April may be the start of the growing season in many parts of the country, but here in New England we’re in fresh produce purgatory; the winter farmer’s market has ended and the summer one won’t start until May. The ground is still hard and the trees are bare and gray, their spindly branches waving in the wind, beckoning to the sun to beam its rays upon them.
It’s that time of year when you can get away with wearing a t-shirt in direct sunlight, but step into the shade and you still need a down coat. I tried to take the dog out in my bathrobe and slippers last night and the wind howled right through me as if I was standing there naked, stinging my bare ankles and rouging my cheeks and nose. It’s as hard to dress appropriately in April in New England as it is to find anything growing.
Instead we hold on for dear life to the signals that the season is changing. The snow is finally gone and crocuses are starting to pop their green heads through hardened black soil, green buds are forming on our lilac bush out front, and there’s a robin perched on the telephone wire outside my office window, flaunting its flaming orangey-red breast.
So yes, the season is changing, but we still won’t have fresh produce for at least another month or two. I have a stockpile of carrots, cabbage, potatoes and parsnips leftover from the winter market, but I’ve been avoiding our basement holding cell because I can’t bear another braise. I don’t feel like waiting for my stove to heat up so I can roast, and I’d rather pull out my eyelashes than stir-fry kohlrabi one more time. I truly do not know what else to do with that vegetable and wouldn’t mind if I never saw it again.
David Tanis wrote an article that ran in the New York Times Dining Section this week, which yanked me out of the root cellar and into the sunlight. He admits we’re in a bit of a rough spot now, but says there are two ways to proceed in early spring: we can either cook winter ingredients using spring methods -think citrus and herbs and bright green kale salads – or we can cheat and buy a little asparagus from California to tide us over.
Given permission to cheat worked its reverse-psychology magic. I’m trying not to give into the temptation of fresh, new produce until my winter vegetable pile is gone. Instead, I’ll be using up the winter stash in things like raw salads with fun vinaigrettes and fresh herbs; lighter dishes that will trick me into thinking its late spring.
Hopefully by the end of the month, it’ll be time to dust off the grill, pull out the deck furniture, and usher in a whole new style of cooking, but for now, I’ll live in the moment, watching the ferns unfurl and the birds return, grateful that it’s still too cold for ants and mosquitos and the ubiquitous din of distant lawnmowers that sticks around all summer long.
This recipe for crispy fried fish sandwiches with vinegar slaw puts me smack dab in the middle of summer, at our favorite fried fish shack, a place we like to go to refuel after a busy morning of tide pooling and swimming at the beach. Even better, it uses up cabbage and carrots, a winter vegetable double whammy.
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1.5 cups panko breadcrumbs
- ½ cup flour
- 1 pound boneless, skinless haddock or cod, cut into 4 4-ounce pieces (or smaller, 2-inch wide strips for kids)
- ½ teaspoon wasabi paste
- 1.5 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
- 2 small carrots, peeled
- ½ small head green cabbage, core and outer leaves removed
- 2 scallions, washed and cleaned
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 8 grinds black pepper
- Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Crack the eggs into a medium shallow bowl, add the soy sauce, and beat lightly with a fork. Pour the panko and flour into two separate wide shallow bowls or plates. Coat one piece of fish with flour, tapping it slightly to remove excess. Dip it into the egg mixture, then coat with panko. Place the breaded fish into the heated sauté pan. Repeat with the rest of the fish. Cook over medium-low heat until the fish is cooked through and the coating is crispy and brown, about 4 to 5 minutes a side. Remove the fish to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with additional salt.
- Stir together the wasabi and mayonnaise in a small bowl until thoroughly combined.
- Place the cabbage on a cutting board cut side down. Starting at the side opposite the core, slice as thinly as possible. Place cut cabbage into a bowl. Grate the carrots and the ginger on a grater and add to the cabbage. Slice the scallions thinly on the diagonal, white and light green parts only, and add to the bowl. In a small bowl, combine the rice vinegar, canola oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the vegetables and stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. Stir thoroughly and adjust salt if necessary, before serving.
- Slice open four hamburger bun and spread the wasabi mayonnaise on one cut side of each bun. Place one piece of fish in each bun and top with the slaw. Serve hot, with additional slaw on the side.