"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres
May (written May 2003)

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 just fine.

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 deer."

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 the store).

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 if needed.

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 taste.

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 (BURP!).

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All columns and stories are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the Scifres family.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres Family, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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