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Sweet and Sour Fish
A Passover starter or main from Coco Morante's "Great-Aunt Mim" of Oakland
Happy April! We’re officially deep into spring holiday season, so the next couple of posts will be recipe focused. Today, we’re planning for Passover with a recipe that makes a great addition to a Seder meal, and later in the week I’ll share a bright, sunny dessert perfect for Easter brunch—or any other spring celebration you might be holding. (I’ll also re-share my friend Faheem’s sheer khurma recipe for those planning ahead for Eid.) I hope all of your celebrations are delicious!
Sweet and Sour Fish
This recipe is a bit of a throwback—it’s been made by cookbook author Coco Morante’s family for three generations—but it still makes a perfect addition to any Seder table. The recipe comes from Coco’s “Great-Aunt Mim,” Miriam Simon, who lived in Oakland’s Redwood Heights neighborhood. Mim's mother-in-law, Martha, who had come over from Germany in the late 1930s, would come from her home in San Francisco to oversee the making of the dish each Passover.
This dish makes an excellent swap for gefilte fish, but it’s equally good as a main for a pescatarian meal (or pescatarian guests). Coco notes that Mim may have poached the fish in a fish kettle or in the oven, but as it’s not clear in the recipe, I’ve simplified it by poaching gently in the same pot you cook the onions in. The dish can be made two to three days in advance and served cold.
Serves 6 as a main or 12 (or more) as an appetizer
Six ½-pound pieces salmon or whitefish
Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 pound onions, sliced
½ cup granulated sugar, plus more as needed
½ cup white vinegar, plus more as needed
2 lemons, sliced, plus more for garnish
½ cup raisins
2 tablespoons potato starch
Parsley, to garnish
Salt the fish generously and set it aside.
Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pot, then add the onions. Cook the onions until soft, about 5 minutes, then add the sugar and continue to cook and caramelize until the onions are brown.
Add 3” - 4” of water to the pot; the water should be about as deep as the thickest part of your fish. Add the vinegar and lemon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let it cook at a low simmer, for 15 minutes.
Add the fish to the pot, and nestle it in so that every piece is submerged. (Add more water if needed). Simmer the fish for 20 minutes, to poach gently.
Gently remove the fish from the pot. Strain the broth, reserving the liquid and discarding the onions and lemon.
Return the strained sauce to the pot. Taste, and add more vinegar and sugar to taste (if needed). Add the raisins. In a small bowl, mix the potato starch with just enough water to turn it into a paste. Add the paste to the pot and let the sauce boil for a couple minutes, until it thickens slightly.
Refrigerate the fish until ready to serve, up to 2 days. Cut the filets into small pieces if using as an appetizer or serve whole. Spoon sauce on each piece and garnish with lemon slices and parsley.
Photo: Georgia Freedman