Crispy this, that and the Other

Let’s make stuff that’s all about being crispy. We’ll bake some fillets, fry a few and crisp up onion rings, both daintily and bulkily.

There are tools needed in the kitchen and there are those tools that cooks just want. The “wants” outnumber the “needs,” probably a thousand to one. Nevertheless, we’re going to look at the tools we “need” for preparing this month’s recipes, starting with knives.

A filleting knife is ideal for cleaning fish and cutting them into fillets or steaks, while a chef’s knife will slice, dice, chop, mince and so on. Chef’s knives do come in various lengths and are designed for specialized slicing, however, an old-fashioned “butcher” knife will take care of many jobs needed to prepare most recipes. You can buy knife sets to meet any kitchen-cutting task. And, these sets are “wants” not “needs,” as sets can cost near $100 and up to several thousand dollars, with the choice depending on the cook. Professional chefs need and spend a great deal of money buying their tools—ones they know will last for a many years and even still worthy of passing along to the next generation.

We all need pans and skillets for sautéing, frying, boiling and other stove-top functions. Their abilities range from light duties to heavy-duty cooking. A Dutch oven is almost a “need” item. Like a baking sheet with a wire rack, it may not be absolutely necessary, but it has many useful, convenient purposes. Tongs, a smaller item, are needed to place and remove foods from hot oil, while a thermometer ranks in the nearly “need” category—like a wire-racked baking sheet—so you can get along without it but it’s awfully handy to make sure your fish and meats are cooked to proper, safe temperatures. Let’s add paper towels for absorbing oil from fried foods and cleaning up as a “need.” Smaller articles such as measuring spoons and cups, a whisk, grater, bowls, a cooking brush (for spreading sauces) and dishes of all sizes fall in the “need” category, as do forks, spoons and a handful of other tools that are usually standards in a kitchen. And let’s not forget we need a can opener.

Crispy Crumbed Fillets

4-6 fish fillets (bass, striper, catfish)

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large shallot, minced

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided into two parts

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 egg yolk, large

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees with the rack in the middle position. Prepare baking sheet with greased wire rack. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add salt and shallots and soften. Add garlic and thyme for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add panko and 1/4 teaspoon of divided black pepper. Cook for about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Transfer panko mixture to shallow dish to cool for 10 minutes. Whisk mayo, egg yolk, lemon zest and other 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper in a bowl. Pat fillets dry and season with salt and pepper to taste. Brush fillet tops evenly with mayo mixture and individually dredge coated side in panko mixture, pressing gently to adhere. Place the fish crumb-side up on the wire rack. Bake until centers of fillets are opaque and measures at 135 degrees Farenheit with thermometer. Cook additional 15 minutes. Then rotate the pan 90 degrees and cook for another 15 to 20 minutes.

Crispy Fillet Fritters

1 pound fish fillets, 2-3 ounces each, without skin

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin

1/4 cup plain, dry breadcrumbs

2 eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons tartar sauce

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

7-10 drops hot red pepper sauce

1 cup crushed Saltines or soda crackers

Canola oil

eat wine and water in 10-inch skillet until boiling. Add fillets. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 5-7 minutes until fish just begins to flake. Drain and discard liquid. Flake the fish fillets and set aside. Heat 2 inches of oil in skillet to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (breadcrumbs through hot sauce). Add fish and mix well. Roll mixture into 1 1/2-inch-diameter balls. Make 20. Coat the balls by rolling in the cracker crumbs. Fry balls, six at a time, 2-3 minutes until golden brown, turning over once. Drain on paper towels. Serve with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce or sweet-n-sour sauce.

Extra Crispy Dainty Onion Rings

This recipe is designed to cook dainty onion rings to use as a topping, such as you would add to a burger.

1-2 onions, sliced into thin rings

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups canola oil

Place onion rings in a large bowl with vinegar and set aside for 10 to 20 minutes in refrigerator. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper and cream of tartar. Heat oil in a skillet to a medium-high temperature (350 degrees). Drain vinegar from onion rings and toss rings into flour mixture until evenly coated. Place rings in oil, stirring occasionally until golden brown and crisp, or about 5 minutes. Drain cooked rings on paper towels.

Onion Rings Revisited –Mo’ and Mo’ Bigger

3 large Bermuda onions, sliced to 1/3-inch rings

Ice water to cover rings

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg, beaten

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups canola oil, or as needed

Soak onion rings in a bowl of ice water for 1 hour in refrigerator. In a large bowl, whisk flour, buttermilk, egg, baking soda and salt together until smooth. Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 375 degrees. Drain rings and pat dry with paper towel. Dip onion rings in batter, working in batches. Fry battered onion rings in the hot oil until brown, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider ladle and drain on paper towels.

Mom’s Side of Beans and Rice

1 1/4 pounds dried pinto beans

Water, to soak beans, lightly salted

7 cups water

1 small ham hock

1 medium-sized onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound thickly sliced smoked beef and pork sausages

1 undrained can of tomatoes (10 ounces) with green chilies

1/2 cup uncooked regular rice

Sort and soak beans overnight in lightly salted water. Drain. Combine in a large Dutch oven and the 7 cups of water, beans, ham hock, onion, garlic and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium and cook 45 minutes. Add sausages, tomatoes with green chilies and rice. Cover and reduce heat further. Simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove ham hock. Shred ham from the bone with a fork and return ham to bean mixture. Mix well and serve.