Deep-fried seafood has been a staple of the American cuisine for many years, just as the deep fryer has become the most important piece of cooking equipment in so many restaurants. When I opened my restaurant in the 1970s we had some pretty good fried seafood — it was always fresh, breaded to order (never frozen) and cooked at the last minute. But as time moved on and we became more sophisticated in our eating habits, the deep fryer assumed a lesser role in fine dining and was relegated to the fast food chains. But a crisp outside crust and a juicy center is a great way to enjoy a fish fillet or an order of scallops. And the tartar sauce on the side seems to belong just as much as the wedge of lemon.
The following recipe for oven-fried seafood captures this nostalgia in a modern, healthy way. The twice-baked sweet potato and oven-roasted greens complement the seafood and help the cook by only requiring an oven.
OVEN FRIED SEAFOOD PLATTER
Purchase 12 jumbo shrimp, 3/4 pound of fresh Peconic Bay scallops, 4 small flounder fillets and 1/2 pint of shucked oysters. Peel and butterfly the shrimp by making a deep cut down the center and removing the vein. Remove the tails if desired. Refrigerate the seafood and heat an oven to 425 degrees.
Scrub 4 medium-size sweet potatoes, spray them with no-stick and place them on a small sheet pan in the oven. Let the potatoes cook 45 minutes to an hour, or until a skewer runs through them easily. Remove and let cool, leaving the oven on.
Cut the tops off of the sweet potatoes and scoop out most of the flesh, reserving the skins. Combine the sweet potato with 1/2 cup softened cream cheese, 1 tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spoon the filling back into the potato skins and sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top and set aside.
Rinse 1 head of kale and 1 head of collard greens and remove the stems. Tear or cut the leaves into large pieces and place in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper to the greens and toss by hand until well coated.
Place 2 cups flour in a shallow casserole and season it with 1 tablespoon coarse salt, 2 teaspoons pepper and 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning. Set up a bowl with 2 cups buttermilk and a second shallow casserole with 4 cups matzo meal. Toss the shrimp in the seasoned flour, then in the buttermilk and then in the matzo meal. Be sure to flatten them in the matzo with the heal of your hand. Repeat the breading process with all the seafood.
Close to serving time, put the sweet potatoes back in the hot oven for a few minutes. (If you have two ovens, put them in at 250 degrees until you serve.)
Line two sheet pans with foil and spray them lightly with no-stick. Put these 2 pans in the 425-degree oven to preheat.
When the pans are very hot, remove them quickly and put the breaded seafood on one and the greens on the other. Put both pans back in the hot oven and let them cook for 15 minutes. The seafood will be lightly browned and cooked through and the greens will brown on the edges and become a little crisp. Do not crowd either the fish or the greens, doing two batches if necessary.
Combine in a bowl 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons chopped dill pickle; 2 tablespoons minced shallots and 2 minced anchovies. Add 1 tablespoon capers, 1 teaspoon dry mustard and the juice and zest from 1 lemon. Season with 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Fold in 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon.
RED PEPPER AIOLI SAUCE
Mince 4 cloves of garlic as fine as possible and combine them in the bowl of a food processor with 1 tablespoon bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Pulse in 2 egg yolks and then drizzle in 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil while processing. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Drain 1 small jar of roasted red peppers, chop coarsely and add to the food processor. Pulse until blended into the sauce. Finish with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and taste for seasoning.
Makes 1 cup.
Combine in a food processor 1/2 cup chopped shallots, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, the juice and zest from 1 lemon and 1 diced avocado. Pulse until well combined and season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes 1 cup.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years.