Do you know your cheeses? Parmigiano-Reggiano is considered one of the world’s greatest. It remained at the top of the connoisseurs Best Cheeses list for more than nine centuries. Unfortunately it’s often poorly imitated. Parmesan adds an important tangy flavor to this month’s crappie recipe. Freshly grated Parmesan provides considerably more flavor than the pre-grated.
This cow’s-milk cheese got its English name from the French word for this cheese. A taste is difficult to describe but here’s a stab at it: rich, tongue-piercingly sharp (if it’s high-grade), pungent, nutty with a strong umami taste. This renowned hard cheese is aromatic with a flaky and granular texture…. all right, let me back up. I’ve heard the word “umami” but never learned what it meant.
In researching this taste I found no succinct definition but here’s what I got: Umami is one of the five basic tastes our tongues perceive – sweet, sour, bitter and salty are the other four. The word comes from Japanese meaning a “pleasant savory taste.” Most of us really like this taste that is not sweet, sour, bitter nor salty, just yummy. We taste umami via tongue receptors for glutamates (MSG is one) and Parmesan has high concentrations of glutamates.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to today’s product. That suggests its origin emerged much earlier. The original Parmigiano-Reggiano was produced only within a precisely defined area in Italy and only cheese from this area can be legally labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano” today.
It was made from April to November, formed into approximately 75-pound wheels and aged at least 24 months when it became brittle with a rich, savory flavor. Some medium Parmesan cheeses are not aged as long as the Italian product and some are marketed as “aged” after 12 months. Top-grade Parmesan is aged 30 months and some cheese makers guarantee their products for more than 70 years.
Whole Fried Crappie with Parmesan-Peanut Crust
7-10 crappies, cleaned & left whole
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup dry roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
Peanut oil for frying
In a shallow bowl mix bread crumbs, cornmeal, Parmesan cheese, ground peanuts, salt and pepper. Coat each fish with flour and then dip in buttermilk and then coat evenly with crumb mixture.
In a large skillet, heat 1 to 2 inches of oil over medium-high heat. Add fish and fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Spicy Tartar Sauce
You may want some fresh sauce to go with your savory crappies. This one adds tang to your taste buds.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
1/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Combine all ingredients. Keep chilled.
Let’s use a little more Parmesan cheese to make an onion soup.
1/2 pound sliced white onions
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons corn oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart chicken broth
1 quart beef broth
8 slices French bread
Shredded Swiss cheese
Sauté onions in butter and oil until onions are transparent, but not well browned. When tender, turn heat to lowest point and sprinkle with flour, stirring vigorously. Pour into Dutch oven and stir in broths. Heat thoroughly and divide among eight oven-proof bowls. Float a slice of bread atop each serving. Mix equal parts of Swiss and Parmesan cheeses to a smooth paste and spread over bread. Place all bowls on oven rack four inches from broiler: heat and broil until cheese melts. Serve at once.