Skipping meat on Fridays is a centuries-old expression of Christian contrition, especially during the season of Lent. Fish often stars at Friday meals. But given the price of fish these days -- a form of penance in itself -- you should maximize the pleasure and flavor of what you buy.
Many consumers don't feel comfortable with fish. They don't know what to buy or how to cook it. Hence this recipe primer with five ideas for Lent -- though you can, of course, use it year-round.
To keep things simple, the focus is on salmon, a popular fish that has been ranked third for nearly a decade in terms of consumption -- behind front-runner shrimp and canned tuna -- by the National Fisheries Institute, a trade group. All of the recipes can be made with other types of seafood; experiment.
Salmon is a good-for-you food, getting prominent play on ChooseMyPlate.gov, the healthy eating website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because it is rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids. The site talks of options such as salmon steak or fillet and salmon loaf, but there's so much more you can do with this fish. Available fresh, frozen, smoked, cured, dried and canned, salmon lends itself to all sorts of preparations.
> SALMON WITH BEURRE BLANC
Salmon: Poach, steam or microwave 4 pieces of salmon until just cooked through.
Sauce: Meanwhile, prepare this sauce from "Seafood" (DK, $35): Cut 1 stick butter into small chunks. Melt 2 tablespoons in a small saucepan; add 1 finely chopped shallot. Cook until soft, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add: 5 tablespoons fish stock, water or clam juice, and 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar. Heat to a boil, then simmer until reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Reduce heat to very low; add the remaining butter a few pieces at a time, whisking vigorously between each addition. Keep the sauce hot but not boiling. Sauce should be very creamy once all the butter is added. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, spritz with fresh lemon juice. Spoon over salmon.
Makes 4 servings.
Alternatives: Broiled halibut, sea bass, red snapper.
> ORANGE-MAPLE SALMON
From Nina Simonds' new book, "Simple Asian Meals" (Rodale, $29.99). Use the grill when the weather is fine or the broiler.
Prep: Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest, 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons maple syrup and 1 1/2 -inch piece fresh ginger, minced, in a saucepan. Heat to boil on medium-high heat; reduce heat slightly, simmer 5 minutes. Pour half into a bowl, cool slightly. Keep the other half warm. Arrange a 1 1/2 -pound skin-on salmon fillet (or four 6-ounce salmon steaks) in a shallow pan. Add the cooled sauce, turning the fish so all sides are coated. If using a fillet, place skin side up. Marinate 15 minutes.
Cook: Heat the grill or broiler. If grilling, place the salmon on a lightly oiled grill rack, skin side down if grilling a fillet. Grill until the flesh is just opaque, 6 to 7 minutes per side, brushing with the sauce left in the pan. Serve with remaining sauce. For broiling, place fish on a lightly oiled broiler pan or baking sheet. Broil, skin side up if grilling a fillet, about 6 minutes. Turn fish, baste with sauce and cook until just cooked through, 6 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.
Alternatives: Trout or any firm-fleshed fish, such as halibut, swordfish, tilapia or sea bass.
> LINGUINE AVELLINESI
From "Pasta Italiana" (Kyle, $24.99) by Gino D'Acampo.
Sauce: Melt 2 tablespoons butter with 1/2 cup olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Saute 1 leek, cut into 1/4 -inch slices, and 1 red pepper, diced into 1/4 -inch cubes, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add 7 ounces hot-smoked salmon, cut into 1/4 -inch strips, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes; cook 1 minute. Pour in 1/4 cup dry white wine, cook to allow the alcohol to evaporate, 1 minute. Season with salt.
Pasta: Meanwhile, cook 1 pound linguine in a large pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, return linguine to the pan. Pour in the salmon and red pepper sauce, along with 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley and the finely grated zest of 1 lemon. Stir together over low heat to allow flavors to combine, 30 seconds.
Makes 4 servings.
Alternative: Smoked trout.
> COLD-SMOKED SALMON
Try to get an entire side of cold-smoked salmon if you can; it looks so impressive on a platter. Serve with all the trimmings: paper-thin rings of red onion, capers, chopped fresh dill, butter curls, a cruet of olive oil, cracked pepper, assorted breads.
Makes 6 servings.
Alternatives: Pickled herring, sliced lox, tinned sardines, smoked oysters.
> SALMON SALAD IN AVOCADO
Prep: Drain 1 can (14 3/4 ounces) salmon or 2 pouches (6 to 7 ounces each) skinless, boneless salmon. Mash salmon in a small bowl with a fork. Add 3/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise; 3 sliced green onions; 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped; 1 tablespoon capers, drained; and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Assemble: Split two large avocados lengthwise; remove pits. Place each avocado half on a plate. Stuff with salmon mixture. Garnish with more chopped parsley. Serve with toasted pita triangles, Melba toast or bread sticks.
Makes 4 servings.
Alternatives: Canned tuna, sardines.