You made it! If you are reading this, congratulations. You survived Mardi Gras. The rest of the Tuesdays in this year shall be much slimmer, but even more so for the next 40 days. I would like to go ahead and apologize to the retail, restaurant and bar establishments that have served me well over the years, because I am intent on giving up booze for Lent. While we are talking about giving up things, let’s look to those who honor the Lenten season by doing away with meat.
It’s a big deal, for some of you. This protein replacement program can really upset a good portion of the population, but it has never been a problem for me. Even as a kid, if you had told me I was going to have nothing but catfish and shrimp for six weeks, my response would have been, “Pass the cocktail sauce, please.”
There is more to it than fish sandwiches and vegetarianism, though. Plus, you usually only recognize it on Fridays. I said there’s more to it, because this year we have more options. I would say most fast food chains push their fish items (pay attention to the commercials), but with Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and KFC threatening plant-based nuggets, we are no longer just tossing the turf in favor of the surf. But it begs the question: If you’re eating fake meat, does the sacrifice count? Is it more like drinking non-alcoholic beer, or cheating on your girlfriend when you are out of town? I’ll let you confront your conscience. Mine is telling me to charter a fishing trip.
You vegans and vegetarians have it made, I tell ya. Bring on the other ideas for meals free from meat so the carnivorous can rest easy. Here is all I’ve got.
Cheese and nuts
I hanker for a hunk of cheese when the hunger pangs set it. A good cheese board with some decent bread, a side of fresh fruit, olives, pickles and nuts help me forget I’m not gnashing my teeth through a ribeye. I have my favorites in town, but it’s fun to make your own. The rules are simple and singular. Go for variety.
I don’t just mean a cheese sampler. I mean variety in every way. Colors, textures, savory and sweet. This is your checklist. Hit every box. A stark white cheese board isn’t very appealing, and neither is an all-yellow plate. Make the rounds. A great cheddar is a good start next to a paler smoked gouda followed by a softer goat cheese and a tangy blue. A Wensleydale with cranberries adds another dimension.
English cheddar has a chalky, drier mouthfeel. It’s crumbly and great with pickles and olives. A nice brie is best paired with something sweeter, like dried fruits, jams and marmalade. Keep a good baguette sliced and a selection of crackers on hand.
Mobile is a pecan town. Roast some with a touch of cayenne pepper to counteract the sweetness. Walnuts and almonds are at home on a cheese board or in salads. But the meatiest of all nuts is the cashew. Cashews can definitely be a meat replacement. Want to keep me away from the ham? Open a can of salted cashews. I’ll eat so many I won’t want any meat.
Halloumi is a cheese I’ve written about this year. My kids go crazy for it. It actually tastes meaty to me. The saltiness along with any vinegar-based dressing can almost transform a green salad into a chef’s salad. You can even cook it on a grill. Doing so will turn a 10-year-old boy into a 10-year-old man. Just ask my son Graham. Find it at Mediterranean markets like 7 Spice or Food Pak.
I wasn’t fishing, but thank you
With our rivers, lakes and streams, as well as the bay and Gulf, it’s time you hold your fish to a higher standard. If you’re focusing on fish, use this time wisely to get to know your local fishmonger. Chances are they don’t deal in a lot of tilapia and swai. I’d just as soon eat stingray. Get away from the imported, farm-raised stuff in favor of our local bounty.
Broaden your fish vocabulary by finding a recipe that includes a fish you don’t normally use. We get stuck in a salmon and tuna rut, but life could be worse. I pledge to do better. Let’s celebrate more blackened redfish. Snapper can be grilled whole. Cobia has a great musculature structure I find wonderful on a gas grill. Triggerfish is designed for the pan with a savory sauce on the side. Speckled trout is fun to smoke if you have enough, but for a smaller catch it may be better to batter and fry them for tacos.
When it comes to frying, I am a whole catfish kind of man. Break out the white cornmeal and heat up the grease. Daddy needs his hush puppies. That’s when the weather is good, the rig is outside and friends bring the beer (remember, I’m not drinking). We wouldn’t waste our time and oil on just a couple of fish, would we?
That same rig is used to do the honorable work of boiling crawfish. Who could possibly complain about a lack of meat when you could have mudbugs? Just avoid the sausage and favor the corn.
If you’re not Catholic, make friends with one. Surely as soon as you received your Official Mobilian Card you were given a list of churches that hold Friday night fish fries. They’re not expensive, and are a great time. Also look for our local restaurants that feature Friday fish specials. Some, like Butch Cassidy’s, run it yearlong.
I don’t find fishy Fridays troublesome in the least. Nay, I am looking forward to every one! Put the lamb in the freezer until Easter.
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