About this time each year I start thinking about lunch.
Actually, about this time every day of the year I start thinking of
lunch. But at this time of the year--mid-April into May--I start thinking
of a very special lunch. It requires some planning.
Because of the fickle weather, this lunch may come in late April, but
more often the timetable of the players in this special, one-shot lunch
dictate that it will happen in May.
You see, this is no ordinary luncheon. It combines several of products
of nature, and for this reason conditions of spring must be just right
for each piece of the puzzle (lunch).
Once each spring I try to prepare a lunch of fried goggle-eye (rock
bass) filets, fried morels, wild asparagus (creamed with fresh morels,
onion, a sliced hard-boiled egg and topped with a melted latticework of
American cheese). These items are enhanced by a skillet of home-fried potatoes
(skin off), a fresh green salad with my simple, home-made dressing, a pan
of cornbread (everybody knows how to fry potatoes), real butter, honey,
and a pot of coffee.
Dessert? Leftover cornbread, butter and honey will handle that part
Preparing such a lunch, in at least one important aspect, is a lot like
the Down East recipe for Brunswick Stew which starts: "First you get the
And so it is that collecting the prime ingredients for my special lunch
is of prime import, but staking one's claim on each is a beautiful, exciting
experience. The spring progression of each element must coincide with the
others to create the potential for this kitchen caper.
Assuming that you can get all of the ducks in a row (there is a wealth
of material on collecting the ingredients on the various pages of this
web site), here's how I organize this culinary coup.
The real trick in preparing my special lunch rests with getting all
of the elements ready for consumption at the same time. To do this, I start
with the dishes that require more preparation time. This would be the asparagus
dish, but the cornbread also requires baking time.
With this thought in mind, I mix the cornbread batter and get it in
a shallow, greased, baking pan--ready to plop into the preheated oven when
the time is right.
Then, in a sauce pan (with good cover) that is wide enough to accommodate
six-inch asparagus spears, I chop a strip of bacon (I like jowl bacon,
but any bacon is fine). On medium heat (uncovered) I simmer the bacon in
about half an inch of water for 15 minutes. This imparts the bacon's taste
(and a little liquefied fat) in the stock (water).
At this point the bacon pieces may be strained out to be replaced by
the asparagus spears and half a cup of sliced onion (rings are fine, but
I prefer slices), and a like amount of morel pieces (including stems).
Still on medium heat (or lower), the pan is covered and allowed to simmer
until asparagus spears are showing some tenderness when punched with the
sharp point of a knife. Don't overcook them in this stage of the proceedings.
At this juncture, I remove and drain the spears/onion/morel pieces,
and save them separated from the stock which also is saved.
In the sauce pan (still-hot), I spoon three to five tablespoons of the
rich stock (the amount depends upon how much cream sauce you want to make).
With the pan still on medium heat (maybe a little hotter as this stage
progresses), I stir enough flour into the stock to make a rather thick
paste (the French call it roux, pronounced roo).
As the flour thickens the stock (don't let it get real thick), I stir
in more stock until I have all of the remaining stock cooking (stirred
almost constantly to keep it from thickening on the bottom of the pan).
As this mixture cooks and becomes thicker, I stir in whole milk (I like
the milk that comes from a friend's Jersey cows, or half-and-half from
When this starts to thicken, I return the precooked asparagus/onion/morel
to the saucepan, turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. I allow the asparagus/onion/morel
mixture (the bacon pieces can be included if you like), to steep until
the other dishes are nearing, then slice a hard-boiled egg over the top
and make a latticework of American cheese strips over the top. The thing
you want to guard against here is the cheese overpowering the other elements
of the dish. Remember, the big cog in this dish is asparagus.
Assuming that the goggle-eye filets and the morels are ready for the
old iron skillets (a skillet for each), I fry a few more strips of jowl
bacon in each skillet to get the flavor.
When the bacon is a little crisp, I remove it, allowing it to cool on
a piece of paper towel. I supplement the bacon fryings in each skillet
with enough olive oil (stir them together) to cover the skillet bottoms
well. I like at least 1/16 (one sixteenth) of an inch of cooking
agent in the bottom of the skillets. More olive oil may be added later
When the skillets (hotter than medium) sizzle mildly at the drop of
a cracker crumb, the goggle-eye filets and morel halves are placed in a
manner that each will allow each piece to be exposed to hot iron.
The goggle-eye filets and morel halves are prepared for the skillet
in the same way. In a shallow bowl (a cereal bowl works well), I break
an egg or two (more if needed), and beat in an equal part of milk.
With the egg/milk mixture completed, I pulverize good crackers (not
just soda crackers) in a plastic bag. I use a bags that close tightly and
try to get as much air out of the bag as possible before rolling the bag
with rolling pin or a strong, cylindrical water glass. The crackers are
rolledas fine as I can get them. My favorite cracker is the Keebler "Club"
(dark green box with yellow "Club" lettering). I have declared it the official
cracker of this web page for frying morels and sundry species of fish.
The cracker-meal is mixed 50-50 with all-purpose flour on a large plate
or pie pan.
The goggle-eye filets and morel halves are then dipped in the egg-milk
bowl, dredged in the cracker-meal/flour mix and plopped into their respective
skillets for a liberal salting and peppering.
Each filet or morel piece is pressed gently to the skillet bottom and
allowed to cook at a pretty good sizzle until brown on the first side.
Each then is dittoed on the second side. No need to turn either more than
once. Overcooking is a thing to avoid for either fish filets or morels.
Both need to be cooked through, but overcooking destroys their beautiful
Frying fish and morels requires almost constant attention.
That brings us to the salad. I will leave the parts of the salad open,
but not without pointing out that I never put together a green salad without
some finely chopped onion (green onions are best, and wild green onions
are even better), some small cubes of a pretty cheesy cheese, and a chopped,
hard-boiled egg (cold scrambled eggs are not a bad substitute).
My special salad dressing is not really as "special" as I try to make
it sound. It consists, quite simply, of nothing more complicated than a
three-fifths/one-fifth/one fifth mixture of any good salad dressing, mustard
(the kind you use on hot dogs), and milk. That is to say that if I use
three heaping tablespoons of salad dressing, I add one heaping tablespoon
of mustard and one tablespoon of milk. More milk will not detract from
the taste if you want the special dressing thinner.
Of course, the green salad can be replaced by a nice skillet of wilted
lettuce, but that is another story . . . make that recipe . . . of which
I am full (the recipes, not the wilted lettuce, unfortunately).
"Not so fast there, young feller," you may say, "you left a string
untied when you failed to tell what happened to that jowl bacon you fried
to a crisp when you were preparing to fix the goggle-eyes and the morels."
Oh, Yes! (BURP!), the bacon! I exercised C's P (cook's prerogative)
on the bacon. In my kitchen, you know, the cook--pursuant to provisions
of C's P--may (BURP!) dispose of, as he/she sees fitting, any item
or ingredient not deemed necessary for overall gourmet qualities of a dish