Vernon’s Cooking & Tidbits: Crappies for Christmas

By Vernon Summerlin

            In keeping with the season, I’ve chosen a few special recipes. Dumpling is our English word for an ancient delicacy called wonton. In American Chinese cuisine, wontons are served in two ways: in a soup (wontons in a clear broth) and as an appetizer called fried wontons. The American fried wontons are typically eaten dry but don’t hesitate to serve them with a dipping sauce that compliments the contents, such as ketchup on crappie wontons.

            We buy wonton wrappers but you can make them with flour, egg, water and salt. Cut a square of dough, spread the wrapper flat in the palm of your hand or on a flat surface, place a small amount of filling in the center and seal the wonton into the desired shape by compressing the wrapper’s edges together with your fingers. Adhesion may be improved by moistening the wrapper’s inner edges by dipping a fingertip into water and running it across the dough. As part of the sealing process, press air out of the inside to avoid having it rupture from internal pressure when cooked.

            You can use your imagination to create numerous variations for frying wontons by thinking of foods you like, make a mixture, spoon some onto a wrapper, make a purse and fry’em up.

            We’re making fried crappie wontons and, my very favorite, jalapeño wontons to serve as appetizers. We also have three fish entrées and a beans-n-rice dish that can be served as a side or an entrée.

            ’Tis the season to celebrate and eat well.

Fried Crappie Wontons (Crappie Dumplings)

            1 cup finely chopped cooked crappie fillet (I nuke the fish, easy-peezy)

            4 8-ounce packages softened cream cheese

            3 chopped green onions

            1 teaspoon sugar

            3 cloves crushed garlic

            2 (12-ounce) packages wonton wrappers

            Canola oil, enough to deep fry

Mix cream cheese, chopped crappie, green onions, sugar and garlic thoroughly. Spoon one tablespoon of mixture onto a wrapper. Bring all corners up at top of mixture to form a square packet and pinch to secure. Deep fry in hot oil one minute or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Makes 50-60 but recipe can be halved.

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Jalapeño Wontons

            1 8-ounce package softened cream cheese

            1 8-ounce package of Pepper Jack cheese cut in 1/4- x 3/4-inch chunks

            Jalapeños cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices (depending on how hot you like’em)

            12 wonton wrappers

Put a piece of cheese and pepper slice in each wonton, fold and pinch to seal. Fry until golden brown. Drain. Makes 12 wontons. Double or triple the recipe to suit your needs.

TIP:    Wonton wrappers will last in your refrigerator for the short term or freeze them for longer storage.

 

Sautéed Crappie

            8 crappie fillets (4-6 ounces each)

            4 tablespoons butter

            1 tablespoon garlic powder

            1/4 cup lime juice

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add fillets to the skillet and sprinkle with garlic powder. Pour lime juice over fish (use more or less to suit your taste). Sauté the fish until fillets are opaque and easily flake with a fork. Turn once during cooking.

Cajun-Pancake Battered Crappie

            2 to 3 crappie fillets per person

            1/4 cup milk

            1/2 cup pancake mix

            1 cup cornmeal

            1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning (more to suit your taste)

            1/2 teaspoon salt

            1/4 teaspoon black pepper (more to suit your taste)

            Canola oil

            Hot Pepper sauce, vinegar based (optional)

Stir pancake mix, milk and egg in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix cornmeal, Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Dip fillets in wet mixture completely wetting the surfaces and roll in dry mixture to cover fish. Fry fillets in oil in a medium-sized skillet until both sides are golden brown. Serve with vinegar based hot pepper sauce.

 

Potato Flake Fillets

            2 to 3 crappie fillets per person

            1 cup instant potato flakes

            1/3 cup flour

            2 eggs

            Salt and pepper to taste

            Other seasonings to taste

            Canola oil

Combine flour and any other seasoning you wish to include in a medium sized bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. In another, smaller bowl, beat eggs until smooth. Pour a generous amount of potato flakes onto a plate or other flat surface. Roll fillets in seasoning mixture, dip in eggs to wet surfaces, and then roll in potato flakes, completely covering fillets. Fry in oil until golden brown, turning once.

TIP: Have a large “garbage” bowl handy to put your egg shells, leftover flour and other trash created while cooking.

Southwestern Black Beans & Rice

            1 teaspoon olive oil

            1/2 cup chopped onion

            1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

            3 minced garlic cloves

            2 cups cooked black beans

            1 cup black bean broth (or water)

            2 tablespoons brewed coffee

            2 cups cooled cooked rice

            1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

            Salt and pepper to taste

            2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Heat olive oil in large, heavy skillet. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook until onion is translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add beans, broth and coffee. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Add rice, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Simmer five minutes to blend flavors. Garnish with cilantro and serve.