A combination of textures is an essential aspect of a delicious dish. Crunchy and creamy, chewy and runny, crisp and tender: part of cooking is learning how to play ingredients off each other in interesting and appealing ways. (And it doesn’t stop with texture, of course. Think of the push and pull of flavour in sweet-and-sour sauce, or the mingling of hot and cold in an ice cream sundae with warm fudge sauce.)
That’s a theme in our five recipes below.
Baked cod with buttery cracker topping
Baked, stuffed fish is an old-school restaurant staple in New England; covered in lemony, butter-soaked cracker crumbs, it’s a wonderful way to eat mild white fish like cod or haddock. The dish has a long history and relies on two ingredients New Englanders have in abundance: fresh seafood and crackers, which are descended from sailors’ hardtack. Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book has a recipe for cracker-stuffed halibut, seasoned with butter, salt, pepper and onion juice. Some modern versions use saltines, others use butter crackers like Ritz, and many enrich the crackers with crab meat. This recipe is an easy weeknight variation: instead of rolling the fish up around the stuffing, which requires long, thin filets, it is generously covered in the stuffing and roasted until the cracker topping is toasted and the fish flakes.
By: Sarah DiGregorio
Total time: 25 minutes
115g butter-flavoured crackers, such as Ritz (about 1½ sleeves or 24 crackers)
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
Handful minced fresh chives
Handful minced flat-leaf parsley
½ lemon, zest and juice, plus more lemon wedges for serving
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
4 (170-225g) fillets of cod, haddock, halibut or other white fish
Coarse salt and black pepper
Sweet paprika, for serving
1. Heat the oven to 220C. Put the crackers in a medium bowl and use your hand to crush them until they are finely crushed (some coarser bits are OK). Add 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, the chives, parsley, lemon zest and onion and garlic powders, and stir to evenly combine, making sure to moisten all the crumbs.
2. Put the fish fillets in a large, ovenproof frying pan. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon butter over the fish and turn to coat. Season the fish on all sides with salt and pepper. Mound the cracker mixture on top of the fish, covering it (some cracker crumbs will fall off the fish).
3. Roast in the oven for 10 to 16 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. Plan for about 10 minutes per inch; the fish should flake easily, and the juices should be bubbly around the edges. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top. Sprinkle with paprika, and serve with extra lemon wedges on the side.
Prawn piccata spaghetti
The zesty piccata sauce of fresh lemon juice, briny capers and rich butter is the inspiration behind this weeknight seafood pasta. Plump, meaty prawns pair perfectly with the pantry-staple sauce, which is simple yet fresh and bright. The chopped prawns are gently cooked over low heat in a shallot and garlic-infused olive oil to keep them tender. Peas are an easy way to add a vegetable with pops of sweetness (thawed frozen corn would also work well). The dish is finished with fresh parsley, but other herbs like basil, chives or dill would yield equally delicious results.
By: Kay Chun
Serves: 4 to 6
Total time: 25 minutes
Salt and black pepper
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped (25g)
3 garlic cloves, minced
450g cleaned prawns, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
140g thawed frozen peas
2 tbsp capers, plus 2 tbsp caper brine
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high. Cook spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain pasta.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a 30cm non-stick frying pan over medium and melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in it. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic until fragrant, 30 seconds.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low, add the prawns and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the prawns just turn opaque, 4 to 5 minutes. If the prawns are done before the pasta finishes, remove the pan from heat.
4. Return pasta and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water to the large pasta pot and heat over medium. Add the prawn mixture, peas, capers, caper brine and the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, and season with salt and pepper. Stir vigorously until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and parsley.
5. Divide pasta in bowls and garnish with more parsley.
Garlic chicken with guasacaca sauce
Simple to make, versatile in use and complex in flavour, guasacaca sauce is one of the wonderful condiments of Venezuelan cuisine. Creamy from the addition of avocado with a bright and tangy herb and lime base, it makes an evocative pairing for any vegetarian, seafood or meat dish. Here, it accompanies a tray bake dinner of roasted chicken and carrots but will do just as well with anything from the grill.
By: Yewande Komolafe
Total time: 45 minutes
½ cup (60ml) olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
680g carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths (1.5cm wide)
Salt and black pepper
1.2-1.4kg bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, drumsticks, breasts or a combination, patted dry
1 avocado, pitted and chopped
1 jalapeño, stemmed and chopped
2 tbsp rice vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Large handful chopped parsley leaves with tender stems
Large handful chopped coriander leaves with tender stems
1. Heat oven to 220C. In a medium bowl, combine ¼ cup oil and grate in 2 garlic cloves using a zester. Add the carrots and toss to coat. Lightly season with salt and black pepper and transfer to a baking tray, reserving the garlic oil in the bowl. Add the chicken to the bowl and coat with the remaining garlic oil. Arrange in a single layer on the tray skin-side up between the carrots.
2. Roast until carrots are tender, and chicken is cooked through with crispy skin that’s browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes.
3. While the chicken cooks, in a food processor or blender or using a mortar and pestle, combine the avocado, jalapeño, vinegar, lime zest and juice, remaining garlic clove, half the chopped parsley and coriander, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Purée or pound into a coarse mixture. With the machine running or while mixing with a pestle in a mortar, slowly drizzle in the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and 1 tablespoon room temperature water. Purée or stir until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt if necessary. The sauce can be made a few hours in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.
4. Scatter the remaining parsley and coriander over the chicken and carrots. Transfer to individual plates along with any pan juices. Spoon a few tablespoons of the guasacaca sauce on the side for dipping. Serve warm with additional sauce on the side.
Stir-fried lettuce with crispy garlic and fried eggs
In Chinese culture, cooked lettuce is a symbol of good luck. In Cantonese, the word for lettuce is sang choy, and in Mandarin, it’s sheng cai, which sounds like the words for “growing wealth” in each language. Stir-fried lettuce is commonly served as a bed for braised mushrooms or simply as a green side dish. Here, stir-fried lettuce, fried eggs and crispy garlic chips perch on a bed of rice, a simple meal with comforting flavours and textures. The joy of this preparation is that the lettuce retains a fresh crunch even after cooking; iceberg is preferred, but romaine will give you similar results. Vegetarian stir-fry sauce is a product sold in Asian grocery stores, but you can also use oyster sauce. For a shortcut, skip the fried garlic and top with store-bought crispy fried onions or shallots.
By: Hetty McKinnon
Total time: 20 minutes
1 head of iceberg lettuce (about 680g)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp vegetarian stir-fry sauce, or oyster sauce
¼ tsp sugar
Black or white pepper
2 tbsp plus ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (2.5cm) piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Steamed rice, for serving
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
2 spring onions, green and white parts, finely sliced
Maggi seasoning sauce, for serving (optional)
1. Using a sharp paring knife, run it around the core of the lettuce, then gently pull it out. Remove any discoloured outer layers of the lettuce and discard. Tear the lettuce into large chunks. Wash the leaves and allow them to drain after gently shaking in a colander.
2. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetarian stir-fry or oyster sauce, sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt. Season with pepper.
3. Heat a large (30cm) deep frying pan on medium-high. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil to lightly coat the pan, then add the ginger and cook for 15 to 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the lettuce and stir-fry for 2 minutes, until it starts to wilt. Pour the sauce over the lettuce and stir-fry for another 1 to 2 minutes (take care not to overcook, as you want your lettuce to retain some crunch). Taste and season with salt, if needed. Place the lettuce (and all the pan juices) in a bowl and set aside. Once your pan is cool enough to handle, rinse it out and dry.
4. To the same pan over medium-high heat, add the ¼ cup (60ml) olive oil and sliced garlic. Stir constantly for 3 to 4 minutes until the garlic turns a pale golden brown. (Watch carefully! It burns quickly.) Remove the garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain; it will continue to brown and crisp as it cools.
5. To the remaining oil in the pan over medium-high heat, add the eggs and cook untouched until whites are set, 2 to 3 minutes.
6. To serve, place a mound of rice in a bowl, top with lettuce, some pan juices, a fried egg, crispy garlic and a scatter of sesame seeds and scallions. Finish with a tiny drizzle of Maggi seasoning sauce, if using.
Bean and cheese burritos
Mexican refried beans are a cinch to make at home on a weeknight thanks to some staple pantry items and a few basic fresh ingredients. Buttery canned pinto beans are perfect in this dish, breaking down into a creamy, silky mixture (black beans would also work great). While the beans are often fried in lard or bacon drippings, this vegetarian version builds flavour with caramelised onion, bell pepper, garlic and smoked paprika instead. Pico de gallo adds a touch of tang to counter the rich beans. Pan-frying the wrapped burritos guarantees a golden, irresistibly crispy exterior and an interior that oozes with melted cheese.
By: Kay Chun
Makes: 6 burritos
Total time: 40 minutes
¼ cup (60ml) safflower or canola oil
25g finely chopped yellow onion (from ½ medium onion)
75g finely chopped green bell pepper (from ½ pepper)
Salt and black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 (425g) cans pinto beans, ½ cup of bean liquid reserved and the rest drained
125g shop-bought or homemade pico de gallo or salsa
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
6 (22-25in) flour tortillas
2 cups (225g) shredded sharp cheddar
Sour cream and hot sauce, for serving
1. In a large non-stick frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium. Add onion and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden and tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic until fragrant, 1 minute. Add pinto beans, pico de gallo, smoked paprika, reserved bean liquid and ½ cup of water, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring and mashing occasionally with a potato masher or the back of a spoon, until liquid is absorbed and mixture is thick, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer refried beans to a bowl, and wipe out skillet.
2. Spread ½ cup of the refried beans in the centre of each tortilla and top each with a handful of the cheese. Fold the short sides of the tortilla over the filling; fold the bottom of the tortilla up and over the filling and tightly roll.
3. In the pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium. Add 3 burritos seam side down and cook until golden, turning occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to serving plates and repeat with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 3 burritos. Serve warm with sour cream and hot sauce on the side.
© The New York Times