Two Saturdays ago, my mom and dad cooked me one of the best dinners I've had in recent memory. While I holed myself off in the dining room to write, my mom encrusted fresh halibut in panko crumbs and macadamia nuts, and then pan-fried the flaky white fish until it was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. In an odd reversal of traditional kitchen roles (ie. man makes meat, woman makes sides), my dad was in charge of the accompaniments -- specifically a potato and leek ragout that he served over a bed of Swiss chard. The result was a tummy-rubbing meal that had me up and out of my chair for more. Twice. (And maybe a third time when I was helping my mom clean up.)
The following Tuesday, I decided I'd had enough of my brief foray into frugal grocery shopping and attempted to recreate the dish myself. While I did need to buy a bag of fingerling potatoes, a leek and $1.50 bunch of green chard to complete the recipe, I wasn't completely reckless with my not-so hard-earned pennies. Instead of using nearly $20 a pound halibut enrobed in pricey macadamia nuts, I instead opted to make the pan-fried tilapia parmesana that I bonked on the last time I made it. At only $9.99 a pound, the tilapia was a good choice, allowing me to feel a little better about shelling out $3.99 on my bag of taters. Gosh darn you, Whole Foods!
Once I finished the laborious process of washing the leeks and green chard, the dish came together fairly easily. The dipping and coating of the tilapia is commiserate with making a big fat kitchen mess, but after I smacked that fillet down into my frying pan, the rest was a snap and a half. The end result was good -- definitely an improvement on my previous preparation of the fish -- but the potato and leek ragout was not as creamy and delicious as my dad's version. It certainly didn't inspire me to sneak bites straight from the pan like I had three days prior.
I like to think that I've caught up with my parents on certain kitchen skills. I make a mean risotto and am getting pretty darn handy with a bag of flour. (When I'm not under-baking cookies...) I've come a long way since my days of melting plastic spoons into the pan of chicken Marsala, but my dad's potato leek ragout still makes my feeble attempt look like amateur hour at the stove. I think it has a lot to do with the extra cream and butter he uses. Unlike me, he isn't afraid of the big bad lard wolf.
Because he has the potato recipe on lock down, I am not going to describe how I attempted to recreate it. Instead, I'm going to copy and paste the instructions he e-mailed to me with the hope that if made in this way, it will be as unforgettable as it was that fateful Saturday night. Or at least inspire some rounds of seconds. Or thirds.
Pan-Fried Fish Parmesana recipe can be found here.
Potato and Leek Ragout
Adapted from Alfred Portale's Gotham Bar & Grill Cookbook
Recipe instructions courtesy of my dad
Fingerling, new potatoes, or white rose - Unpeeled and steam so they are still crispy
1 to 3 Leeks, white parts only, cut on a bias into 1/4" thick slices
1 cup water - Note: I like to do 1/2 cut water and 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock depending on main entree
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream - Jan likes 1/2 & 1/2 to lighten the sauce
Season with salt and pepper, and optional herbs (Like to add some fresh parsley, thyme and top with some chives.)
Steam potatoes until frosty/crispy and then slice in 1/3" rounds and set aside to keep them warm (can fix ahead of time and add latter and heat in the sauce).
In a medium saucepan combine the liquid (I use half water and stock but could make it stronger flavor by using more stock), leeks, butter, and as an option, you can add some fresh parsley and thyme.
Simmer over medium heat and cook until leeks are tender (about 5 minutes). Add the potatoes to the leeks and add the cream, and season to taste. I also sprinkle some more fresh parsley and when I serve, I sprinkle some fresh cut chives (looks nice and adds a little nice flavor). I like to layer on top the entree or lean it up to the ragout.