasty additions. I’d recommend getting everything prepared so you can sear the fish and fry the hush puppies at the very last minute and eat immediately.

Arctic Char with Cucumber-Feta Relish and Jalapeño-Goat-Cheese Hush Puppies
from Bon Appetit’s September 2010 feature on restaurants, originally from Caseus Fromagerie Bistro, New Haven, Connecticut

char and puppies

1 12-ounce cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup coarsely crumbled sheep’s-milk feta cheese (about 3 ounces) [Lacking feta, I substituted crumbled blue cheese for both the relish and the hush puppies. No complaints.]
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley [I chopped a little extra and threw it into the puppies batter.]
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil [I think 2 is all that’s necessary.]
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
4 5- to 6-ounce arctic char fillets with skin
3 tablespoons canola oil

Toss relish ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Relish can be made 2 hours ahead.

Sprinkle fish on both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Place fish, skin side down, in skillet. Cook until skin is brown, occasionally flattening with spatula to prevent curling, about 4 minutes. Turn fish over. Cook until just opaque in center, about 1 minute. [I found this timing to be exactly right. The skin was beautifully crisp and the flesh perfectly done.]

Using slotted spoon, mound relish on plates. Top with fish, skin side up. Arrange hush puppies alongside and serve.

Hush Puppies

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk [Lacking buttermilk, I used plain yogurt.]
2 tablespoons beaten egg
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped seeded jalapeño chile
4 ounces coarsely crumbled soft fresh goat cheese (about 1 cup)
Canola oil or vegetable oil (for deep-frying)

Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Whisk buttermilk, egg, and chile in small bowl to blend. Stir buttermilk mixture and cheese into dry ingredients.

Add enough oil to deep medium saucepan to reach 1 1/2 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer to pan; heat oil to 320°F to 330°F over medium heat. Working in batches of 4 or 5, drop batter by tablespoonfuls into oil. Cook until golden, turning occasionally, about 4 minutes. [Mine cooked faster than this. Perhaps my oil was too hot, but they sure turned out fine.] Using slotted spoon, transfer hush puppies to paper towels.

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