new growth

On Aioli and Fish Sticks (inspired by growth of a balcony plant)

Our silly tarragon, which had been playing dead all winter, has come back to life with surprising vigour and I have no idea what to do with him. We are both impressed and bewildered.

All fuzzy and new! You deserve a poem.

tarragon growing greatly

Today, I peered out the balcony window at him (or her, though I don’t know why I am compelled to gender herbaceous food items in English; however Estragon is a him in German) and decided that I really ought learn to do something to showcase his efforts. So I came across this recipe for lime and tarragon aioli with panko-crusted fish sticks at Food52 and freaked out (!) because I have never fried anything resembling fish fingers before in my life, yet in that moment, it felt like the Best Idea in all the world and the wheels were set in motion.

[Could these cravings for fried everything be another symptom of the notorious Frühjahrsmüdigkeit (described here hilariously) Germans are known to suffer from? I’m still new here.]

Later, as I crept out onto the dark balcony to burgle the tarragon of its precious new leaves, I began to regret the impulse. So I plucked sparsely, and ended up with a small seven before stopping myself in shame, equalling (maybe) half a teaspoon at most: not enough to make an impact, but I could hardly not use it, having already violated its progress. How do you tell a plant you’re sorry?

pre-mayonnaise

Yes, tarragon inspired the meal, yet it played a very small role in the end.

gloopy tarragon mayonnaise

That was the aioli, right there – yellow, flecked with green, and wobbly. It was whisked together by hand, adding more lime juice than the recipe called for and using drops of our punchy chilli garlic oil (which basically overpowered the whole enterprise and rendered the half teaspoon of tarragon utterly imperceptible). It was delicious.

A late afternoon view of the Rhein from Düsseldorf

Tim cycled to the fishmonger on his way home and found a handsome-looking fillet of Kabeljau. We now know this means Atlantic cod, which is exceedingly lovely for this purpose!

He salted and peppered the fish before egging and crumbing, a detail that now seems important, but is not mentioned in the recipe we took inspiration from. I thought, at first, it could be a case of ‘well obviously, everybody would do that!’ but on further prying, it seems not – some recipes would have you salt and pepper the beaten egg and others would just leave salting to the table. [Nachsalzen – the Germans have a convenient word for Everything]

According to Harold McGee, lightly salting fish before coating actually improves adhesion, because the salt draws some sticky, protein-rich fluid to the surface. He also mentions that common practice in Japan is to presalt most fish briefly before cooking, as it removes surface moisture and odour, and firms the outer layers. Crisp!

panko crumbssizzling in panflaky fish

A small pan at the right temperature. There is frying of fish in batches, quickly and to a point where the coating browns crispily and the inside is moist. I wish there would be a more beautiful word for moist. [Juicy…? No. Moisture-laden? Uggghhhh, definitely not]

salad close up

A lazy salad of rocket, bitter chicory leaves, teeny roma tomatoes and cucumber made a welcome appearance, doused in bright olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The chicory leaves behaved like boats, carrying well-dressed passengers to shore.

table overview after diner table

Needless to say, I am still very much on the lookout for interesting tarragon recipes. I also promise to wait for more foliage, so we may do the plant justice next time. I was just so excited, new fuzzy leaves, sunlight hours increasing (Spring! It’s Here! Let’s Dance!)

tarragon peeping over the bicycle seat

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