A Toast to Sunday Supper

A friend of a friend here in Seattle is an Orthodox Jew, and as such, every Friday at sundown, he and his family observe Shabbat. For 24 hours, J. et al put work and outside-world obligations on hold and focus on rest, reflection and quality time with each other. That quality time includes a long, leisurely lunch, or what some might call supper.

Here at the Casa, Saturday is typically filled with errands and completing to-do lists, hardly a day of rest. But Sunday, that’s when life comes to a temporary halt (at least that’s what I like to tell myself), a day dedicated to the crossword puzzle, contemplating the meaning of life over coffee… and supper.

Depending on where you grew up, the words “dinner” and “supper” may mean different things; for Mister MA, who hails from Kentucky, dinner is served at lunchtime, and supper is a late-afternoon meal. In the suburbs of Philly, where I played in the dirt, supper was something you heard about on “Leave It To Beaver.”

Semantics aside, there’s something to be said for supper -- on Sunday, or whatever day you deem as a day of rest. If for some reason, you’re not giving yourself a day off with regularity, I urge you to reconsider and start by making supper.

Such a call to action bears some clarification: Supper need not be fancy or elaborate, but it’s likely to be mindful, both in the kitchen and at the table. The television is not on, but the music might be. Supper can be solo just fine, but supper really becomes supper when you ring up a friend or a neighbor at the last minute and invite them to join you at the table. At its best, supper is a communal enterprise, one that by just showing up, you’ve committed to the act of nourishing your spirit as well as your body. You’ve exited the freeway and turned off the cell phone. And you’ve made time and space to sup, share and celebrate what it means to be human.

As you know, I cook a lot, but supper doesn’t always make it to our table. It did last Sunday.

We were a party of five, all with extraordinarily busy lives, and on this sunny spring afternoon, we gathered to break bread, grill fish and savor supper. In addition to a whole grilled fish with a salt crust and a tangy lime dipping sauce (recipe details to below), we feasted on coconut-scented rice with cashews, a salad of mixed greens from the farm market, roasted local asparagus, and for dessert, a batch of flourless chocolate-walnut cookies.

Dinner was served family style, with plenty of plate clanging and chitter chatter in between bites. The food was plenty good, but the company outstanding. All I could think about was when we could meet again and do it all over.

Salt-Crusted Whole Fish with Lemongrass
Adapted from the June 2009 issue of Food & Wine

4 lemongrass stalks, tender inner bulbs only, cut into 2-inch lengths
Four 2-pound fish or equivalent (I used an eight-pound wild salmon), scaled and cleaned
Slurry made with ½ cup cornstarch dissolved in 6 tablespoons water (KOD: I recommend using warm water to help minimize seizing of cornstarch)
½ cup kosher salt

In a mortar, lightly pound the lemongrass. Arrange fish on a work surface and pat dry. Stuff cavity with lemongrass. Brush 3 tablespoons of the cornstarch (KOD: It may need some vigorous stirring to keep from clumping) over one side of the fish. Spread ¼ cup of the salt over slurry to form a thin crust. Let stand at room temperature until crust is dry, about 20 minutes. Carefully turn onto other side and repeat with remaining cornstarch slurry and salt. Let stand for another 20 minutes until completely dry. (KOD: can be done a few hours in advance and kept in fridge until ready to cook.)

Fire up your grill. (KOD: For charcoal grills, I highly recommend a chimney to eliminate the need for starter fluid as well as natural wood briquettes versus petroleum-processed coals.)

Lightly brush grill grate with vegetable oil, then place fish on grill, cooking over moderately low heat, turning once. (KOD: Estimate cooking time by thickness – our 8-pounder was about 4 inches thick. At 8-10 minutes per inch, I estimated 40 minutes of cooking time, and we flipped onto second side at about 22 minutes.)

Transfer fish to a work surface and carefully peel away skin. With a spatula or cake server, lift cooked fish away from bones and transfer to a platter. Serve with Spicy Citrus Dipping Sauce (recipe to follow).

Spicy Citrus Dipping Sauce
¾ cup water
¼ cup sugar
½ cup fresh lime juice (at least 3 limes’ worth)
2 tablespoons orange juice
4 Thai chiles, minced (KOD: I used ½ habanero, seeded, which gave me moderate heat)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro

In a medium bowl, combine water with sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add lime juice, orange juice, chile, garlic and salt, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add cilantro just before serving.

Makes 1 ½ cups.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 5, 2009; 7:30 AM ET Family , Kitchen Musings , Seafood
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When I was growing up in Maryland in the 50s and early 60s, my family always had our big Sunday meal, called dinner, at around 1 p.m. Pot roast, fried chicken, pork chops, etc. Our supper would be more modest--often waffles, which I remember with fondness. I can't recall making a big deal out of Sunday breakfast.

Posted by: jhpurdy | May 5, 2009 8:22 AM

When you flipped the fish, did it get stuck to the grates? How does one avoid that? We always grilled on tin foil, but I can see how the fish would benefit from no tin foil.

Falafel update: going to try for it next week, as last night wasn't going to work either. But I did a nice mini/fake jambalaya with 2 leftover spicy hot dogs, some shrimp with fish spice from the BVI, yellow rice, a can of tomatoes and at the last second, some green beans. Wow. But will keep you up on what happens!

Posted by: capecodner424 | May 5, 2009 9:00 AM

Anyway to do this, or any similar recipes, without a grill? Sounds delicious, but I live in an apartment with no balcony...

Posted by: laurenbeau | May 5, 2009 10:32 AM

Laurenbeau, you can roast the fish instead. I'd do it at 400 degrees, since this is indirect heat method.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 5, 2009 10:35 AM

Capecodner424, It did stick a bit, yes. In hindsight, we should have greased up our tools to help ease the fish onto the other side. It was torn a bit, but not so bad, and yes, through the grate, you'll get much more flavor from the wood. Yes, of course, keep me posted on your adventures!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 5, 2009 10:44 AM

In the Chicago suburbs of the 1950s and 1960s, Sunday dinner was what we sat down to after church (12:30 - 1:00 p.m.). Up through the early '60s, my mother would knock herself out on this one - roast, potatos,cooked vegetable, salad ... the works! Sunday evening meal was much more informal ... sometimes as simple as a big bowl of popcorn which we'd share in front of the TV. Favorite evening meal memory? Sitting in front of a fire in the fireplace ... roasting hot dogs ... or eating soup (Knorr soup) ... or feasting on a "tea ring" that my mother would bake ahead of time (it may have been out of a box, for all I know!).

Posted by: LAnnBrown | May 5, 2009 3:38 PM

Thanks for highlighting the beauty of a family meal. I was lucky enough to grow up with a regular dinner with family every night, and still love to get together with my family at least once a week if I can, for a dinner together.

A side note regarding names for meals: I didn't know "happy hour" connoted alcohol to most people until I got to college - growing up, my grandparents called our late afternoon smorgasbord "happy hour." It was wonderful, replete with homemade pickles, chips, crackers, tinned sardines, olives, various small bites and snacks, and of course, beer. My tiny, proper grandmother always poured her beer into a glass, which I thought was very elegant, but family legend says it's because she once finished a bottle only to find a mouse in it at the bottom.....

Posted by: redweather | May 6, 2009 2:34 PM

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