Ask Chef Phyllis:
Lent seems much longer than 40 days when I don’t have any ideas for new meatless meals. I get tired of mac and cheese and fried fishcakes or BLT’s without the bacon—and certainly wouldn’t serve these to guests. It wouldn’t be so dreary if we entertained more. I need tasty dinners; fish and seafood are acceptable. Also make it easy with no last minute frying so I can be with friends. Any suggestions?
—Kira Wafefield, Seattle, WA
How fortunate to live in the Pacific Northwest, where really fresh-caught fish and seafood are plentiful all year long! I’m landlocked and envious, Kira.
Wine-braised wild salmon (or halibut or cod) or my Seafood Creole Casserole are both suitable and elegant for company dinners and entertaining friends. And more time with your guests will brighten those late winter blues.
I hope you try these “oven easy” casserole creations for Lent—or any time of the year!
Salmon Braised in Wine
As I mention above, this dish is equally delicious with halibut or cod fillets—and you’ll definitely want to use halibut or cod if you don’t have access to seasonal, wild-caught salmon. While farmed Atlantic salmon is available all year long, it simply doesn’t compare to the firm flesh and rich flavor of wild Pacific salmon, which is at peak season only for a few weeks in late summer and early fall.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
2-plus lbs. wild seasonal salmon (4 portions with skin, about 8 oz. each)
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1½ cups dry white wine, sherry, or vermouth
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns (black or tricolored)
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter and oil a casserole that fits the fish comfortably. (I used an 11×9-inch ovenproof casserole.)
- Lay sliced carrot and onion in the bottom of casserole. Sprinkle fleshy side of the fish with salt. Lay fish on top of the vegetables skin side up. Add wine, bay leaf, and peppercorns.
- Cover casserole with a glass lid. Bake until the fish flakes easily, about 25–35 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets. Do not overcook.
- As you transfer the fish, flip over and place them skin side down on the serving tray. Serve hot or cold, with a salad of your choice.
Company Shrimp and Seafood Creole Casserole
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1½ teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon each sea salt, coarsely ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes
2 large green bell peppers, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 large white onion, diced
1 cup homemade tomato sauce
1 (15 oz.) can organic fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 lbs. raw large shrimp, cleaned, deveined, and tails removed
½ lb. raw bay scallops, lobster, lump or claw crab meat, or the seafood of your choice
1 bay leaf
4 cups cooked brown rice
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil and butter a casserole dish. Add Old Bay, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes. Mix with a spoon.
- Add peppers, diced onion, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes.
- Cook, uncovered, until the peppers and onions are soft, about 20 minutes.
- Remove casserole from the oven. Add shrimp, scallops or other seafood, and bay leaf.
- Reduce heat to 325°F. Cover casserole with a glass lid. Bake until the shrimp start turning pink, about 20 additional minutes (extra large shrimp will require an additional 5 minutes).
- Remove from oven. Let the casserole rest, covered, 5–10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and correct seasonings to taste, adding salt and pepper if necessary.
- Serve over brown rice with a dark green salad. (I use arugula, endive, and romaine tossed with a Caesar dressing.)
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Photo by Phyllis Quinn