Between Three Many Cooks, book projects, and my USA Weekend column, I rarely get to cook on a whim. Last week was different.
I get a call from my friend Ray Ryan who’s caught a fourteen-pound striped bass off Montauk, Long Island. Did I want any? Is Ina Garten the Barefoot Contessa?
Early Monday morning Ray dropped off a gallon Ziplock bag of pristine boneless, skinless striped bass fillets. Maggy, Andy, David, and I had planned to go out for cheap Greek on Tuesday night, but with Ray’s gift in my fridge we happily changed plans.
If I had thoughtlessly picked up striped bass up at grocery store, I wouldn’t have given its cooking much thought. But this fish was different. I knew the person who caught it. In which waters. I wanted to make something special.
Food Network’s Roasted Striped Bass was near the top of my Google search. I checked the ingredient list. Except for a few shrimp and mussels, I had everything. Plus it wasn’t anything I would have thought to make. Added bonus: it was simple—make interesting tomato sauce, pour over seafood, bake. Before heading into the city, I gather ingredients and make a quick stop at the fish store.
It was an unseasonably warm late-fall evening in New York, but as we casually ate our meal I could have sworn we were in some chic Mediterranean high-rise. The oven roast was superb—more a thick bouillabaisse-y stew—made special with Ray’s fresh Long Island striped bass.
The same Monday Ray dropped off his fish, I walking past the cranberries at the grocery store and got a sudden urge to make Maggy’s cranberry bread for friend Julie Potter who has given our family more loaves of pumpkin bread over the years—plus her recipe—than I could ever repay.
As I hand Julie my cranberry bread, she’s got something for me too—a large sachet of incredibly fragrant Hungarian paprika she brought back from her recent trip to Budapest.
I feel the urge again. I have to (want to!) make something from her paprika. I check the freezer. I’ve got boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs for Chicken Paprika. Except for sour cream I’ve got the rest of the ingredients too. It’s meatless today. I wait.
Later in the week it’s time to start making dinner. There are plenty of recipes I should make, there’s plenty in the fridge I should eat. I want none of it. I make Chicken Paprika instead, which turned out especially well—partly because it was inspired by a gift, but mostly because I got to make it… just because.