Quarantine Cooking – Arctic Char and Noodle Salad

Hello everyone. I wanted to briefly check in before I get to work on my reading for Anthropology of Food. I just finished up with a simple but flavorful lunch using ingredients I had lying around. So, I wanted to talk about how to throw together a pantry meal.

Oftentimes when I am cooking, I specifically planned to make the meal, wrote down a list of ingredients, and then went to the store to buy what I needed. I certainly can improvise, but I am a planner. Since I typically have a busy schedule, I like the certainty of having a meal plan. These are very uncertain times, however. When I last went to the store, I bought some things I thought I could potentially use at some point in this quarantine, dried udon being one of them. I mainly chose the udon because Wegmans was completely out of pasta, but this particular udon grabbed my attention because it was the exact brand and product we used a few weeks ago to make a noodle salad with Chef Chris Douglass at his weeknight dinners class I worked. I thought I could potentially do something similar with the udon.

Fast forward to today. I ran out of all my cooked food and had to come up with a meal idea. I had defrosted an Arctic char filet that I could portion into three tranches. So, I think: arctic chair with udon salad? Why yes, that sounds like a great idea.

To build my salad, I looked to what produce I had left in the fridge. I had a few carrots and celery hearts. These were left over from when I made veggie stock. I thinly sliced the celery and grated the carrots into a large mixing bowl. I cooked the noodles in boiling water until al dente. For the dressing, I decided to go with a soy ginger dressing. I used Dijon mustard as an emulsifier and added canola oil, rice vinegar, freshly grated ginger, soy sauce, and maple syrup for a sweetener. After whisking together, I decided it did indeed need salt, since there was not that much soy in the dressing. (It is always best to not add salt to anything using soy until you have tasted it, since soy sauce is very salty.) I added my dressing to my cooled noodles and veggies, tossed them together, and then placed in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.

For my fish, I decided to do a quick marinade. I took some gochujang (Korean fermented chili paste), freshly grated ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and maple syrup. I would have liked to use brown sugar, but I didn’t have any, so I went with the syrup. There is no need to go out for one ingredient (even when there isn’t a pandemic) when another ingredient will suffice. I could have also used honey, but I decided to match the sweetness with what I used in my dressing.

After marinating the fish for about 20 minutes, I pan fried the char in canola oil, adding more marinade to glaze the fish. When ready to serve, I pulled out my noodle salad. These two dishes went very well together. I greatly enjoyed the flavor profile, and this was a great chance for me to work on flavor balance.

I hadn’t planned any aspect of this meal. I had some ingredients that I needed to use while still fresh (the celery and carrots). I then chose a protein and built the meal using ingredients in my pantry. I am trying to limit how many times I need to go with the store, so getting creative with what I have on hand is crucial. I may not be able to work right now, but I still have to eat. I am trying to make the best of this bad situation. It is so hard to not worry about financial insecurity, but the best thing for everyone is for social distancing and self-quarantine in hopes we can all get back to our lives sooner. Until then, I am trying to stretch my budget while still practicing my craft.