Fresh Catch: Simple Techniques Bring Big Flavor
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish twice a week to help prevent heart disease, and to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes. But like some other healthy choices we’re encouraged to make, many of us rarely choose to eat fish—mostly because we’re afraid of cooking it. In fact, about half of all fish eaten in the United States is eaten in restaurants. Leave the fish cookery solely to the professionals? No way! With good information about how to buy fish, and the right cooking techniques, you’ll be cooking and eating fish at home this summer!
First, let’s work on how to choose the right fish. Buy fish at a reputable fish market that has lots of business, and therefore high turnover of product. Ask to smell the fish: It should smell like the ocean, not like fish! The flesh should be firm and elastic, and slick—not sticky. I usually go to the market with a general requirement for a recipe—like a firm fish steak, or a more delicate filet—and then pick whichever fish looks and smells freshest. Often, the staff at the market can suggest which would work best in your recipe.
Keep in mind that your choice of fish affects the environment. Some aquaculture practices increase pollution, some species are overfished, and some fish habitats are threatened by increased ocean temperatures. You can shop smart and choose the fish that makes most sense for the environment by educating yourself. Go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx to download a pocket guide that will
help you choose the best fish available in our area.
Generally, buy fish on the day you plan to cook it. If you must buy it early, buy it no more than one day in advance. When you get home, keep it on ice in the refrigerator, just like at the fish store.
Ready to cook the fish? Different types do better using different techniques. For example, poaching and sautéing should be reserved for delicate fish filets. To poach a filet, fill a sauté pan with equal amounts of white wine and water, then add a few whole peppercorns, a couple of lemon slices, and a bay leaf. Add the fish, and cover by topping with a piece of parchment paper, to hold the steam in and keep the top of the fish from drying out. The liquid should come one-half to two-thirds of the way up the side of the fish. Turn on the heat, and cook for about 12 minutes after the water begins to simmer. To sauté, simply heat a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Season the fish with salt and pepper, or dredge in a seasoned flour mixture. Fish that has been poached or sautéed works well with a dollop of spicy rouille (recipe follows).
Grilling is best reserved for thicker fish, like salmon filets or fish steaks. I have the best luck preheating the grill to high, then cooking the fish on a presoaked wood plank. The wood imparts a nice smoky flavor, and keeps the fish from sticking.
Roasting (or baking at a high temperature) works for most fish cuts and varieties. Place the fish directly on an oiled baking sheet, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for about 12 minutes for each inch of thickness. Let the fish sit for two minutes, to finish cooking.
Summer is a great time to master the art of cooking fish. There may be a trip to the beach or lake where you can enjoy a fresh catch — and there’s almost always a grill nearby! You could make one (or both) of the following sauces ahead, and dinner is almost ready.
Rouille is a spicy, garlicky mayonnaise, a must when serving the French fish stew, bouillabaisse. It’s also great with poached or grilled fish; just serve the fish topped with a spoonful, or slather it on a piece of grilled or toasted bread served underneath the fish. Makes 2 ½ cups.
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large egg yolks
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon saffron
1 cup olive oil
On a cutting board, sprinkle the garlic with salt, and chop until a fine paste forms. Put in a food processor with egg yolks, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, crushed red pepper, tomato paste and saffron. Process until smooth. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, and blend until thickened. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
The great summer ingredients of gazpacho, served as a chunky salsa on top of a freshly cooked piece of fish…could this be any easier? Makes two cups, to sauce four portions.
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1 green or red pepper, chopped
1 quarter of a red onion, chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let the flavors combine in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving on top of a hot piece of fish.
Trout or Sole Meuniere (serves 6)
This is a classic New Orleans preparation for fish; the recipe is also great with soft-shell crabs.
2 cups flour
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup canola oil
6 fish filets (or 12 soft-shell crabs)
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups toasted sliced almonds
Mix flour with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large sauté pan. Dredge fish in flour mixture, then sauté in oil until it begins to brown. Remove to a sheet pan, and keep warm in a low oven. Repeat until all the filets are cooked.
Melt the butter in the same pan over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes until the milk solids begin to brown, and the liquid turns a golden color. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. Add the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Stir until bubbling subsides.
Top fish with almonds and drizzle with browned butter.