Where I grew up, abstaining from meat on Fridays was just part of the rhythm of life. Every restaurant in town either had either a fish fry or clam chowder on the menu, and even McDonald’s had their Fish Fillet sandwiches.
My family used to meet my maternal grandparents at their favorite restaurant most Fridays when I was very young. They always had fried fish and chips, and on the wall behind my grandpa’s favorite seat was a giant bass on the wall. This gave way to me nicknaming both of them Grandma and Grandpa Big Fish, a moniker that stuck around until their deaths.
I’m sure some Catholics order fish on Fridays simply because they like fish, or because that’s the only day they can get the clam chowder at their favorite restaurant. Perhaps it’s because I am a creature of habit and love routine, but Fish Fridays have never become “old hat” for me. Every time I purchase the shrimp or fish for our Friday dinner, I think of Christ on the cross, I think of the Last Supper, I think of the miracle on the Galilean hillside where my savior fed thousands with fish and bread…
No, it will never be “old hat.”
In addition the spiritual benefits of abstention from meat, there are health benefits to regularly adding seafood to (and deleting meat from) your diet at least one day a week.
Of course, there’s no canon law today that says we Catholics must eat fish on Fridays, but I have found it to be a very nice practice in our home.
And now, per reader request, here is my recipe for last Friday’s meal:
Spiced Salmon and Rice with Jalapeno-Peach Salsa
Serves 4, can be doubled or tripled
2 large peaches, pitted, peeled and chopped
3 T white wine vinegar
3 T chopped cilantro
3 T apricot jam
1 minced shallot
1 half or whole jalapeno, seeded and minced (to taste)
1 c. brown basmati rice
2 c. water
1 lb, salmon fillet, boned, skin on
3 T sugar (brown or unrefined)
1 t. cumin
1/4 t. chili powder
1/4 t. salt
At least 2 hours before you plan to eat, combine peaches, vinegar, cilantro, jalapeno, shallot, and jam in a small bowl. Set in refrigerator to marinate (overnight is fine).
Combine rice and water in saucepan with a bit of salt and about a teaspoon of olive oil. Bring to boiling. Cover, reduce to simmer, and cook 35 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes, untouched.
Place rimmed baking sheet on lowest rack of oven. Preheat oven to 500F with baking sheet inside. Meanwhile, prepare the salmon by slicing gashes in the skin with a sharp knife, about 1’’ apart. Pat the salmon dry. Drizzle flesh side with olive oil and rub over fish.
Combine spices in small bowl. Rub over fish.
When oven has reached 500F, place salmon, skin-side down on hot baking sheet. Immediately, reduce temperature to 275. Bake 9-13 minutes until thickest part of fillet flakes easily with a fork. Remove from oven.
The salmon should lift easily from the skin. The skin actually washes off the tray very easily, so don’t freak out!
Put rice in bowls. Top with salmon, in one large piece or several chunks, depending on your preference. Finish with salsa. Serve warm or at room temperature—or even cold on a really hot night.
* Having lived on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, I must recommend Pacific salmon (Coho, King, etc.). Atlantic salmon just doesn’t have the same strength of flavor and meatiness to stand up to the spices in this dish. If you can only get Atlantic salmon, give it a go, but Pacific is worth the additional price.