Last week, I shared some 2018 Cooking Goals I have arbitrarily set for myself – not New Year’s resolutions per se, because really, who keeps those longer than a maximum of ten days? No, they are just goals, just a few kitchen skills I’d like to finally master. I wanted to let you know that thus far, I’m a woman of my word, as I have tackled one recipe for whole fish this week. Did it go well? Reader, it did not. It was, in fact, a harrowing weeknight of cooking that will likely show up in my nightmares for years to come.
Let’s start at the beginning. My husband rides a bus right past our neighborhood’s grocery store every night on his way home from work, so he kindly dashed in and picked up two small whole branzinos. Well, dashing was the original plan. You see, this grocery store, Whole Foods Newark, is still new and doesn’t yet have what you’d call, Their Shit Together. He waited almost twenty minutes because ONE person was working BOTH the seafood and meat counters. But, eventually he did arrive home with two beautiful, shiny, clear-eyed fishies, and I set about prepping them.
The recipe we chose, Grilled Branzino with Lemons All the Ways, is found in Alison Roman’s absolutely fantastic debut cookbook, and as you can deduce from its title, wants you to grill the fish. Except that it is January, and I live in New Jersey. Indoor grill pans were the order of the day. Fine, you must be thinking! What’s wrong with indoor grill pans? Their specific purpose is to let you people who suffer cold winters do exactly this: grill in January. Well, there would be no problem were it not for the fact that whichever asshat renovated our apartment building back in 2013 decided that every tenant who might ever pass through here must be a pyromaniac with an IQ of 60. I have NEVER encountered more sensitive smoke alarms – nothing even close! And oh, did I mention we have thirteen-foot ceilings? So when something as innocent and simple as ROASTING A CHICKEN IN THE OVEN WITH THE DOOR CLOSED sets off these snowflake smoke alarms, one must climb a full ladder and try to hit the tiny button with the end of a tall broom, hoping one does not miss and poke a hole in the ceiling and lose their entire security deposit.
So the grill pan is procured, preheating begins. We smell something weird. It’s not right, we hunt for the culprit. Maybe we missed a spot cleaning the stovetop and the gas flames are burning off some food bits or grease? No, the flame was burning the cord to the stand mixer, which neither of us had noticed was sitting too close to the stove. We rescued it in time to not lose the entire thing, and Matt patched it with duct tape, because of course – duct tape. But, that sucked. Does anyone happen to know if KitchenAid can replace just the cord?
Anyways, I patted the fish dry, stuffed them with lemon slices, rubbed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Onto the grill with a satisfying sizzle! I set the kitchen timer. Roman specified each fish to be 1 ¼ pounds and to cook about eight to ten minutes per side. My fish were a little under a pound each, so I guessed at seven minutes per side. Ninety seconds into cooking, and the smoke alarm goes off. Of course it does. Two cats freak out and run under the bed, and Matt manages to shut it off while leaving the ceiling intact. After seven minutes total, I flip the fish and reset the timer. After they’ve been flipped and cooking for not quite five minutes, I have to remove them and shut off the grill. The smoke alarm has gone off THREE more times, the one cat who doesn’t spazz out at loud noises is giving me this look that plainly speaks of her intent to kill me in my sleep, and I just can’t take it anymore. I don’t even care if the fish is raw on one side. We’ll deal.
So we toss a simple salad, transfer the fish to our dinner plates, pour a TALL glass of wine, and drizzle on the preserved lemon relish that I don’t remember assembling in between all the smoke alarms. With ears ringing and nerves shot, we curse our property managers and sit down to dinner. And would you believe me if I told you the fish was actually cooked extremely well and dinner was amazingly delicious? I’m still in shock myself.
After dinner I fondly thought of this charming butterscotch pudding I’d made a few weeks earlier, wishing I’d had another bowl of this childhood nostalgia to soothe away the frenzied hysteria of the evening. Of course I didn’t. But I probably should have made another batch – it would have been more than earned. And now all you butterscotch lovers can make it too. We don’t need any boxes, just a few fridge and pantry staples, and a smidge of patience until you can dip your spoon into lush, darkly sweet, creamy pudding with a kick of whisky that, well, certainly wasn’t in my childhood butterscotch pudding. But, we are adults now, and I deem that little bit of spikiness mandatory. When you need some comforting, this is your recipe. Enjoy!
SOURCE: Bringing It Home by Gail Simmons
1 ¾ cups whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
6 tbs unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tbs cornstarch
½ tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs Scotch whiskey
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and cream just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat, then whisk in the brown sugar. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth and just begins to bubble, about 2 minutes (do not overcook, or the mixture will burn). Remove from the heat.
Whisking constantly, slowly pour the warm milk mixture to the butter mixture until fully combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and salt, then add the eggs and ¼ cup of the milk mixture. Whisk to combine. Whisk in an additional ¼ cup of the milk mixture, then slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan, whisking constantly until very smooth.
While continuing to whisk, cook over medium heat until the pudding is bubbling and becomes very thick, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, then whisk in the vanilla and whiskey.
Pass the pudding through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Spoon the pudding into 4 serving glasses or custard cups. Cover the surfaces with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap touches the top of the pudding (this will prevent the dreaded “skin” from forming). Chill until cold, at least 4 hours, up to overnight.
Serve the pudding topped with the whipped cream.