Eating fish within hours of its being caught is similar to eating corn minutes after it is picked. Both have a taste and texture so fresh, sweet, tender, and pure that it is identifiably different from the same corn or fish eaten a short time later. So much so that, not being much of a fish fan, I rarely order it at a restaurant or buy it unless I am cooking for someone who is. But fish straight from the water is truly amazing—a different kettle of fish, I almost said. And if the fish has been fried—well, you know that a thing fried is always a wonderful thing.
My last evening in Little Compton before heading back to Nashville was spent eating such pristine, fried fish. Almost better, it was prepared by someone else, friend and fellow cook Anne: the perfect combination of good food and no work. It was caught by her husband and brothers and their kids, and yes, that striped bass in the photo that looks like a trophy is one of the actual fish, digitally captured by Anne’s father Frank Parker of Bookstand World fame. In fact, the photos here are a mix of mine and Frank’s. There was flounder, too.
The fish was dredged in a flour/cornmeal mix and simply fried, served with homemade tartar sauce, corn on the cob, a perfect lettuce salad, and cole slaw. We had divine stuffed squash blossoms with tomato sauce to start. Every component of the meal was local and new. I made the cole slaw, from a Walker’s cabbage, Karla’s carrots, and the Fruit Lady’s apples. There was a very good cake and good wine. The evening was lovely, winding down around the fire pit, a glowing memory of summer to tide me over ‘til next year.
LCS means Little Compton Slaw or Local Cole Slaw, whichever you like. I make my cole slaw similar to my potato salad, with the addition of mustard, celery seed, and buttermilk instead of cream; directions are general and proportions are approximate and to taste. I added the apples at Anne’s request; just leave them out if you don’t have or want them.
1 Savoy cabbage, outer leaves removed, cored, and finely sliced with a knife
2 or 3 large carrots, 3 or 4 times more if they are little new ones, peeled and grated
1-2 T very finely minced onion
2-3 small tart apples, peeled and grated (optional)
2 cups homemade mayonnaise or Hellman’s® only
1 T sour cherry cider vinegar from the pickled sour cherries or cider vinegar
Few small splashes of buttermilk
2 tea Grey Poupon® Dijon mustard
1-2 tea Celery seed
Salt, freshly ground pepper
General notes: Cut the cabbage in half with a large, heavy cleaver or chef’s knife; be careful. Slice finely crosswise, preferably with a Japanese Usuba or a very sharp chef’s knife. Your onion (and apple if used) should be so fine that it disappears. This cole slaw’s outstanding flavor is achieved through the right balance of seasoning, which is onion; vinegar; mustard, celery seed , salt, and pepper. Start with less, add more to taste. It should be fresh and tangy, but not sharp or sour; don’t overdo, particularly on the vinegar, mustard, and celery seed, none of which should be pronounced. It should be creamy but not watery, so be cautious with the buttermilk and use only very fresh onions and apples, and pat them and your carrots with a paper towel before grating. Absolutely simple, but everybody loves it.