For most people, the Reading Railroad is a valuable spot on the monopoly board. But Philadelphians will proudly claim it their own. The old terminal, of a 60-mile train line that ran between Philadelphia and Reading (from 1839-1976), has housed The Reading Terminal Market since 1893. Filled with open stalls for butchers, Amish farmers, cheese makers, bakeries and coffee roasters, it is a food lover’s paradise, with endless alleys and indoor streets to explore. It is one of the rare remnants of a generation of markets that were created around the turn of the century by city officials concerned with the public health problems caused by outdoor markets.
Every Friday morning for 30 years some members of my family have visited the Terminal. We shop for groceries, say hello to old friends, sip coffee and munch on croissants from our favorite bakeries. The ritual has become so ingrained, that it might be easy for us to overlook the practical purpose of our trips — to stock up on fresh produce and to pick up our Shabbos fish from Tang at John Yi’s Fish Market. (Fish for Shabbos dinner has long been a family custom.)
Located in the center of the Terminal near Filbert, the market’s mascot — a sculpture of a pig — John Yi’s has always had knowledgeable fishmongers behind its long glass cases. When I was little, Lily was in charge and as I got older, Tang took the helm. Each week, they played a leading role in deciding what we ate for Friday night dinner. “Can I have two pounds of rockfish?” my father might ask. “I think you want the Pompano or bluefish instead,” Tang might say, or “I have shad this week!” They insisted we try their best and freshest selection, often returning to a refrigerated room to carve up a large fish and give our family the choice fillets. Tang in particular has expanded all of our palates and, despite the fact that none of us have ever seen him outside of the Terminal, his presence is always at our Shabbat dinner table.
Having moved away from Philadelphia eight years ago, I miss our Shabbos fish. I have struggled to find a fishmonger as dedicated to the non-restaurant client and providing fish of equal quality. Tang’s fish needs little finishing, particularly in the summer, when only light flavors are needed to enhance the fresh fish — butter, white wine and capers for pan-roasted pompano; olive oil, lemon and fresh herbs for grilled rockfish.
Winter conditions, though, lend themselves well to heartier fish dishes like snapper or salmon Provencal roasted with bright canned tomatoes, salty kalamata olives and briny baby capers — a popular and recurring Shabbos fish preparation in my family. The dish pairs perfectly with simple pastas and greens such as sautéed spinach with lemon. The meal is complete with a dry Italian or French white wine. Snapper Provencal is also a dish I turn to when I return from a New York fish market, sample a sliver of the raw fish, and realize Tang’s presence will not be at my dinner table.
Snapper (or Salmon) Provencal
2 large, de-boned snapper fillets with skin left on or a 1 1/2 lb piece of salmon fillet
2-3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 large can chef’s cut tomatoes, I recommend Cento brand
1 large handful pitted kalamata olives, sliced
2 tablespoons (or more) drained and squeezed small capers
Fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup white wine
1) Place oil in a pan over medium heat and add garlic. Sauté until the garlic is fragrant and just starting to brown.
2) Add tomatoes and juices from the can, wine, chopped olives and capers.
3) Crack fresh pepper into the mix and cook, lightly simmering for about 3 minutes, until the sauce starts to come together.
4) Lay fish fillets in a baking pan or large pan coated with olive oil.
5) Cover the fish with the sauce and lightly cover the dish with aluminum foil.
6) Roast in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, if you are cooking snapper and about 25 minutes if you are roasting a thick fillet of salmon. Remove the cover for the last five minutes of cooking. When done, garnish with fresh chopped basil.
Cook’s note: The time, and amount of sauce will change significantly depending upon the thickness of the fish. Check fish about 15 minutes into roasting to gauge your timing.