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Recipes elevate humble fish

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A simple mayonnaise-chipotle-garlic sauce keeps Whole Baked Fish, Estero Style — in this case branzino, a relative of striped bass — moist as it roasts.

For Christians, Lent is a time for quiet reflection. For austerity. For repentance.

But mostly it’s a time for fish.

Catholics and members of some other denominations choose to eat fish instead of meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday until Easter.

So the question is: How to make the fish?

A favorite choice is fried, of course.

But what if you’ve had all the fried fish you want? What if you want fish – even if you don’t observe Lent – but you crave something a little more ambitious than fried?

That’s where we come in.

I tried making fish four different ways: with a flavorful sauce, lacquered in the Japanese style, marinated in herbs and spices, and baked in an exceptionally simple sauce.

WHOLE BAKED FISH, ESTERO STYLE

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

½ cup mayonnaise

1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 whole (2-pound) sea bass, striped bass or red snapper, cleaned and scaled, gills removed

½ teaspoon salt, or to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the mayonnaise, chipotle chile and garlic in a small bowl. With a pastry brush or icing spatula, spread the mixture all over the fish, inside and outside. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Place on a baking pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until just barely opaque at the thickest part of the fish.

PER SERVING (based on 3): 563 calories; 56 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 94 mg cholesterol; 56 g protein; 5 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 3 g fiber; 818 mg sodium; 33 mg calcium

– Recipe from “The Food and Life of Oaxaca” by Zarella Martínez

LACQUERED SWORDFISH WITH GREEN ONIONS

Yield: 4 servings

FOR THE ONIONS

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 tablespoon peanut oil

For a particularly elegant dish, try Lacquered Swordfish with Green Onions. The cooking method is inspired by a Japanese dish of lacquered eel.

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely slivered

2 large bunches green onions (white plus 3 inches of green part only), cut into 1½-by-¼-inch strips

1 tablespoon water

2 teaspoons soy sauce

FOR THE SWORDFISH

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper

4 swordfish fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each, 1-inch thick

2 to 4 tablespoons peanut oil

¼ cup soy sauce

For the green onions: Stir the sesame seeds in a heavy, small, dry skillet over medium heat until brown. Transfer to a small bowl. Heat the oils in the same skillet with the ginger over medium-high heat. Add the green onion strips and stir-fry until almost tender, about 1 minute. Add the water and soy sauce and stir-fry until tender but still crunchy, about 1 minute. (This can be prepared ahead, cooled, covered and set aside at cool room temperature.)

For the swordfish: Use the ventilation fan to keep your kitchen from becoming smoky. Mix the sugar and pepper in a large soup plate. Dip one side of the swordfish in the mixture. Transfer to a large tray. Immediately, place 1 very large or 2 smaller heavy nonstick skillets over medium-high heat and add the 2 to 4 tablespoons oil. Add the swordfish and cook until the bottom is browned and caramelized, about 3 minutes. Pour the ¼ cup soy sauce into the skillet. Cover the skillet and continue cooking until the fish is glazed and just opaque throughout, about 1 to 2 minutes.

To serve, rewarm the green onions by stirring over medium-high heat. Transfer the swordfish to 4 plates. Spoon the onions over the swordfish. Sprinkle each with reserved toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

PER SERVING: 383 calories; 26 g fat; 3g saturated fat; 97 mg cholesterol; 32 g protein; 6 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 1,168 mg sodium; 44 mg calcium

– Recipe from “Michel Richard’s Home Cooking with a French Accent,” by Michel Richard

SPICED HERB MARINADE FOR FISH

Yield: 6 servings

1 large bunch cilantro

1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley

Spiced Herb Marinade for Fish will dress up a variety of bland types of seafood, including the catfish shown here. It’s also good with meat and vegetables.

8 garlic cloves, crushed with the flat blade of a knife

1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1 tablespoon cumin, preferably freshly ground, or more to taste

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper, or more to taste

1 tablespoon sweet paprika, or more to taste

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (preferably) or white wine vinegar

6 to 8 small salmon steaks, about 6 ounces each, or swordfish, halibut, haddock, catfish or perch

Chop the cilantro and parsley leaves together to a very fine mince. You should have 1 cup of minced leaves. Transfer to a saucepan.

Crush the garlic with the salt in a mortar, or using the back of a spoon in a small bowl, to make a paste. Stir in the cumin, dried pepper, paprika, olive oil and lemon juice. Add to the saucepan with the herbs and mix well.

Have the fish steaks ready in a baking dish large enough to hold them all in 1 layer. Meanwhile, set the herb mixture over medium heat and warm until is very hot, but not boiling. Taste and adjust the seasoning. When it is the way you want it, pour the warm marinade over the fish steaks. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the plastic wrap and transfer the fish with their marinade to the oven. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the fish is done, basting every 5 minutes or so with the marinade. Serve immediately, spooning a little of the marinade over each serving.

PER SERVING: 264 calories; 10 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; 91 mg cholesterol; 38 g protein; 4 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 587 mg sodium; 43 mg calcium

– Recipe from “The Essential Mediterranean,” by Nancy Harmon Jenkin

BAKED SALMON WITH WATERCRESS SAUCE

Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, minced

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided

Baked Salmon with Watercress Sauce tastes as good as it looks. The green sauce has more spinach that watercress, and a little cream, as well.

1 bunch watercress, stemmed, 4 sprigs reserved for garnish

1 cup packed spinach leaves

¾ cup chicken stock

¼ cup heavy or whipping cream

Salt and white pepper

4 salmons fillets, 6 to 8 ounces each, pin bones removed

Olive oil, for coating pan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

To make the sauce: In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the flour to make a roux and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes; do not let the mixture color. Stir in the watercress and spinach until wilted. Add the stock and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth. Return to the pan and add salt and white pepper to taste. Set aside and cover to keep warm.

In a shallow bowl, combine the remaining ¼ cup of the flour with a generous sprinkle of salt and white pepper. Very lightly dredge the top side of the salmon fillets in the flour.

Lightly coat a large ovenproof sauté pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the salmon, top-side down, and sear for 2 minutes. Turn the salmon over and transfer the pan to the oven. Roast the salmon for exactly 8 minutes; it should still be translucent in the center of the thickest part.

Just before the salmon is done, reheat the sauce over low heat until warm, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the salmon to warmed plates. Spoon ¼ of the sauce onto each plate and place a fillet on top, or spoon the sauce over the center of each fillet, allowing the ends to show and the sauce to pool on the plate. Garnish each fillet with a watercress sprig and serve immediately.

PER SERVING: 475 calories; 33 g fat; 11 g saturated fat; 127 mg cholesterol; 34 g protein; 9 g carbohydrate; 1 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 270 mg sodium; 67 mg calcium

– Recipe from “Seafood” by Williams-Sonoma

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