Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Actually, I did not have an Italian grandmother: there were no Nonnas in the Elisson clan.  But if I had had a Nonna, she would have said, “No stick-a da formaggio in da pesci.”  Or words to that effect.

Old-school Italian cooks - grandmothers included - will tell you that adding cheese to a fish-based dish is proibito. Verboten. It just ain’t done.  When the ill-informed waiter asks if you’d like some grated Parmigiano Reggiano on thet steaming dish of linguini alla vongole, you’re supposed to tell him to fuck off politely decline.

[For some reason, it’s OK to decorate a cheese pizza with anchovies, but that is apparently the exception that proves the rule.  Plus, you’re adding fish to cheese, not cheese to fish.  What the hell do I know, anyway?]

Why the prohibition?  According to a post at theKitchn,
Fish should taste of the sea, and should be consumed as close to the catch as possible to ensure this. And it should be served simply, for the same reason. The rich, salty flavors of cheese can too easily overwhelm the flavors of fish, forcing a contrast not only in intensity of flavor, but also a sacrifice of the integrity of both ingredients. Grated cheese over a fish pasta is considered either extraneous, excessive, or demeaning. 
There are other explanations, for which see the whole post... but the point is, in Italian cookery at least, fish and cheese are usually not combined in a single dish.

Since I am not Italian, however, I can go and trash that old-school rule.

Several months ago, She Who Must Be Obeyed found a fish recipe that worked exceptionally well for mild, white-fleshed fish.  We’ve used it since then on everything from cod to halibut to Dover sole, and the results have never failed to please... despite the fact that the dish includes both fish and a goodly dose of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  And it’s easy to make. Lookee:

Baked Dover Sole with Parmesan-Sriracha Sauce
Baked Dover Sole with Parmesan-Sriracha Sauce. Fish with cheese, yet tasty good.

Baked Dover Sole with Parmesan-Sriracha Sauce

Stick your fish fillets in a pan (schpritz it with a little vegetable oil or olive oil to keep the fish from sticking) and sprinkle with a little kosher salt.  If you care to, throw on some freshly ground black pepper... who’s gonna stop you?  Bake at 325°F for about 10-15 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of your fillets.  You want the fish just cooked through, not dried out unto the point of becoming Fish-Jerky.

While the fish is baking, make the Cheesy Sauce.  Take two tablespoons each of softened butter and mayonnaise and combine in a bowl.  Add a goodly squirt of sriracha sauce - how much you put in, of course, being dictated by how spicy you want the dish.  A teaspoon will give a delicate piquancy, while a full tablespoon will generate a noticeable burn.  Add aboutcup of finely grated Parmesan cheese (use real Parmigiano Reggiano if you want the best flavor) and combine well.

When the fish is just about done, take it out of the oven and crank up your broiler.  Cover each fillet with a liberal dose of cheese-butter-mayo mixture and then shove your pan under the broiler for about two minutes, or until the cheese mixture is bubbling hot and beginning to brown.  Now take it out - you’re done!

Never has a “No” to Nonna’s no-no tasted so noticeably nummy!

[Posted at 0809 hours, 10/11/12.  Hoo-HAH!]


Jerry Foster said...

I have to admit it looks great. As for the fishy on pizza, I could do it after the pizza is cooked and then place them on the pizza. If not the oil gets all over and the enjoyment can be lost. If you have not tried it, one time will not kill you. Drain and dry them babies up with a paper towel and place them on that oven fresh pizza.

Elisson said...

Jerry, you're talking to the guy who invented the Irish Lady: thin-crust cheese pizza with corned beef and anchovies. Yes, those little fishies must be well-drained, but they do add a certain piquant je ne sais quoi to the proceedings!

Erica said...

Funny you should write this, because just a few minutes ago I was wanting to pay tribute to the culinary genius who first decided to pair cream cheese with lox.

Elisson said...

Believe it or not, Erica, I thought about cream cheese and lox when I was composing this post... and then I conveniently omitted it.

That's a felicitous combination, indeed. Especially with some scallions in that there cream cheese.