Beatrice Ojakangas column: Favorite fish casseroles bring back memories
Looking back, I see some good old favorites that I have been ready to revisit.
It’s the season for fish and simplicity. With my casserole cookbook being newly republished, I have been reminded of my own work. This might seem strange to others, but it’s been a habit of mine to turn the corner and go on to another topic immediately after I finish working on one thing. Now, looking back I see some good old favorites that I have been ready to revisit.
Poor Man’s Lobster reminds me of the first year we were back in Duluth. It has brought to mind some favorite people as well. As rather new residents in the city at the time, we were invited to a friendly couple’s home and were served “Poor Man’s Lobster,” which is really a butter-baked cod. I have included the recipe in my “The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever.”
Another favorite is my take on a salmon casserole, which I have named "Finnish Salmon Casserole," that my mom would make using whatever fish we were able to catch in the St. Louis River that flowed by our farm in Floodwood.
The Swedes called it “Laksloda,” but that wasn’t our name for it. The Finnish name was “Lohilaatikko,” which in either case translates to “Salmon Casserole.”
Another one longtime favorite is Lobster Mac and Four Cheeses, which brings back fond memories of my late sister, Nancy. It was her favorite and the favorite of our family as well.
Poor Man's Lobster
This codfish casserole is so simple to do. You can use fresh cod fillets or frozen, thawed fillets.
Boiled, buttered potatoes is the favorite Scandinavian accompaniment to this.
- 1 ½ pounds fresh cod or frozen, thawed fillets
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon paprika
- Fresh chopped parsley
- Lemon slices for serving
- Bread slices for serving
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the fish in a shallow casserole. Pour half of the melted butter over the fish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Bake uncovered, basting occasionally, until the fish flakes with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon slices. Serve the pan juices and the remaining melted butter with sliced bread for dipping.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Finnish Salmon Casserole (Lohilaatikko)
Fish is a summertime food in Finland. We were served this casserole in Helsinki along with a salad of fresh garden lettuce and sour rye bread.
- 2 tablespoons butter, plus more for the dish
- 1 pound salmon or rainbow trout fillet, skin removed
- 3 medium russet potatoes, peeled, about 1 pound
- 2 medium onions, peeled
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ½ cup milk
- ⅓ cup fine dry breadcrumbs (or try using panko crumbs)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a shallow 2- or 3-quart casserole dish.
Remove any bones from the fish and cut into 1-inch cubes. Cut the potatoes into matchsticks. Peel the onions and trim off the ends. Cut into halves lengthwise. With the cut sides down, cut each half lengthwise into matchsticks.
Put the fish, potatoes and onions in the casserole and pour the cream and milk over all. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and dot with 2 tablespoons butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the potatoes and onions are tender and breadcrumbs are toasted.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Lobster Mac and Four Cheeses
This one is not as simple to make as the first three, but the extra effort is well worth it! You can freeze half, saving the rest of it for days when there isn’t much time to cook. Even though it contains only 1 pound of lobster meat (which I have found in the frozen fish section of the supermarket) the lobster flavor permeates the whole dish, and that will serve at least 6 people.
- 1 pound fresh or frozen lobster meat, thawed
- ½ pound elbow macaroni
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
- ½ package (4 ounces) cream cheese
- 2 cups cream or milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 shallots, minced
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup panko crumbs or dry breadcrumbs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 3-quart casserole with cooking spray. Chop the lobster meat and set aside. Cook the macaroni according to package directions and set aside, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
In a skillet, bring about 2 inches of water to a boil. Combine the cheddar, 1 cup of the Parmesan, Gruyere and cream cheese in a metal bowl. Place the bowl over the boiling water and stir until the cheeses are melted. Stir in the cream and remove from the heat and keep warm. Pour away the boiling water and add the butter, garlic and shallots to the pan; cook for 2 minutes, stirring and add the lobster meat. Stir until the lobster is heated through.
Pour the reserved water over the cooked macaroni to loosen it, then drain it off. Add the macaroni to the lobster mixture. Stir in the melted cheeses and add salt and pepper to taste. Turn into the casserole and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and the breadcrumbs.
(At this point the casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to one day, or if well-wrapped, frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before baking if frozen and add 10-15 minutes to the baking time. )
Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until heated through and the crumbs are toasted and golden.
Makes about 6 servings.
Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at beatrice-ojakangas.com.