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~ Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping ~

IMG_9248In New England, baked cod with crunchy Ritz-cracker topping is everywhere.  The first time I tasted this delightful dish was in the restaurant of the Killington Resort's, VT ski slope.  Most eateries, from big city restaurants to small town diners, have it on their menu.  Recipes for this cracker-topped fish-dish don't vary much.  Butter-soaked coarse-crushed Ritz crackers get patted atop fresh cod fillets (or other white fish).  Into the oven they go for 15-20 short minutes.  The dish is so popularly commonplace, many fish markets sell plastic containers of preprepared butter-and-crumb mixture.  The end result gets garnished with some minced parsley and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.  It's super-easy to make and is often described as soul-satisfying comfort-food.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14796ef970cBecause the fish portions are topped with a healthy-dose of rich, crunchy-buttery cracker crumbs, it doesn't require much in the way of a starchy side-dish. That said, should you want one, my recipe for ~ Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood ~ does complement it nicely.  I, however, prefer to serve my version of the dish with a side or atop some steam-in-bag green beans along with a dollop of spicy stewed-tomato sauce and a lemon wedge.  Despite the decadent topping, it's flaky, flavorful and refreshingly light.

IMG_9188This main-dish fish-dinner couldn't be easier to prepare.  That said, every cod fillet varies in thickness -- one end is thicker than the other. Once portioned, the thick sections take 1-2 minutes longer to bake than the thin sections.  For this reason, I prepare this dish in individual au gratins rather than in a casserole. This allows me to remove the thinner portions from the oven 1-2 minutes prior to the thicker portions.

Four ingredients & an awesome fish dinner 30-minutes later:

IMG_91896-8  4"-5" cod fillet portions (2, 1-pound cod fillets)

3  dozen Ritz crackers, no substitutions that I'm aware of

6  tablespoons salted butter (Note:  The common ratio is 2 tablespoons melted butter to every 1 dozen crackers.)

lemon-pepper seasoning

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole or au gratin dishes

lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, for garnishes

steamed green beans and stewed tomato sauce, for accompaniments

IMG_9197 IMG_9197 IMG_9197 IMG_9199~Step 1.  Using a few paper towels, pat the fish fillets dry.  Check the fillets for pin bones by running your fingertips along the mid-to-edge of the top surface.  To remove any pin bones, give each one a gentle tug with a pair of needle nose pliers -- they are easy to remove.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each cod fillet into 3-4, 4"-5" portions, for a total of 6-8 servings.

IMG_9203 IMG_9203 IMG_9203~ Step 2.  Arrange fillets in casserole or au gratin dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick. Sprinkle with seasoning.

IMG_9227Tip from Mel:  This works really well.  When you get to the thin portions of the fillet, if you trim and stack them (two thin pieces of fish, one on top of each other) instead of one thin one all by itself) you can achieve the volume of one thick portion and all the fillets will cook at the same time. The presentation will be pretty and the end result won't be compromised.

IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208~Step 3.  Place the crackers in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Using a small rolling pin, crush them to the size of coarse breadcrumbs.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Pour the butter into the bag of cracker crumbs.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag until butter is evenly incorporated into the still-loose cracker crumbs.

IMG_9225 IMG_9230 IMG_9230 IMG_9230 IMG_9230~Step 4.  Using a 2-tablespoon measure, evenly distribute and pack 3-4 tablespoons crumb mixture atop the fillets.  Bake fillets, uncovered, in preheated 350º oven until just cooked through, 15-17 minutes, keeping in mind that thinner fillets will cook faster than thicker fillets.  Fish will be opaque throughout and will flake easily with a fork.  Serve immediately.

Baked cod fillets will be opaque & flake easily w/a fork:


Savor this quintessential fish-dish of New England:

IMG_9277Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; needle nose pliers or tweezers; cutting board; chef's knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole or 6-8 individual sized au gratin dishes; 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; 1-cup measuring container; 2-tablespoon measure

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28064ff970cCook's Note: As a kid, I adored frozen fish sticks and canned stewed tomatoes -- I still do.  That said, as a grownup, I much prefer the taste of a sweet, fresh, white fish fillet paired with a few acidic, fresh tomatoes.  Sometimes I bake them in parchment with thyme and white wine, and sometimes I broil them drizzled with melted butter and a bit of lemon and pepper. Tonight I'm using a method similar to shallow poaching, except:  extra-virgin olive oil is used in place of the traditional liquid.  This recipe is simple enough to serve for a weeknight meal at the kitchen island, and, elegant enough to serve for a fancy-schmancy dinner in the dining room:  ~ Luxurious Cod Bathed in EVOO w/Fresh Tomatoes ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


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