Believe it or not, according to Cook’s Bible there are 9 ways to cook fish. I’m going to give you the short course on all 9 today. Selecting and storing fish is another story all together and we’ll tackle that another day. I will only tell you that the best way to select a fresh fish is to stick your finger into the meat. If the flesh does not spring back to its original shape or if it exudes water, that fish has been out of the water too long or was not properly handled. Fresh fish are like “Friday Night Lights” in that they should have “clear eyes” also.
1. Braising – Braising is a method of cooking in a liquid. For fish the proper cut to braise is a steak. Saute the fish steak on both sides with olive oil in an oven safe skillet or Dutch-oven. Remove the fish and reserve it for later. Add onion, garlic, shallots or similar ingredients to the pan and saute them for about 5 mins, separately from the fish. Then add to the pan about 1/2 cup of your braising liquid of choice, which could be anything from water, stock, vinegar, or olive juice to wine. Bring to a simmer and improve the mix with capers, anchovies, olives or other such stuff. Return the fish to the pan and put the whole pan in a 400 deg oven for 8-10 minutes per inch of fish thickness.
2. Steaming – Stove top steaming can be accomplished in a “steamer” purchased for just that purpose or in any deep Dutch-oven or pot that can handle the size of the fish. Into the deep pot add about 1 inch of water and arrange along the bottom something like cookie cutters or cooking rings or anything heat safe that will hold your fish above the water. We are trying to steam the fish not poach it (see #3). You can then put your fish on a plate or pan that will fit in the pot and let it rest on the cookie cutters above the water. Bring the water to a slow boil and put the lid on the pot. Steam the fish for roughly 10 mins per inch of fish. Most whole fishes will cook in under 15 mins. The picture to the left shows a couple of nice slices of fish in a bamboo steamer. The cook has placed ginger and herbs on the fish while steaming.
Oven steaming can be even easier to do. Place you cut of fish on a large sheet of heavy aluminum foil. Season fish with salt, pepper or other spices or peppers and herbs. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon or lime, or wine on the fish (about 2 tablespoons). Then fold the foil together over and over from the top, then both ends to create an air tight package, leaving a little space above the fish for steam. Put the foil fish package on a cookie sheet and into a hot oven, 400-425 deg, for roughly 12-14 mins or until the package puffs up. Carefully open the foil and serve. This method is good for fillet or small fish steaks.
3. Poaching – Poaching as opposed to steaming cooks the fish in the liquid but more gently than braising and in more liquid. While braising is good for fish that has a stronger texture, like swordfish, poaching is great for light flesh or flaky fish such as salmon. For this reason, the poached fish is more easily handled if you wrap it in cheese-cloth for the poaching. Place your fish in a large pot capable of holding the fish and liquid. Cover the fish with your poaching liquid, which could be water, stock, wine or any combination. Add your flavorings, such as, lemon, lime, bay leaves, parsley, salt, pepper, celery, cilantro etc, etc. Bring the liquid to a rolling boil then turn the heat off, cover the pot and let the fish poach in the hot liquid for 10-15 minutes. Then remove and serve. (This is where you thank me for the tip about the cheese-cloth.)
4. Pan-frying – Pan frying fish is just what it sounds like. I fry everything in olive oil, both for health and flavor reasons. Put 1/2 cup of oil in a frying pan. Bring to a med-high heat (about 375 deg). Meanwhile dredge the fish in beaten egg then in a combination of flour and cornmeal or Panko breadcrumbs. Some people use cream of wheat. Then fry in the hot oil for a few minutes per side or until nicely browned.
5. Sauteing – Sauteing is best accomplished with a fish fillet in a hot pan of butter and olive oil. A small amount of olive oil is added to the butter to raise the smoke point of the butter. Coat the fillet with seasoned flour or breadcrumbs or some combination of coatings, then saute in a about 1/4 inch of the butter/oil until brown and crispy. Cook quickly and hot.
6. Broiling – This is by far the simplest method of cooking fish. Just brush the fish with oil or butter and cook the fish in a oven safe pan in the broiler of your oven for 8-10 mins. You don’t even have to turn over a thin piece of fish.
7. Grilling – This is the hardest method of cooking fish. With sticking a problem, fish can fall apart, so select a nice firm fish such as swordfish or use a grilling basket to hold the fish. Sea foods are nice to grill. Shrimp is easy in the shell and lobster is amazing. The problem with grilling is the heat. You need a med heat to cook fish, which is hard to accomplish on the grill. Remember to remove the fish when it is slightly under-cooked to allow the residual heat to finish it off. Tuna is nice on the grill (see the picture on the left).
8. Roasting – Roasting is the best way to cook a whole fish. Place the fish on a roasting pan in a hot (450 deg) oven and cook until done, basting with hot oil or butter during the roasting process. The fish is done when the skin easily peals off or the tip of a sharp knife can easily pierce to the bone.
9. Marinating (Ceviche) – Yes, this is a cooking method. Marinating fish in a acidic liquid for a period of time actually cooks the flesh. Because no heat is used, you should only try this method with very fresh fish and shell fish. Cut the fish into small 1/4 -3/8 inch cubes and marinate in the refrigerator covered in vinegar, lime or lemon juice for 4 to 24 hours. Combine with other flavors and serve.
Enjoy your new skills. Let me know what you’re doing – Jughandle