Let’s talk for a minute about the unlikely combination of seafood and cheese. My first introduction, the Filet-O-Fish, left me scarred in college. GROSS! Who puts cheese on fish! After one bite I tossed the sandwich and declared fish and cheese an unkosher combination.
Like many things in life, time and experience, can and do, change opinions. Since that unfortunate fast food incident, two pivotal dishes helped me jump bravely into an ocean of possibility. One where fresh seafood swims happily alongside cheese.
The first, Baked Greek Shrimp with Feta and Tomato, at the ever famous pilar of Greek Seafood, Taverna Kyclades in Astoria Brooklyn. I was too shocked by the savory, salty, Shrimp and Feta revelation that day to snap a pic, drat! Luckily the fine folks at Serious Eats were more disciplined than me and included a photo of this very dish in a post about long wait times at Taverna Kyclades. In other words, Shrimp baked with Tomatoes, Peppers and Feta is that good!
The second dish, came while I was in Bruges on vacation. A trip where I went from laughing at lost-in-translations moments like: “Cock’s Fresh”
to diving into a Beer friendly cuisine that proves fish and cheese can get along swimmingly. Enter, Baked Cod with a Beer Cheese sauce… and a layer of melted cheese on top.
Say WHAT! My eyes were now officially open.
There is both a long tradition of rules against combining Fish and Cheese in countries like Italy and for it in countries like Greece and France. The Smithsonian explored this “dishparity” to date the best I’ve seen.
In the end, the only rule I care about is that successful dishes balance flavors.
American Cuisine is still being defined. Right now, it is youthful, curious and daring. We’re not to proud to borrow from influences, pantries, fields and chefs from around the world. We turn not only to our Mothers but to TV Chefs, Food Bloggers and Friends to find inspiration.
It’s a brave new world and I love cooking in it. If I find a dish where I balance my experimental bravery with ingredients from around the world, I say that’s American cuisine at its best.
Long preface aside, if you feel like giving Seafood and Cheese a try at home, start with an easy cheese.
Go for a younger cheese, one that has not yet had the chance to develop it’s own complex flavor over time. Complex flavors that might fight, rather than compliment your fish. Try one with a salty profile and a little bite in texture like a Feta, Cotija or Brigante.
I would also recommend starting with a fish or shellfish dish you can bake. One that would be lovely without any cheese but you know… just slightly more devilish when covered with a little naughty melted cheesy goodness. From here, with just these two starting points, your chances of elevating a baked seafood dish from yum to OMG are pretty damn good.
Baked Shrimp With Hungarian Wax Peppers and Cotjia
Ingredients: Exact amounts totally up to you. Recommend 6 shrimp per person and one pepper as a starting point.
- Olive Oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Lemon Zest + Juice
- Cotija/Feta Cheese
- Hungarian Peppers
- Mix Shrimp, Hungarian Peppers and Tomato, portions each to your liking, with Basil, Olive Oil, Lemon zest/juice and Salt & Pepper.
- Bake at 350° until shrimp are just cooked through. Now you could stop here, it would be divine right! But…
- Top with cheese (in this case Cotija but Feta would be stupendous!) and pop back into the oven until melty and toasted.
Serve alone for a light tapas style dish, or with crusty toasted bread rubbed with Garlic for a heartier dish.
It’s a simple dish, healthy home cooking at its easiest. Plus it’s an easy starting point, to bringing fish and cheese together at home.