Monday, January 27, 2014

Time-Life Quintet of Cuisines: Netherlands

When asked, I can be a bit disparaging about typical Dutch food. It seems to be so dominated by variations of stamppot, which is mashed potatoes mixed with some other vegetable and served accompanied by a piece of meat. The classic is boerenkool met rookworst, which features kale as the vegetable and a smoked Dutch sausage as the meat. And there's hutspot (potatoes, carrots, and onions), and hete bliksem (potatoes, apples, and onions), and endive stamppot, and spinach stamppot, ... you get the idea. Of course, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, so it's certainly very nutritious, and it is classic comfort food for many.

Personally I blame Calvinist Protestantism, which long dominated Dutch society. It's serious, dour stuff with no tolerance for frivolities like fancy cooking and the pleasures of the table. I'm not sure how the delicious baked goods like speculaas fit into, but most of those were originally Christmas treats.

But I could be entirely WRONG! Because tonight I prepared baked flounder (Schol uit de oven) and it was super—both simple and refined in flavour. It is not complicated to prepare, but the result has a lovely balance between soft white fish, crunchy gratin, and a hint of acidity from the lemon that was applied to the fish a half an hour before it went into the oven. This is definitely going into regular rotation!

Baked Flounder
Adapted from Time-Life Quintet of Cuisines
Serves: 1

The original recipe calls for 6 fillets of flounder, and has measurements to match of other ingredients to match. The recipe that I'm providing is for one person, and is how I scaled this recipe down. The original calls for dill seeds, but I only had dried dill on hand, and I think it was fine.

1 flounder fillet, cleaned and skinned
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice (or just a slice of lemon)
sprinkle of salt
1 slice of bacon
1 slice of white bread, preferably from a country loaf
1 tablespoon ground or finely chopped (blanched) almonds
2 tablespoons Gouda cheese, grated
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh dill
freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground pepper

  1. Pat the flounder fillet dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle the lemon juice, or rib a lemon slice, over both sides of the fish fillet. Add a very light sprinkle of salt, and let sit for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the toppings (and any veggies you plan to serve with the fish).
  2. Preheat the oven to 500F/260C and place the rack in the top third of the oven.
  3. Line a shallow baking pan with parchment paper and grease it with some butter.
  4. Fry the bacon over medium heat, turning after a few minutes, until both sides start to get crispy. Drain on paper towels.
  5. Remove the crusts from the bread and create fresh bread crumbs from remaining bread. I just scooped the bread out of half of a crust role using a form, but you could process it in a blender.In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs, chopped almonds, and grated cheese.
  6. After the founder has "marinated", pat it dry again. Fold it in half length-wise and dredge both sides in flour, shaking any excess off.
  7. Place on the lined baking tray, and sprinkle both sides with the dill, grated nutmeg, and pepper.
  8. Place the crisped bacon strip on top of the folded fillet, and then sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the fillet. Dot with some butter.
  9. Bake in the oven for 7-8 minutes until the fish just flakes but us not too soft. (If you are baking a whole tray of 6 fillets lined up next to each other you may need as much as 10 minutes, but start checking at 7 minutes.)

Ready for the oven
Ready to eat 

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