Spring break is upon us, but a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that it will not — should not — look like it has in years past. But we need bright spots and sunshine now more than ever. So this spring, we'll travel by way of our imaginations — and taste buds.
Let's picture spring breaks of warm weather, beach and sand that are peppered with memories of delicious meals: The Florida Keys, Laguna Beach, Playa del Carmen, Lima. Let's channel those seafood meals, ceviches on the beach, tropical fruit cocktails and roadside treats.
One of the best parts of vacation, beyond relaxing, sightseeing and swimming, is eating outdoors, on a porch, sea breeze blowing through your hair. While you may not get that salty ocean air in your kitchen, you can still re-create those beachy vibes at home with a seafood shack classic the spicy fish sandwich.
To cook this at home, start by looking for fish options in the local market's freezer case. The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch app can help you select fish that has been caught (or farmed and harvested) sustainably. Choose from haddock or scrod, U.S. tilapia, Pacific cod or U.S farmed bass. After thawing in the refrigerator, season the fillets with a spicy rub and then broil to golden and tender before tucking into a toasted bun with a pile of spicy slaw.
Sweet potato fries make the perfect accompaniment to spicy fish sandwiches. For oven fries, simply peel large sweet potatoes, slice them 1/2-inch thick and then cut the slices into 1/4-inch wide sticks. Put on a baking sheet with a nice coating of sunflower or safflower oil and a sprinkle of salt. Bake at 375 degrees on convection, stirring often, until crispy, about 20 minutes. A sprinkle of the seafood seasoning that follows perks them up into a worthy side.
Shrimp cocktail, served with avocado and lime in tall glasses, conjure thoughts of beach snacks in Cabo after a day in the sunshine.
Finally, let a tropical fruit smoothie transport you to a tiki bar, consumed perhaps after a beachside yoga class. Later in the day, the same smoothie deserves a hit of golden rum and a paper umbrella.
Spring break fare to remember. Sand and sun optional, but certainly welcome.
Spicy Fish and Slaw Sandwiches
Time: 20 minutes prep, 10 minutes cook
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup mayonnaise, plus more for buns
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 to 3 cups finely shredded cabbage (half of a 14-ounce bag)
1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled, finely shaved or shredded
2 green onions, trimmed, thinly sliced
4 haddock, tilapia or cod fillets, each at least 1-inch thick (about 1 pounds total)
4 brioche or whole-grain burger buns, split (see notes)
Favorite spicy barbecue sauce
Make seafood rub: In a small dish, mix 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, teaspoon garlic powder, teaspoon each: thyme, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne, and 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice. The seafood rub can be made ahead and stored in a covered container up to several weeks.
In the bottom of a medium-size bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon of the seafood rub with 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Stir in 2 to 3 cups finely shredded cabbage, the finely shaved carrot and 2 thinly sliced green onions. Use immediately, or refrigerate, covered, up to 2 days. Serve at room temperature.
Pat fish dry. Sprinkle generously on all sides with the remaining seafood rub. Place on the perforated top of a broiler pan or on an ovenproof rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet. If desired, let stand at room temperature about 30 minutes, or refrigerate, loosely covered, for several hours.
When ready to serve, remove coleslaw from the refrigerator. Toast the 4 split burger buns. Spread the bottoms of the buns with a thin coating of barbecue sauce. If desired, spread tops of buns or other 4 slices of bread with a thin coating of mayonnaise. Place on serving plates.
Heat broiler to high. Drizzle a little olive oil over each fish fillet. Broil, 6 inches from heat source, without turning, until fish almost flakes easily in the thickest portion, 5 to 7 minutes.
Carefully transfer one piece of fish to each of the bottom buns. Top with a mound of coleslaw, and position the top bun in place. Serve right away.
* Add a slice of crispy bacon or ripe tomato to these spicy fish sandwiches, if desired.
* You can cook fish on a medium hot grill if desired.
* Instead of burger buns you could also use 8 one-inch thick slices of brioche or challah.
Shrimp Cocktail Salad
Time: 20 minutes prep, 5 minutes cook
Yield: 2 to 3 servings
12 ounces peeled, deveined medium-size shrimp (51 to 60 count), thawed (see notes)
1 large lime
1/3 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon pureed chipotle in adobo or Mexican red pepper hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 roasted red bell pepper, diced (bottled is fine here)
1/4 cup drained, thinly sliced green olives
2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced red onion, well rinsed (see notes)
1/2 large avocado, halved, pitted, flesh diced
2 to 3 cups mixed salad greens or 4 to 6 large Boston or leaf lettuce leaves
Fresh cilantro leaves and lime wedges, for garnish
Saltines or other crackers
Put the shrimp into a large saucepan with just enough water to cover. Squeeze juice of 1 lime into a cup. Set the juice aside. Put the lime rinds in the pan with the shrimp. Heat to a gentle simmer; stir well and remove from the heat. Let stand until all shrimp are pink, about 2 minutes. Drain well. (You can save the cooking liquid for use in seafood soups; freeze up to 1 month.)
Mix 1/3 cup ketchup, 1 teaspoon pureed chipotle (or hot sauce) and teaspoon salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Add reserved lime juice to taste. Gently stir in cooked, drained shrimp, the diced roasted red pepper, cup drained sliced olives and 2 to 3 tablespoons finely diced and rinsed red onion. Taste for seasoning. Refrigerate, covered, up to several hours
Gently stir diced flesh from a ripe avocado into shrimp mixture. Arrange 1 cup mixed salad greens or 2 lettuce leaves on each serving plate. Gently pile the shrimp mixture over the lettuce leaves. Garnish with cilantro leaves and lime wedges. Serve with crackers.
* Look for shrimp farmed in the U.S. or Canada, also known as Pacific white shrimp, for their good sustainable methods. If possible, avoid farmed shrimp that does not have a sustainable designation.
* Rinsing the raw onion helps remove some of its bite.
Tropical Fruit Smoothie
Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 to 3 drinks
Serve this drink topped with a scoop of mango or blood orange sorbet if desired. Skip the rum and add a scoop or 2 of vanilla protein powder for a post-workout refresher.
1 ripe banana
1 cup diced fresh or frozen pineapple
1 large ripe mango, pitted, peeled, roughly chopped (1 1/2 cups frozen diced)
2 cups ice cubes
1/2 cup coconut cream (or cup cream of coconut) (see notes)
1/2 cup gold rum, optional
1/4 cup seedless fresh or frozen passion fruit puree (or undiluted orange juice concentrate) (see notes)
1 or 2 scoops vanilla protein powder, optional
1 or 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Several drops pure vanilla extract
Skewers of fresh fruit, for garnish
Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish
Put everything except garnishes into a large blender (or blend half at a time). Process until smooth and frothy.
Serve in chilled glasses. Garnish with skewers of fruit and fresh mint sprigs.
* I prefer to use unsweetened coconut cream rather than the syrupy sweet cream of coconut, but either works.
* Look for passion fruit puree in the freezer section of international grocery stores; some stores sell bite-size passion fruit pieces, which would work as well. If you can't find either, substitute mango puree or undiluted orange concentrate.