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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Italian Fish Dinner - Dollar Store Style: Broiled Rockfish with Sundried Tomato Pesto, Served with Angel Hair Pasta in a Baby Clam Sauce

I did an experiment to see what kind of a pseudo-gourmet meal I could make entirely from dollar store ingredients. It was interesting. I used $10.00 worth of stuff, but many of the ingredients were jars of things that are still half full or more, so I would adjust it to $8.00. Here is what I used:

  • 2 frozen 4 oz. Rockfish fillets
  • 1 can of prepared white clam sauce
  • 2 packages of baby clams in oil
  • black and green olive tapenade
  • grilled red and yellow peppers, marinated in oil
  • sundried tomatoes, marinated in oil
  • angel hair pasta
  • 1 can of organic, chopped tomatoes

I also had a basil pesto prepared to use,
but it was unusably terrible. Not sure why
I was slightly surprised that a 6 oz jar of
expensive pine nuts and basil for a dollar was bad.

The Rockfish looked and smelled OK. I didn't get the impression that we would all die from consuming it, so I went ahead and drizzled a little olive oil, salted and peppered it in good faith. I turned on the broiler to 550, and put water on to boil for the pasta.

The clams were lightly smoked and in oil, so I drained and lightly rinsed them in warm water
to avoid an overpowering smoky flavor. They went into the prepared clam sauce, which was basically clam broth with tiny chunks of clam and some parsley floating around in it. Not awful, but definitely wouldn't have been too appetizing on it's own. I boiled the sauce down for a few minutes to reduce it, then added the tomatoes. I was going to add the basil pesto here instead
of the tomatoes, but no dice. If I had more time, I would have pureed the tomatoes, added them and reduced the sauce some more.

Now it was time for a few serious Kung-Fu cooking moves to try and give this meal some personality. I made a quick, red pesto by processing sundried tomatoes, the roasted peppers and some of the olive tapenade. Delicious. These were all packed in oil, so the consistency was perfect. If they had been packed in water (which I don't recommend; oil helps preserve the flavors), I would have added a little olive oil. I heated this a bit to get it ready to top the broiled fish.

When the pasta was ready, I drained it and tossed it with the clam sauce. I pulled the fish out of the oven after about 8 minutes, transferred each fillet to a plate and added a healthy dollop of the pesto. I happen to have organic basil growing in my kitchen, so I pulled a few leaves, chopped them and used them for garnish, which is entirely optional. Here is the finished meal:

Not terribly unappetizing for a dollar store menu. So... how did taste? To be honest, the fish was crap. Had a sort of plasticine texture. But, hey, it was protein and it was a buck. The pesto, however, was fantastic. The pasta was a little bland, but we squirted a bit of lemon juice on it and added some salt and pepper which made it quite a bit more appealing.

Would I make this again? Probably not. I can do just as well with 10 bucks shopping sales with the meat and the pasta (I really always make whole grain pasta, which I can get on sale for just slightly more than a dollar). I can do much better with fish, spending a little more on sale fish that doesn't taste like Gumby. However, except for the nasty basil pesto (I actually suspect that it was half parsley), the accessory ingredients were a pretty good value. The sundried tomatoes, grilled peppers, olive tapenade, tomatoes and maybe the clams in a pinch are all items that I would purchase again. They alone were worth more than my ten bucks, so in all, I would say that the experiment was a success, especially since Luna gave it her toddler stamp of approval.


  1. Excellent post! I love the photos and the step by step format. The baby is extremely cute, and she obviously really enjoyed the meal. YUM! YUM!

  2. Hmmm. I wonder that you should think that baby is so cute. ;)