Sep 10

IMG_1720fish340narrowProperly cooking a piece of fish is a technique that seems to elude many home cooks. I believe that it stems from an insecurity of cooking at high temperatures and the fear that fish is too delicate to withstand serious heat. The reality is that cooking fish can be one of the easiest things to master if you follow a few basic principles. It not only takes very little preparation time, but can be more versatile than meat in terms of flavor options.

Sautéing Fish

This technique involves searing a filet of fish in a hot pan in order to caramelize the skin and outside flesh while keeping the inside moist and flaky. In comparison to frying, this approach requires minimal fat to cook the fish so long as you use a nonstick skillet so that the flesh does not stick to the pan. I prefer to start the fish on the stove and then transfer it to the oven to finish cooking it internally.

Ingredients:

5-8 oz portion of fish, scaled and deboned

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp butter

Juice of ½ lemon

1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

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Method:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile rinse the fish under cool water and completely pat dry so that no residual moisture remains on the flesh or skin. Season both sides of fish with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, add in olive oil then place the fish skin side down to sear. Reduce the heat on your stove to medium. Allow the fish to cook, untouched, on this side for at least 3 minutes so that it becomes golden brown and crispy. You can tell when it is fully seared because it will not stick to the pan when you try to gently flip it with a spatula. The skin will have released from the pan and you should be able to easily turn it over onto its other side. Repeat the searing process on opposite side, then add butter, shallots, garlic, lemon and parsley to the pan. Remove pan from heat then slide fish and remaining contents of pan to the baking sheet. Continue cooking fish in oven for about 10 minutes or until the outside of the fish starts to flake gently when pressed. Depending on the thickness of your fish, the cooking time may be more or less.

Broiling Fish

This technique is essentially a “hands free” approach to cooking a piece of fish while still getting that crispy exterior flesh in minimal preparation time. While this method is quick, it does require vigilance as you can easily burn your fish if the broiler is left unattended. I prefer to start the fish on broil just until the top of the fish caramelizes and then quickly switch the oven temperature to 350 to finish cooking the fish internally.

Ingredients:

5-8 oz portion of fish, scaled and deboned

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp butter

Juice of ½ lemon

1 Tbsp finely chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat the oven to broil. Line a baking pan with tin foil (parchment paper will burn under the broiler and should not be used) then grease the foil a small amount of olive oil.

Rinse the fish under cool water and completely pat dry so that no residual moisture remains on the flesh or skin. Drizzle the remaining olive oil on the fish and then season both sides of fish with salt and pepper. Place fish on the prepared pan and into the preheated oven. Broil for about five minutes and then check the status of the fish. Once the fish is golden brown and crispy, turn off the broil and set the oven to 400 degrees. Add the butter, shallots, garlic, lemon juice and parsley to the pan and continue to cook for about 10 minutes or until the outside of the fish starts to flake gently when pressed.

Poaching Fish

The term “poach” refers to cooking the fish gently in liquid until it is fully cooked. The liquid is kept to a bare simmer so as to not break down the texture of the fish. The classical term for the poaching liquid is “court-bouillon” and refers to a broth that is infused with herbs, spices, lemons and wine. The advantage to this method is that it produces a very delicate piece of fish that absorbs the aromatics from the poaching liquid.  I especially like to poach leaner varieties of fish, such as wild salmon, because with less fat they have the tendency to dry out using other methods of preparation. Poaching imparts not only flavor, but moisture, and is a technique that is hard to get wrong.

Ingredients:

Court-Bouillon:

1 quart of fish stock

3 thin slices of lemon

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp kosher salt

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of fresh thyme

½ C of white wine

Combine ingredients in a medium size sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Turn off heat and allow liquid to steep.

5-8 oz portion of fish, scaled and deboned

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Rinse fish under cool water. Bring court-bouillon to just below a simmer and place fish in to cook for about 10 minutes, depending on thickness of the fish. Remove from liquid and serve immediately

Frying Fish

This method can be done using either a deep fryer, where the fish is fully submerged in hot oil, or in a sauté pan where the fish is fried in a shallow depth of oil and routinely flipped to create an evenly crisp exterior. I use either a beer batter or breadcrumb mixture to coat the fish, and a neutral oil like canola or peanut to fry in. It is useful to have a high heat thermometer to gauge when the oil has reached the ideal temperature for frying. Without a thermometer you can gauge how hot the oil is by dropping in a small teaspoon of batter or breading in to see if it sizzles immediately upon contact. If you are not using an actual deep fryer you will need a large pot to cook in that allows enough space so that the oil fills on 1/3 of the actual depth. This creates space for the hot oil to expand in once you start frying (which it will do, trust me!). The last thing you want is to have a pot overflowing with extremely hot grease!

Beer Battered Fish:

Ingredients:

1, 5-8oz portion of fish, skinned, deboned and cut into three long strips

1 C All Purpose Flour, plus more for dusting

½ tsp baking powder

1 C amber beer

1 C sparkling water

Kosher salt

Black pepper

Canola or peanut oil for frying

Method:

Heat oil in a free standing fryer, or a deep pot, until it reaches a temperature of 350 degrees. If you are using a pot on the stove then you should lower your burner once the oil reaches 350 to try and maintain the temperature. Just before frying you can raise the heat again to medium so that it stays consistently hot while you are cooking.

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