(April 18, 2012)

Many of us grew up in the Friday night is Fish Night tradition. At our house on the North Shore of Boston, Fish Night could include cod fish cakes, creamed salmon on toast (aka Salmon Wiggle) or, most often, simply fried fish fillets. Not batter involved. Just a dunk in some sunny yellow cornmeal and a saute (in lard and later, vegetable shortening) in the skillet. Mashed potatoes and canned vegetables usually went with.

The Friday Fish Night tradition continues, although there really is no longer a reason for it. And cornmeal-fried (in vegetable oil) fillets appear frequently. But as a lily gilder par excellence, other preparations appealed. To tempt family appetites, and sometimes even those of guests, baked stuffed fish became something of a habit.

Our exercise du jour is to explore this method for perking up plain old fish fillets with preparations that are well suited to virtually every season, except in the extreme heat of summer when you don't really want to have the oven on at dinner time.

We begin.


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Rock

Among the most memorable meals that ever came out of our kitchen was the preparation of a whole, nine-pound, fresh-caught rockfish. How big was it? It was so big that I didn't have a large enough roasting pan for it. Instead, I had to place the stuffed fish on several layers of foil and place it diagonally in the center of the oven.

The fish was magnificent, by the way. And it didn't hurt that a "side" dish with the fish was a couple dozen steamed blue crabs. (And other goodies, of course.) There were a baker's dozen of us that night. And we all feasted well. What fun!

But I digress. This preparation allows you to choose a smaller whole fish, if you like. The rule of thumb for whole fish is to allow a pound of fish per serving, and that (weight) includes the head, tail, bones, etc. You can probably figure on one or two more servings than the "rule of thumb" suggests, depending on the size of the fish.

The stuffing recipe makes roughly 4-plus cups total. The (stuffing) rule of thumb is to allow 1/2 cup of it per pound of fish.

Stuffing

2 large stalks celery, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 ounces baby bella mushrooms, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon finely chopped, fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 to 2 pints shucked oysters with liquor