It has taken me a long time to get used to American food. And I don’t mean those paragons of American cultural invasion — the pizzas and the hamburgers. I mean the food that actual, real-life Americans eat in their homes; the food that mothers, and increasingly, fathers, cook to feed their families. You know, the protein, vegetable and starch trifecta that graces dinner plates across the nation at 6:30pm, with a basket of rolls by the side. The meal that is etched in my mind in a multiplicity of images: a little sandy-haired boy wearing shorts, leaning over the dining table with his elbows, pushing peas around with his fork. The bright, skirted wife/mother carrying a big roasted bird on a tray. The suit-wearing father with his pipe, wearing a frilly apron as a joke, handing rolls around the table.
I don’t know where these images come from (probably from America’s giant lifestyle industry), but you catch my drift.
It has taken me a long time to get used to this type of meal. Being Indian, I could not understand how meat could be eaten without a lot of spices, or how starch could be eaten just by itself — without mixing in a lot of spicy gravy. And what kind of a way is it to cook vegetables anyway — just steaming? Meat cooked in a plain way is the most challenging — after a few bites, it feels like rubber. This, for example, is what I was used to for the first 24 years of my life:
Yes, I have had my challenges with the American meal. But since I married an American he has learned about my cuisine and I have learned about his. Now I can appreciate how the simplest of ingredients, unadorned, can please.
Halibut, cooked with a simple poaching. In milk. Turning it paler than pale. Pleasing my American husband immensely. And — can I admit it? Me too.
- 3/4 pound halibut fillet
- 1 cup milk
- half an onion, minced
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 10 or so whole black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- salt to taste
Collect the whole spices and minced onion in a pan. Pour milk over and bring to a simmer. Sprinkle salt over the fish and lay into the simmering milk; salt some of the surrounding milk as well. Keep ladling some of the milk over the fish along with the spices and onion once in a while. In about 15 to 20 minutes, while you keep the milk at a simmer, it should be done.
So — about done-ness. This is a concept that was new to me from Western cooking. The simplest way to check is to use a Thermapen thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fish — it should reach around 140 F. Another method is just to use a fork to see if the fish flakes easily and is opaque all the way in. Of course, some people like it more translucent.
Here is my pallid hallibut, the center of our very American meal that evening.