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  • Writer's pictureMegan Jarrett

Finding the Good in the Imperfect

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

The cod’s parmesan crust was crispy, the kale was steamed but still bright green, and the herb and lemon zest garnish on the rice added a nice pop of color to the plate. Everything was perfect — until we took our first bites.

 

Growing up, seafood made me ill. I wouldn’t call it an allergy but more of an intolerance. I remember eating fish sticks as a child and immediately racing to the bathroom. It never quite settled right with me, no matter how much I enjoyed eating it.

Hattie Pauline Jarrett

Seafood is a tough intolerance because everyone assumes you just don’t like it and made up a pretend problem to avoid saying you don’t like it. Nope, just an issue. And apparently one I shared with my great grandmother, Grandma Jarrett.


Fortunately for me, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to work up my tolerance for seafood, and it's reached a point where I can enjoy a meal or share an appetizer from the sea with my friends and feel okay. It's something Jordan and I intentionally tried because he loves it and we wanted to be able to go out to dinner and not be limited by what we could order.


Especially over the summer when we could enjoy dinner out on a restaurant’s patio, shrimp was one of our favorite appetizers to order. We didn’t really make it at home, but it was a tasty treat to enjoy when we we’re out.

 

Last weekend, we decided to give baked fish a try. We anchored our dinner menu around this recipe for Parmesan Crusted Baked White Fish. Looking in the pantry, we had some rice to use up, so we decided to add in a Lemon Rice Pilaf. There was some kale left, too, which we knew we could steam easily.

We met at the grocery store to stock up for the evening’s adventure. We had most of what we needed on hand, but we found a couple of fresh skinless Alaskan cod filets and grabbed fresh parsley, chives, and thyme and some lemons.

Getting the rice started was our first priority. We used a couple of recipes for inspiration (found here and here) but based quantities on our judgment. We chopped an onion and began sautéing it in olive oil with a spoonful or two of garlic. After a couple of minutes, we added in the rice to begin browning it. We weren’t using exact measurements, more so eyeballing our rice to onion ratio and making sure we had room in the pan for a 1:2 rice to liquid ratio eventually.


While the rice was cooking, we began preparing the topping for the cod. We mixed together breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, butter, garlic, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Once our mix was ready, we patted it onto the cod and made sure the oven was finished preheating.



Once the rice had browned a bit, we began adding the liquid. We started by adding chicken broth at double the quantity of the rice, then covered and let it simmer. With the rice simmering, we put the fish in the oven and put the kale in the steamer.

While all the dishes were cooking, we did our final prep. We chopped the parsley, thyme, and chives and zested another lemon. After the rice simmered, we tasted it and it was still a bit crunchy and needed more liquid. We added in some white wine and lemon juice and the rest of the chicken broth and let it cook a bit longer. It was a welcome reminder that sometimes you have to go off recipe and work with what you have on hand.


The dishes all finished at nearly the exact same time, so at least we nailed our timing. The fish came out of the oven and we pulled the rice off the heat. Jordan tossed the kale in a bit of butter and lemon juice while I mixed the fresh herbs and lemon zest into our rice.



Finally, we were ready to dish up our creations and dig in! We were actually quite pleased with the final plate. The crust on the cod was browned, the kale hadn't wilted, and the rice was just right. It all looked so appetizing. And then we took a bite.


 

As it turns out, there were a few flaws under the surface of our picturesque meal. Our first realization came when we took a bite of the cod. There was way too much of the crust — like two or three times more than we needed. We quickly found out that it was intended to be more of a light coating than a full crust. Oops. And it was too salty. We were trying to figure out what happened because we followed the recipe and used the suggested amount of salt, but what we hadn't considered was that we were using Italian breadcrumbs instead of plain, which meant there was already salt in the breadcrumbs. That's why it's so important to always taste while you're cooking.


Then we tried the kale. It was cooked perfectly, but it had too much butter and it had not completely melted when it was added to the kale. It was supposed to be tossed in a small pat of butter, but apparently it was not. Next time, we'd use a lot less butter and chop it into small pieces before tossing the kale in it so that it all melts. The kale also had too much lemon juice. A nice finish of lemon juice adds a light, tasty flavor to the kale, which is something I normally love. But I think this kale had almost a whole lemon's worth of juice. It was a good reminder that sometimes too much of something good can actually keep it from being great.


It wasn't a total failure of a meal, though. The cod was cooked perfectly, so we scraped off a lot of the breadcrumbs and enjoyed a nicely cooked piece of fish. Also, the rice was incredible. It was cooked well and the adjustments we'd made to the liquid while we cooked it ended up giving it just the right texture. Unlike our kale, the portions of the seasonings were spot on.


Once we reset our expectations and made some adjustments to account for our errors, the dinner was actually pretty good in the end. It's definitely something that would be great if we were to attempt it again because we'd be able to adjust based on what we learned this time. It might not have been the best seafood meal ever made, but I like to approach cooking how I try to approach each day: armed with a willingness to be wrong so that I can learn from what doesn't go well to make it better the next time.


Cheers!


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