I believe if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that most humans are not wired to enjoy “social distancing”. At the very least, we long for up close and personal community and fellowship, the exchange of hugs and hand shakes at will, singing and dancing in a crowd, and celebrations that include individuals that live outside our homes.
Still reeling from a sun and fun filled Labor Day Weekend on Smith Lake with friends, my mind keeps nagging me that our frolicking days of summer will soon dim into the short, crisp days of fall. My heart actually grimaces a little when I consider that very soon, summer vegetables like our beloved tomato, will disappear from the farmers market and be replaced by it’s boring cousin…the dull and lifeless grocery store variety shipped from God knows where. And then there’s the disappearing field peas and sweet corn that my family and I have lapped up all summer long with great enthusiasm. Yes…I “put up” a few bags of peas and tomatoes in the freezer…but who am I kidding? Those will be consumed by the end of September! So what is left to do but embrace the fact that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the changing colors of a Tennessee fall and all its beauty…that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, football season with tailgates and boiled peanuts and “football food”!…and that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the baked goods and holiday fare that I will soon be preparing and enjoying with wild abandon?!!! There! Done. I feel better.
But before I start carving a pumpkin or making a spice cake, I must share with you a meal that I served for a couple dinner parties over the summer. The first time I made Panko Encrusted Swordfish with Southern Field Pea Relish, we had just returned from Gloucester Vineyards (my childhood home), with a bushel or so of freshly shelled White Acre field peas. I had employed my son and husband, along with mom and dad, to help me shell the said peas, thinking it would be fun for all of us to sit in rocking chairs beneath my parents’ covered porch and talk while the whippoorwills sang us a pretty melody, just like I remember as a child. Hahaha! For two city boys, the talking and bird listening was great…but the shelling? The finger blisters? The slow moving pace of the peas falling into a large, seemingly bottomless bowl? LOL!!! But for me? Sheer bliss. It reminded me of a sweet time…a slower time…a time before cyber space and social media check in’s…and it was heaven. And I knew those peas would taste better for the effort. Growing up, I really don’t think we enjoyed a Sunday lunch without peas making an appearance at the table. We never tired of them…ever! And my grandma Berta, being the saint that she was, made sure she froze enough peas to get us through all of winter’s Sunday lunches! Glory be!!! They were always served in a pretty painted flower laced bowl with bits of salted pork swimming in the broth. Occasionally, and especially in the summer when okra was fresh, a few pods would have been placed atop the boiling peas to add their own earthy flavor to the mix. These days, when summer tomatoes are at their peak, I enjoy peas alongside freshly cut ‘maters with sea salt and bits of crumbled bacon. Talk about the ultimate main course salad!
I make my peas very simply…start with enough water so that when peas are added (you can buy frozen peas at your local grocery…they’re quite good!) they will only be slightly covered by water. Now add your salt pork…you can use smoked jowl, bacon, country ham…whatever you have available. I usually use about 8 ounces of smoked pork and I allow the pork to boil for about 10 minutes before I place the peas in the boiling water. Add peas and return to a boil…now taste. The water will not be salty enough…even with the salt pork. So begin with teaspoon increments and add salt to the peas, water and pork. Continue to taste until desired saltiness, being careful not to over season. The salt from pork will continue to be released as you cook. Continue cooking on medium for 30 – 45 minutes. This beautiful, simple field pea dish is the building block for the relish that you will make for the Panko Encrusted Swordfish.
…Getting back to my story. We had returned from Florida with a bushel or so of peas…
I had invited a few couples over for dinner that week and knew that I wanted to serve something slightly more elevated than a bowl of field peas and ham. That’s when I remembered a recent article I had read in Garden and Gun that had incorporated peas into a relish. My mind started running and I suddenly knew exactly what I wanted to serve! My family cannot get enough of my Panko Fried Chicken so I thought to myself, “what if I lightly fry Mahi Mahi or Swordfish the way I fry my chicken?…then top it with field pea relish?”…and that’s exactly what I did. As it turns out…the meal was a huge hit with our guests! The field pea relish with its lightly sweet and acidic notes, made the perfect complement to the crunchy, buttery fish. Served alongside creamy Gouda Grits and a simple Spinach Salad, this elegant summer meal is worthy of your fanciest dinner party menu or presented casually the way I did. Either way…it’s a show stopper!!! And a recipe you will want to Pin and return to summer after summer! (Psst! While it’s still “summery” outside…make this dish this week! Heck! I break the rules about wearing white after Labor Day ALL the time!)
SOUTHERN FIELD PEA RELISH
- 1 tbsp. minced shallot
- 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
- 2 cups cooked field peas (lady peas are pictured)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tbsp. chopped parsely
- 1/2 tbsp. chopped chives
- 1/2 tbsp. chopped oregano
- 1/2 tbsp. lemon zest
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, simmer minced shallot and garlic in 2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar over medium heat until softened (about 5 minutes). Place mixture in a bowl and combine with peas, olive oil and chopped herbs and zest and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
PANKO ENCRUSTED SWORDFISH (Serves 4)
- 8 – 4oz swordfish fillets…2 fillets per guest (I have also used Mahi Mahi!)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
- 1 1/2 cups peanut or vegetable oil or enough to cover bottom of frying pan to 1/4″
- salt and pepper to taste
The breading of the fillets is a 3-part process using three bowls for dredging and dipping. I like to season and bread all of my fish before heating the oil.
- Place flour, buttermilk and panko crumbs in three different bowls. Add 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper to the flour and panko crumbs; stir to combine.
- Wash and dry fish fillets; lightly salt and pepper each side of the fish
- Dredge each fillet in flour; shaking off excess
- Dip floured fillet in buttermilk and coat
- Dredge and fully cover the floured and buttermilk’d fillet in panko crumbs; set aside on tray
- Repeat for all fillets
- Place oil in frying pan and heat on high, watching carefully
- When oil has reached frying temperature, place the fillets into the pan; be careful not to overcrowd
- Fry on each side about 3 minutes or until golden brown
- Remove to lined plate or warm oven until ready to serve; top with Field Pea Relish
Bon Voyage Summer!!! See ya later Field Peas and Tomatoes! Until next time!!! We love you! Peace Out!
Autumn…we’re comin’ for ya!!!
Remember to follow these and other Peach and the Willow recipes and decorating ideas on Pinterest. Search me, Sabrina Shelfer Pflug, and pin from the Peach and the Willow Recipe Board! Happy Pinning!
Field Pea Relish recipe courtesy of Garden and Gun Magazine, June/July 2016