Many years ago, this New York City girl got transplanted to the Adirondacks. As I look back, it was a good decision for my soon-to-begin-high-school teenagers. Now they thank me when they recall that in New York City they would have been little fish in a very big pond. Upstate, in Glens Falls, they were at least medium fish in a little pond…but that’s another story.
As the new restaurant manager at a small, elegant supper club called the Covered Bridge Inn, I came under a lot of scrutiny from the existing staff. The restaurant’s little country cook—went by the name of Connie Johnson—barely had an 8th grade education and often challenged my decisions. I wanted to elevate the Friday and Saturday night menus to surf and turf specials, an idea I brought with me from the big city menus.
Surf and turf was definitely more sophisticated fare, and long-awaited by our upwardly mobile country club clientele. Indeed, it was a success—though a small one. “Small” being the key word here. Connie wanted to do chicken and biscuits (a dish she’d mastered using turkey and white sauce) for a fraction of the cost of a steak and lobster dinner. We had a throw down, and her specialty outsold mine three to one. Sometimes we learn about cost where we least expect it.
But the boss and his wife wanted to increase sales, especially Tuesday night sales, with something different. They also wondered why Monday night was still a fairly busy night in their restaurant. So they asked me, was it the same in the big city? From my observations, I explained that most folks had busy weekends, often with company (something Monday night diners often mentioned). Or perhaps there were no good leftovers from Sunday’s dinner. Maybe they were just plain exhausted from too many weekend domestic duties, or they had the old Monday back-to-work blues.
Another answer is that New York City restaurateurs consciously offer reasonably priced Monday specials to their cook-weary patrons in an effort to use up perishable food before the new shipment comes in—and it works. My new boss did this too, albeit unconsciously.
But if you were ever in the business, then you know—Tuesday night sucks. Nationwide, food suppliers deliver restaurants’ orders for the week on late Tuesday afternoon. Savvy managers prepare their menus from the vendors’ specials. The system is smart and efficient.
So, here’s the recipe that saved Tuesday nights in a little dinner house, in the little town of Lake Lucerne, in upstate New York. I remember it well, and I hope you like my story. You can read more of my story in the introduction to Udderly Cultured: The Art of Milk Fermentation—and find lots of great recipes for such simple sweet and savory specialties as buttermilk pancakes, fresh cultured cheeses, and tiramisu.
Home Style Fish Tacos with Roasted Tomato Salsa
This recipe serves 4.
1 lb. fresh or frozen firm, skinless fish (cod, halibut, whitefish fillets, or sea bass)
1 teaspoon orange zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from the same orange)
1 tablespoon honey
1 jalapeño, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon sea salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil or peanut oil
1 (16 oz.) container plain Greek yogurt or sour cream (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ seedless cucumber, chopped (about 1 cup)
8 (6-inch) flour or corn tortillas, warmed
For the garnishes: Roasted Tomato Salsa (recipe below), shredded lettuce, jalapeño slices, grated sharp cheddar cheese, sliced black olives (optional)
- Cut fish into 8 equal portions. In a shallow dish, combine orange zest and juice, honey, jalapeño, and garlic. Add the fish, cover, and let stand for 15 minutes, turning once.
- Preheat a frying pan. Drain the fish, then discard the marinade. Sprinkle fish with salt and black pepper.
- Add olive oil to the hot frying pan, then lower heat to medium. Add fish and cook 4–6 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily, turning it once.
- In a small bowl, mix together yogurt, lemon juice, and cucumber. Set aside.
- Top warmed tortillas with fish. Add yogurt sauce and accompany tacos with Roasted Tomato Salsa and other garnishes. Serve immediately.
Roasted Tomato Salsa
4 medium firm tomatoes, chopped coarsely, or a 10 oz. carton of grape tomatoes, halved
1 large red onion, chopped coarsely
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1–2 teaspoons chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (according to taste)
- Preheat oven to 450°F. Place tomatoes, onion, bell peppers, oil, and salt on a baking sheet. Toss together to coat.
- Roast until browned, about 20–25 minutes.
- Cool slightly. Mix the vegetables together in a bowl. Add cilantro leaves and chipotle pepper to taste. If necessary, add more olive oil. If you desire a smoother salsa, pulse in the food processor until the desired consistency is reached.
- Serve the salsa in small bowls with as many of the other garnishes as you please.
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