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Mar 18, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Lent’

Casting a line at St. Louis fish fries with Friday Night Fish

Thursday, March 9th, 2017




I met Stephen Ibendahl in the basement of St. James The Greater Catholic Church in Dogtown. I wasn’t searching for any religious experience, but rather a plate piled high with golden fried fish. And who better to ask than the man behind Friday Night Fish, a website dedicated to that most popular of St. Louis traditions, the Lenten fish fry.

Each year, Christians abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, a 40-day period of reflection and sacrifice before Easter. During this time, many churches host a Friday fish fry where those observing Lent or those hankering for a piece of battered cod can get their fill.

We staked out our place in line, which coiled around the perimeter of the basement, and as we inched forward, Ibendahl told me how his quest for the best fish fry in St. Louis began.

A decade or so ago, he lived in the Central West End, and his parish at the time, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, only hosted one fish fry a year. This forced him to find fries outside the neighborhood. A self-professed “stats geek,” he started keeping track of his favorites for fun, until his wife, Elise Ibendahl, encouraged him to take his hobby online.

Since then, Ibendahl, usually accompanied by his wife, three children and assorted other relatives, has been to more than 60 fish fries, and his website clocks 30,000 to 40,000 views each Lent. For many area aficionados, it’s become the definitive resource for all things fish fry.

“Between the city and the inner-ring suburbs, we’ve probably been to almost all of them,” Ibendahl said. In fact, he’s hit so many that he’s now circling back and revisiting ones he hasn’t been to in years, like St. James, which he reviewed in 2007 and 2013.

Ibendahl’s process is simple, his rules minimal. Fish fries are evaluated on four basic criteria: food, value, atmosphere and way finding/greening (how easy is it to find the dining room and whether recycling efforts are in place), then given a rating of one to four fishes.

Though he has occasionally sampled non-parish fish fries put on by organizations like the Knights of Columbus and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Ibendahl won’t review restaurants featuring Lenten fish specials – the fries he attends have to be volunteer-run operations. He pointed to St. Pius V Catholic Church on South Grand as a prime example of a fish fry that hits all the marks.

“St. Pius really has all of the elements,” he said. “Great atmosphere, really good food and they use real plates. It’s the quintessential fish fry.”

Ibendahl’s verdict on our St. James’ experience: three out of four fishes – a solid showing. Good fish, decent sides with pasta and desserts as high points, he noted, though signage was definitely lacking. As for me, I was impressed there was a professional card reader available for those without cash.

Ibendahl used to try a new fry every week, but now he’s focused on fish fries closer to home and smaller-scale fries held only once or twice a year. He figures he’s still got at least a few years left on the fish fry circuit. His desired end to this quest: support the local fish fry community … and maybe just a touch of notoriety.

“I’ve always wanted to be in The A-Hed column of The Wall Street Journal,” Ibendahl said. “I always thought it’d be cool to be mentioned on there.”

 Stock photo

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

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Just Five: Cod with Rosemary-Olive Vinaigrette

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016




For those who observe Lent in St. Louis (or who just love a good piece of fried cod), Friday means parish fish fries – crowds of people, plastic cups of beer, deliciously greasy fish and sides for miles. But at some point during Lent, you reach a point where your Friday night calls for something more upscale.

This dish comes together in less than 10 minutes and can work with just about any dense white fish like cod, halibut, grouper or bass. Normally you would salt the fish before cooking, but the Kalamata olives add enough salt to skip this step. Meyer lemons offer a more complex, almost honey-like sweetness to the dish, but you can approximate that same flavor with standard lemon and orange juices. Skip the long lines and warm beer and eat off the good china tomorrow.


Cod with Rosemary-Olive Vinaigrette
4 servings

4 4-oz. cod fillets or other firm white fish
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup coarsely chopped Kalamata olives
2 Tbsp. chopped rosemary, plus more for garnish
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice

• Season both sides of the fish with pepper.
• In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fish and cook about 3 minutes, until just golden brown. Carefully turn the fish and scatter the olives, rosemary and garlic evenly in the pan. Cook until the fish is opaque, about 3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet.
• Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice, swirling the pan to combine. Place 1 fillet on each plate and evenly divide the sauce over the fish. Garnish with rosemary and serve.

By the Book: Diane Kochilas’ Stuffed Lenten Cookies

Saturday, February 21st, 2015



As a Catholic kid who hated seafood, Lent was not a season I looked forward to. The 40 days of fasting and reflection to prepare for Easter is traditionally observed by abstaining from red meat and poultry on Fridays – not great news for the cod-averse. During these dinners, I subsisted mostly on plates of cold spaghetti in meat-free red sauce (which I also hated). Thankfully, my palate has since matured, now welcoming both tomatoes and seafood, and I enjoy Lenten fish fries along with thousands of other St. Louisans, regardless of religious identity.

Fortunately, my newfound love of fish has also segued to healthier dietary habits, something Diane Kochilas’ new cookbook, Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forgot to Die, has in spades. I’d never heard of Ikaria (located here) but Kochilas says much was made of this small Greek island a few years ago when a study revealed that, on average, its people were reaching age 90 almost twice as often as Americans. The reason for this robust longevity, Kochilas explains, was a relaxed, stress-free lifestyle and a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, seafood, legumes, potatoes and wine.

Kochilas loves Ikaria, its people and especially its cuisine. Her book is filled with simple, intensely flavorful dishes, each with a story and its purported health benefits. Simple onion pies, braised peppers, rice pilaf with clams and other dishes showcase a cuisine created from the abundance of humble but delicious ingredients on and surrounding the island. Ikarian desserts are simple sweet pleasures, usually involving fruit, nuts and honey. Since Lent began last Wednesday, Feb. 18, I chose to try my hand at Kochilas’ Stuffed Lenten Cookies, which are filled with ground nuts and spices and look suspiciously like empanadas at first glance.




Sauce executive editor Ligaya Figueras often talks about her quest for the healthy cookie. This recipe can certainly give any contenders a run for their money. No butter or eggs; in fact, they are completely vegan. Instead, the dough calls for flour, two full cups of extra-virgin olive oil, orange juice, spices and just two-thirds cup of sugar. The filling is simple mixture of ground walnuts, orange zest and honey.




While bringing the dough together was simple enough, I found the actual process of rolling out and cutting the cookies problematic. The dough, which had the consistency of very wet sand, crumbled as I rolled it out. I stopped frequently to pat it back together with my hands, only to watch it crumble again under my rolling pin. Perhaps there was too much flour, yet the olive oil stuck to the pin and my board with equal persistence.




My solution: try again tomorrow. I treated the cookie dough like a pie crust, refrigerating it overnight to let it come together. It still fell apart somewhat, but the cookies were easier to cut and transfer to the cookie sheet. I struggled to fold the crumbly dough over the filling, but it was nothing a few quick pinches with my fingers couldn’t fix, and the final dusting of powdered sugar covered the imperfections.




My efforts were well worth it. These flavorful bites had the texture of shortbread with the heady spice of gingerbread. The walnut filling offered a nutty sweetness, and my Sauce coworkers immediately offered ideas for other fillings I should try (fig preserves, dried apricots, even carrot jam). I’ll certainly have the chance; this recipe makes nearly three dozen big cookies, and I have another ball of dough waiting for me at home.




Stuffed Lenten Cookies (Skaltouinia Nystisima)
Makes 25 to 30

Finikia Dough (Recipe follows)
2 cups ground walnuts
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ cup raisins (optional)
Grated peel of 1 orange
2 Tbsp. Ikarian pine or other honey
Powdered sugar or granulated sugar for garnish

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Prepare the finikia dough and divide it into 3 balls.
• In a bowl, combine the walnuts, cinnamon, cloves, raisins (if using), orange peel and honey.
• Roll out a ball of dough to a round about 15 inches in diameter. Take a 3-inch glass or cookie cutter and cut rounds out of the dough. Place 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of each circle and fold over to form a half-moon. Wet the inside edges with a little water and press closed with your fingers or with the tines of a fork. Continue until the dough and filling are used up. Gather any excess dough and roll it out and fill it, to finish off the cookies.
• Bake until lightly golden, about 25 minutes. Removes the skaltsounia from the oven and cool slightly on a rack. Sift a generous amount of powdered sugar over them.

*Note: Instead of sprinkling powdered sugar on the cookies after baking, you can sprinkle them with a generous amount (about 2 teaspoons per cookie) of granulated sugar before baking.

Finikia Dough

6-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
2 cups Greek extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup sugar
Juice of 2 oranges, strained.
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Heaping ¼ tsp. ground cloves

• In a large bowl, sift together 6 cups of the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
• In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together the olive oil and sugar until fluffy. Add the orange juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves and beat to combine.
• Add 2 cups of the flour mixture to the batter and whisk to combine. Remove the whisk attachment. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, slowly add as much of the remaining flour as you can in ½-cup increments to form a smooth, soft, but dense dough, kneading as you add.

Reprinted with permission from Rodale Books

What’s the best healthy dessert recipe you’ve tried that still feels like an indulgence? Tell us in the comments below for a chance to win a copy of Diane Kochilas’ Ikaria.



13 Gluttonous Mardi Gras Recipes

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Mardi Gras: that one holiday of the year devoted to entirely to excess. We love it so much that we spread that decadence out over a full weekend of gastronomical indulgences. So before you commit to Lenten promises that will torture you until Easter, here are 13 decadent dishes worth the guilt.



1. Combining Creole seasoning with dark beer, this Everything-in-the-Crisper Jambalaya is perfect for a Mardi Gras-themed meal or a stick-to-your gut dinner before an evening of drinking.

2. Surely one pound of sprouts is enough to redeem this Parmesan-garnished Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Pasta, right?

3. Three ingredients make the Peanut Butter Bacon Sandwich of your drunken dreams.



4. Southern Fried Chicken takes a three-day process to complete, but that crispy, Creole-spiced skin is so worth it.

5. Too lazy to butcher? Try a Deep-Fried Whole Chicken.

6. St. Louis weather is still a far cry from spring. Warm up with these tender Braised Short Ribs served over savory hominy stew.



7. True, this creamy Fonduta Mac-n-Cheese made with Riesling and lobster meat is not your mom’s mac-n-cheese. It’s better.

8. Go ahead, have a beer with dinner … then a slurp a Budweiser Milkshake for dessert.

9. Spice up your after-dinner indulgence with a peanut-butter Oreo treat that features a kick of cumin, cayenne and spicy toppings like chocolate-chipotle sauce. This PBJ Blaster Pie may blast a hole in your diet, but you’ve got 40 days to make it up to yourself.



10. Challenge yourself to make a dessert of Caramelized Apples with Foie Gras Ice Cream and spiced walnuts, then reward yourself with sweet, spicy, creamy, crunchy seconds.

11. Brownie mix, booze, bacon and caramel make for a Bacon-Bourbon Brownies for the novice baker. Do you really want to give up chocolate for Lent?



12. If Serendipity’s house-made toasted marshmallow ice cream isn’t enough to convince you, indulge in a Gimme S’mores St. Louis Sundae topped with oatmeal cookie crumbles, hot fudge and vanilla toasted marshmallows. I see you reaching for your spoon.

13. We can’t promise you won’t regret this Cinnamon Bread Pudding chock-full of raisins and cranberries and topped with a glaze of maple syrup and Jack Daniels. But after all, isn’t that the point of Mardi Gras?

-Jambalaya, fried chicken, caramelized apples and mac-n-cheese photos by Carmen Troesser; s’mores sundae photo by Greg Rannells 




Ruth’s Chris brings the sizzle to seafood for the Lenten season

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Ruth's ChrisRuth’s Chris Steak House may have built a reputation for making one heck of a sizzlin’ U.S. Prime corn-fed steak, but that doesn’t mean that RCs in the St. Louis area don’t go in for fish on Fridays. The lineup for the steakhouse’s Friday Fish Feature menu – blue crab cakes, salmon fillets, ahi tuna, barbecued shrimp, live Maine lobster and, of course, a catch of the day – has our mouth watering just as much as it does for a juicy ribeye or porterhouse.

The special fish and seafood menu is offered every Friday through April 2 at both Ruth’s Chris Steak House locations – in Clayton and downtown at the Hyatt Regency. To make reservations, visit ruthschrisstlouis.com.

– Ligaya Figueras

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