The plate comes off the serving line with a generous piece of tilapia that has been encrusted with panko crumbs and topped with roasted red peppers and onions. Tender au gratin potatoes and golden buttered corn finish off the colorful plate. It is clear that this is not your mother’s church dinner.
The weekly Lenten fish dinner at St. Raphael’s Catholic Church is courtesy of the culinary efforts of parish member David Gotowko and his business partner Tom Cuomo. They have teamed up to provide the parish and community an interesting variety of seafood options beyond the typical deep-fried fish dinner.
“We try to make it a healthier option and people appreciate that,” says Gotowko, of Naperville. “The dinner is sponsored by the St. Raphael’s Council of the Knights of Columbus, but Tom prepares the entree.”
Gotowko and Cuomo own and operate Cuomo Catering out of Northlake. Both men have extensive background in the culinary field.
Gotowko started working in the food industry at 14 and worked his way up to become a certified executive chef. He has catered special events such as Super Bowls, Miss America pageants and the unveiling of the restored Statue of Liberty.
He also oversaw the operations of the seven restaurants at the John Hancock Center before starting Restaurant Business Solutions, a management and consultant firm specializing in opening, expanding and improving restaurants. He manages the Skyline Club in Chicago, the sixth oldest private club in the city. He also is involved with the operations at Cuomo Catering.
Cuomo was only nine when he started working in a kitchen washing dishes at a diner where his mother worked. He continued up through the ranks, attending Triton College while working in a family-owned catering business and finally opened Cuomo Catering in 1980.
Both men offer some tips on organizing fundraising meals.
“The first thing to consider is the facility,” Gotowko says.
There has to be the proper equipment to safely serve meals. If the kitchen is lacking, Gotowko strongly recommends hiring a catering company to prepare the meal.
“You have to consider the people you are serving,” he continues. “If it is kids, keep the menu simple with things like pizza or macaroni and cheese.”
He says women like healthier fare.
“I find that women eat what they want at home, but in public, they want to eat healthy and light, so go for fish, salads and lighter fare,” he says.
As for men, well, they like what they like.
“Men like heartier meals that will fill them, so plenty of potatoes and heavy on the meat for them,” he says.
“If the clients are families, consider a varied menu with different options,” he says.
Gotowko suggests that amateur chefs avoid meats with temperature issues like beef, since these items are more difficult. Cuomo recommends choosing items that hold well.
“Adding a sauce and a garnish right before serving will really up the quality of the item,” Cuomo says. “It is all in the presentation.”
Gotowko agrees with the importance of presentation and suggests making individual servings whenever possible. For example, instead of placing a huge pan of lasagna on a buffet, portion the dish into individual squares with a last-minute splash of sauce and a basil leaf garish for more pizzazz.
The two men offer recipes for their favorite easy-to-prepare but impressive-to-serve fish entrees for others to try during lent or any time of year.
6 8-ounce tilapia filets
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium green bell pepper
1/2 medium yellow bell pepper
1/2 medium red bell pepper
1 small yellow onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons crushed fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried fresh oregano
5 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
14-ounce can diced tomatoes
Mix together egg and milk. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg and milk mixture, shaking off excess. Firmly pat into panko crumbs and allow to rest for 30 minutes to allow breading to adhere to fish. While fish is resting, cut peppers and onion into thin strips.
Sauté garlic in olive oil for 1 minute. Add peppers and onion and sauté 3 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice and lime juice. Cook until peppers begin to soften. Add herbs and cook 1 more minute. Keep warm and set aside. Heat canola oil and sauté fish about 2 minutes a side. Serve fish with spoonful of pepper and onion mixture on top.
Panko Crusted Cod Tacos
2 pounds boned, skinned cod fillets
1-1/2 cups beer (or club soda)
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sea salt
1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
14 corn or flour tortillas
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lime juice
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon lime zest
Salt to taste
2-1/2 cups shredded lettuce
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 limes, cut into wedges
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped jalapeno
Whisk together sour cream, lime juice, cilantro and zest. Cover and refrigerate. Prepare and place topping ingredients in serving dishes.
Break cod into 2-inch chunks. Whisk together beer, flour, cornstarch, salt, onion powder and cayenne pepper to make a smooth batter. Batter will bubble at first and then settle. Dip fish one piece at a time into batter letting excess drip off. Gently roll each piece in panko crumbs and place on a platter.
Pour oil to about 1/2 inch deep in a skillet and heat to medium high. Fry about six pieces at a time, turning as each side becomes golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. If oil is the correct temperature, fish will bubble and sizzle, and there will be no splatters or popping. Drain dish on paper towels.
When all fish is fried, heat tacos to warm them. Place two to three pieces of fish on taco, top with lettuce, tomato, avocado and a dollop of sour cream sauce. Garnish with fresh lime wedges, chopped cilantro and jalapeño.