As a professional chef with a minute or two in the industry, I buy more fish to sell on special occasions than anything else. For some reason people like to eat fish, but are afraid to cook it themselves. As a chef, thank you, I would love to prepare the easiest of proteins for you at a great mark up. As a foodie, you can do it! Fish, all fish, is incredibly easy and quick to prepare, even fresh caught out of the river, lake, or ocean.
From a live animal to table ready food, you can’t get easier than fish. Beef needs to hang, as does pork. Chicken needs to hang and then be plucked. Note that hanging is the step AFTER gutting. Fish takes about 30 seconds to gut, does not need (and doesn’t want) any aging. I regularly ask my server how long the beef was aged and in what manner. Can you imagine asking a sushi chef how long your sashimi has been hanging around.
One of my culinary heroes, Anthony Bourdain, has a chapter in his book, Kitchen Confidential, advising diners to never order fish on Monday, as it was probably purchased on Thursday or Friday. He may or may not be correct, but you get the point. I am blessed to live in an area with fresh fish much of the year. In those off times, I don’t eat fish, or I delve into the freezer section.
When markets have fish in the display window out of season, it was frozen on boat and then thawed for sale. This is ok if you plan to cook the fish within 24 hours, but I wouldn’t want a previously frozen fillet in the fridge for more than that.
Fish basically falls into two categories, fatty and lean. Salmon, for example, is considered a fatty fish. Cod, on the other hand is considered lean. Fatty fish will handle over-cooking slightly better than lean fish. Lean fish will dry out fairly quickly when over cooked. This is why lean fish is usually chosen for fish and chips. Lean fish fries well and tends to stay moist when cooked in a deep fat fryer. Does this mean the inexperienced cook should be wary of lean fish? Not at all, there are several methods that can help insure lean fish stays moist.
Braising, sautéing, and even pan-frying are great ways to prepare fish like cod or tilapia. Braising is the most risky, as the fish can be broken up, but if you don’t need the fish to remain whole the fish will be very moist.
When pan-frying or sautéing, a light coat of flour will be helpful in protecting the delicate fish. I mix salt and pepper with the flour to add flavor. One important step is to make sure your oil is hot enough. I sprinkle a drop of water into the oil to see if it “pops”. That is usually a good indicator.
Some Fishy Recipes…
Here are a few quick, easy recipes. Almost any fish will work in any of the recipes, but keep in mind that the smaller the piece of fish, the quicker it cooks and more delicate it will be to handle.
Bacalhau-Portuguese Cod Stew
4 potatoes, sliced
2 yellow or sweet onions, sliced fine
4 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 can black olives, sliced
1 cup white wine or chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl olive oil
4 to 5 pieces cod (the original method uses salt cod, but salt cod can hard to find and work with)
Saute the potatoes, onions, and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, olives, and liquid. Stir well. Add the cod and simmer for about 1 hour.
Butter basted pan-seared Salmon
1 Tbl cooking oil
2 Tbl butter
4-5 ounce salmon fillets
Heat a heavy sauté pan. Add oil and heat until just smoking. Add salmon. Cook for 3-4 minutes, flip, add butter. Spoon melted butter over salmon. Cook for about 3 more minutes. This method works for any firm fleshed fish.
Sauted Sole with lemon dill cream sauce
2 Tbl butter
4 Tbl flour, divided in half
1 lemon, juiced
1 Tbl fresh dill
4 ounces milk
4 Sole fillets
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix half of the flour with some salt and pepper. Heat a medium sauté pan with the butter until it is almost smoking (try the water test mentioned above, but be careful to not get burned). Dredge the fillets in the flour, shake off excess, place in sauté pan. Cook until a good color forms on the fillets, flip, continue cooking for 2 minutes.
Remove the fish, add the other half of the flour and stir vigorously until well mixed. Add the milk, stirring constantly, until thick. Add the dill and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning. Place fish back in pan and allow to sit, without heat, for 1 to 2 minutes. Enjoy !
And there you have it … how to cook fish … if you have any recipes to share please add them to the comment section below.
Images taken from Wiki Commons