There’s a line of shops on a tree-lined road in Dublin, with O’Briens Wine in the center, a butcher and grocer on either side and a minimart at the far end. Taken together, they have most everything you would need to prepare meals. I know, because I dragged my daughter into each store and examined every aisle.
I was dropping her off at college across the Atlantic, where she would have to cook for herself, and it was a relief to know groceries were a 10-minute walk from her flat. (Her twin sister stayed stateside, at a school with a meal plan.)
I cook to feed, and I had been feeding my twins from the moment I found out I was pregnant with them, months later than I should have known and a decade earlier than planned. Eighteen years later, faced with the reality that I would no longer be feeding them daily, I still felt compelled to do so in whatever ways I could, starting with ingredient scouting and creating a new recipe.
This salmon and potatoes dish is inspired by my daughter’s new home in Ireland and designed to avoid making her ventless kitchen — or anyone’s kitchen — smell like a harbor on a muggy day. Instead of frying or searing the fish, which releases an intense scent, I came up with a stovetop method that’s faster than baking salmon but yields a similar silkiness.
The trick is to invert the usual steps of glazing salmon. Rather than swipe a finished sauce on top at the end like a final coat of nail polish, you cook the fish right in the mix from the start. A simple blend of whiskey, sugar and Worcestershire sauce thickens as it simmers and coats the pan as oil might, but doesn’t splatter. The bubbling liquid gently heats the fillet from the bottom up, infusing it with a savory sweetness without drying it out.
With this technique, the fish won’t end up with crispy skin. If there is skin, it peels off easily after cooking — the feeling is as satisfying as removing plastic protectors from new electronic devices. (I save the skins as treats for my dog. You can do the same, eat them yourself or discard them.)
Baby potatoes on the plate provide a contrast in textures, their buttercup-hued peels crackling with salt. Their snowdrift coating makes this dish look complex, but that delicate casing is easy to achieve. Based on papas arrugadas, wrinkly salt-crusted potatoes with mojo from the Canary Islands, these potatoes are boiled in generously salted water until tender, then shaken with a splash of the water left in the pot until it evaporates and the salt crystallizes onto the spuds. The savory snap of the creamy rounds is just what you want against the subtle sweetness of the glazed fish.
My daughter hasn’t yet made this dish (“I’m busy, ma”), and maybe she never will. But the compulsion to feed isn’t purely maternal — it’s the reason I cook professionally, too — and cooking to feed isn’t completely selfless. When putting together meals to solve the puzzles of another’s needs, I stretch in creativity and gain knowledge I hadn’t been seeking.
The very act of feeding, whether in plates shared at the dinner table, through recipes sent across an ocean or in other forms of providing sustenance, nourishes the giver as much as the receiver. When everything else feels out of control, there’s comfort in being able to care through food.