Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Whole fish


markk
 Share

Recommended Posts

I love fish cooked whole. The flavor is so much better than the (non-existent) flavor in the fillets that all the fish markets and counters sell now. But I find it's hard to find fresh whole fish, and I don't have a lot of experience cooking it. Does anybody buy and cook whole fish? What kinds of fish do you find? How do you cook them?

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My wife and I are just getting into this as well, having discovered an intermittently excellent source of whole fish about two blocks from the house.

So far, we mainly cook rockfish and yellowtail snappers, both of which yield a firm and tasty flesh. Our favorite technique, is to make crispy fried whole fish, which is much easier than it sounds.

Score the fish twice on each side, sprinkle with salt and let sit about ten minutes, meanwhile heating oil in a wok or a large skillet. Wipe the excess moisture the salt draws out off, and then dust it with your potato starch or tapioca powder. Holding the fish by the tail, slide it down the side of the wok (minimizes splashing) and fry maybe 6-8 minutes on one side and 4 on the other. It comes out crispy, not greasy, and we serve it with a spicy Asian sauce (can hunt down the recipe if you're interested), rice, mango w/ lime juice and black beans. Very tasty.

We've also just scored the fish, dusted it with jerk flavor and baked it -- on a rackin a pan -- to very good result.

The hardest part is serving/eating the thing - trying to get the cooked flesh off the bone without turning dinner into fish rillets. It's worth the practice -- this is the first time I've ever looked forward to Lent.

Edited to add: We get ours in a larger than usual Latino market. The fish are apparantly delivered only a couple of times a week, but if you show up the day they arrive, they are as fresh as any in town -- I'm guessing the local immigrants are more comfortable with whole fish than the yuppies who shop at Whole Foods, and that they prefer the lower prices. I hear NYC's Chinatown is the same way, so a visit to a nearby ethnic enclave may pay off. And note, it's generally considered polite to tip the guy who guts and scales it for you a buck or two.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of my favorite ways to prepare small (about 2 pounds) whole fish is steamed on a deep plate (to catch the juices) in a bamboo steamer, with ginger, green onions, soy sauce, and rice wine. There are a number of embellishments, like adding other flavorings, such as dried mushrooms, bits of ham, dried shrimp, lemongrass, etc; or pouring sizzling hot oil on top afterwards to crisp the skin...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whole fish are great pan roasted, grilled, sauteed, fried( i am not a fan of steamed myself). The general public just isn't ready to look dinner in the eye and eat it-although that seems to be changing slowly.

I use anything in the 2-4lb range; stripers, rockfish, sole, depending on cooking method. Nothing like a whole sculpin oven roasted and served Livornese style over pasta :)

As for buying on the frame, look for clear eyes, red gills, and no smell. No discoloration or tweaked fins, firm flesh when pressed.

hth, danny

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A fish poacher is a good utensil to get if you like whole fish. The fish can be poached in a simple court bouillon for 10 minutes per inch (measuring top to bottom at the thickest point.) When done, it can easily be lifted out and served, and the liquid can be incorporated into a sauce at the last minute.

The 10 minutes per inch fish cooking formula comes from the Canadian government. It applies to most types of cooking (broiling, baking, steaming, poaching, pan frying etc.) Just measure the fish and cook away.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The hardest part is serving/eating the thing - trying to get the cooked flesh off the bone without turning dinner into fish rillets. It's worth the practice -- this is the first time I've ever looked forward to Lent.

Any tips on this? I have a million recipes for whole fish I'm dying to try, but am terrified of the subsequent carving and serving.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i3531.jpg

Hake: coat with olive oil, sprinkle a chopped shallot on the bottom of your pan, add a 1/2 cup dry white sparkling wine like a cremant de bourgogne or champagne, add a couple of bay leaves, a little sea salt and some thyme, and cook in a hot oven until done. One fish for each person at the table!

-Lucy

edited to say that this is before cooking, we were too busy eating to take any other pics of this wonderful meal.

Edited by bleudauvergne (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A salt crust is also a great way to cook a whole fish. We had one when were in Spain, and it was just amazing. The salt crust gets all golden brown, and they brought it to the table and chipped the salt off in front of us. It was really moist and flavorful. :wub:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The hardest part is serving/eating the thing - trying to get the cooked flesh off the bone without turning dinner into fish rillets.  It's worth the practice -- this is the first time I've ever looked forward to Lent.

Any tips on this? I have a million recipes for whole fish I'm dying to try, but am terrified of the subsequent carving and serving.

If you're not using a very small fish, or a species with a million little bones, this really isn't as daunting as it seems. Fish, like the ones mentioned here - snapper, sea bass, and certainly tilapia - are really easy to deal with. (I eat them out all the time, usually in a Chinatown, it's cooking them that I'm trying to get into.) Basically, there's a spine, and if you have the fish lying flat on a plate, the spine runs parallel to the plate. So you start by scraping away gently the skin on the top. Then, using a flat utensil (like a cake server, fish server, etc.), you scoop the meat off that's resting on the spine. If you want to start from the center (middle line) of the fish, you can scoop down to the bone, then turn the server and scoop out to the edge. You'll get two fillets, or lots of flaky pieces, it doesn't really matter. Then, you just reach down by the tail end and pick up the spine and lift it out. What's revealed is another half of fish. Some species have other bones, and you have to watch for these when you eat them. But after you do this once, you'll get the hang of it.

The other day I saw some very beautiful 1.5 lb. Tilapia in my fish counter at the supermarket, and my local Chinese restaurant agreed to steam them for me with ginger and scallions and soy sauce, just like they do in Chinatown. It was outstanding. This is good fish for easy de-boning and eating. But if anybody has comments on what fish they're finding in the markets whole and how they cook them, please post!

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Where do you live? In the southeast - it's really easy to find whole farm raised trout (boned and butterflied). They may not be the best fish in the world - but they taste fine - and - for what they cost - you won't kill yourself if you mess them up. Robyn

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Where do you live? In the southeast - it's really easy to find whole farm raised trout (boned and butterflied). They may not be the best fish in the world - but they taste fine - and - for what they cost - you won't kill yourself if you mess them up. Robyn

Wait -- are they whole? Or are they boned and butterflied?

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Not to bust your chops...

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The hardest part is serving/eating the thing - trying to get the cooked flesh off the bone without turning dinner into fish rillets.  It's worth the practice -- this is the first time I've ever looked forward to Lent.

Any tips on this? I have a million recipes for whole fish I'm dying to try, but am terrified of the subsequent carving and serving.

If you're not using a very small fish, or a species with a million little bones, this really isn't as daunting as it seems. Fish, like the ones mentioned here - snapper, sea bass, and certainly tilapia - are really easy to deal with. (I eat them out all the time, usually in a Chinatown, it's cooking them that I'm trying to get into.) Basically, there's a spine, and if you have the fish lying flat on a plate, the spine runs parallel to the plate. So you start by scraping away gently the skin on the top. Then, using a flat utensil (like a cake server, fish server, etc.), you scoop the meat off that's resting on the spine. If you want to start from the center (middle line) of the fish, you can scoop down to the bone, then turn the server and scoop out to the edge. You'll get two fillets, or lots of flaky pieces, it doesn't really matter. Then, you just reach down by the tail end and pick up the spine and lift it out. What's revealed is another half of fish. Some species have other bones, and you have to watch for these when you eat them. But after you do this once, you'll get the hang of it.

The other day I saw some very beautiful 1.5 lb. Tilapia in my fish counter at the supermarket, and my local Chinese restaurant agreed to steam them for me with ginger and scallions and soy sauce, just like they do in Chinatown. It was outstanding. This is good fish for easy de-boning and eating. But if anybody has comments on what fish they're finding in the markets whole and how they cook them, please post!

The theory is not uncomplicated, but the execution is terrifically delicate.

Markk's description rings true - it will all make sense once you get the knife in -- but to pull off the fileting process with aplomb takes a lot of practice. If you're as ham-handed as I am, you'll probably never get a "Food and Wine"-worthy presentation. But with a little patience you can probably get your guests to focus on your wonderful recipe rather than your so-so serving. Remember, it's never even occurred to them to try something like serving a whole fish. Your chutzpah will blind them to a multitude of minor sins.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I cook whole fish, I always serve the fish, head, tail, bones and all at the table. Then, when you're eating it you work your way down each side, bite by bite, depending on the anatomy of the fish. But in general, There are lots really nice fish that come in a nice size to serve one to each person at the table and are good prepared whole. I think that an entire sole, (not just the fillet) is a really nice fish to pan sear and serve whole. Hake, sardines of course, fresh and whole off the grill. Just remove the guts and cook. These are fish that don't have scales, and the skin really adds to the experience. There are some that I prefer to serve fillet-ed. The wild sea bass, which should be cleaned of it's scales. I like to have more control of the treatment of the meat which is nice crisped on the skin (underneath the scales) side. I also like to cook the dorade filleted, due to a tendancy to have bones running perpendicularly through the fillet, removing them with tweezers before cooking gives my guests a more satisfying eating experience. And then of course there's the smoking of whole fish. A fish is meant to be smoked whole.

:biggrin:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FWIW,I'm planning to cook a 3ft, 10 lb whole pike around easter.

I've never such a thing before (I did it with smaller 1.5ft pikes though).

I'm living lakeside, and it's the only time during the year I can get a pike of that size. I'm intending to braise for 25 minutes it in my large oven, in a "fond" of salt, pepper, light olive oil, white wine, and a bit lemon.

I'll serve it with a lot of butter fryed parsley, steamed potatoes and some butter sauce. I'll invite 10 people.

Bone structure is a nightmare with pike, so it's going to be an ugly slaughtering, but I absolutely don't mind.

My intention is to arrange a anachronistic feast provoking visual emotions. I want to play on the extreme contrast of a fine meal with a horror beast, so it's going to be served "à la francaise", as a whole animal in the middle of the table.

If it's a success, I intend to make it habit, a yearly ritual: "Easter Pike", welcoming spring time.

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I cook marinated Snapper and Cod in the oven. Marinade could consist of herbs, spices, masalas, lime juice, orange juice, black pepper, butter, ginger, garlic...........in varying quantities and combinations.

Before marinating score the fish on both sides with large squares so that when served each diner can lift off a 2 inch square and plonk on to the plate.

Try and use two identical shallow oval or rectangular dishes, one for baking and the other for inverting the fish to expose the other side without breaking up.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm intending to braise for 25 minutes it in my large oven, in a "fond" of salt, pepper, light olive oil, white wine, and a bit lemon.

I'll serve it with a lot of butter fryed parsley, steamed potatoes and some butter sauce. I'll invite 10 people.

Bone structure is a nightmare with pike, so it's going to be an ugly slaughtering, but I absolutely don't mind.

My intention is to arrange a anachronistic feast provoking visual emotions. I want to play on the extreme contrast of a fine meal with a horror beast, so it's going to be served "à la francaise", as a whole animal in the middle of the table.

If it's a success, I intend to make it habit, a yearly ritual: "Easter Pike", welcoming spring time.

Boris. You are a smart man. I too am very sensitive to the evolution of my guests emotions throughout a meal. I think your counterpoint involving the beast will prove fruitful in the most excellent way.

10 is also my magic number for essential for comfortable and casual intermingling while maintaining a fully focused theme.

For a fish that size, I would be tempted to use a temperature probe to indicate done-ness. But what is the perfect inside temp (C and F) of a perfectly cooked tender flaky pike?

:smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Before marinating score the fish on both sides with large squares so that when served each diner can lift off a 2 inch square and plonk on to the plate.

Episure,

Very interesting idea which I will try. How deeply do you score? Do you score all the way to the center of the fish? What is the best implement for serving fish that has been scored this way?

:rolleyes:

What a great thread. Thanks Markk!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think your counterpoint involving the beast will prove fruitful in the most excellent way.

:smile:

I'll try to post a pic.

But hey, right now the pike is somwhere in the lake, in front of my home. My fisherman still has to catch em. It's not predictable at all. So let's keep fingers crossed.

to indicate done-ness.

I did it with about half sized pikes and 20+ minutes (starting at 180C and giving upper heat at the end). Pike has firm meat and is relatively forgiving regarding too long cooking.

But I'm scared, of course. Frightening animal! :rolleyes:

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My intention is to arrange a anachronistic feast provoking visual emotions. I want to play on the extreme contrast of a fine meal with a horror beast, so it's going to be served "à la francaise", as a whole animal in the middle of the table.

That's not dining...that's performance art. :laugh:

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Before marinating score the fish on both sides with large squares so that when served each diner can lift off a 2 inch square and plonk on to the plate.

Episure,

Very interesting idea which I will try. How deeply do you score? Do you score all the way to the center of the fish? What is the best implement for serving fish that has been scored this way?

:rolleyes:

What a great thread. Thanks Markk!

When raw, you can safely score down to the bone. There is enough of the cross section to hold the squares attached. And when it is cooked you can easily spoon a piece onto your plate. When one side is served, invert the serving dish onto it's 'twin' dish and serve the remainder fish intact.

This is an idea that evolved after trying many other methods which ended up in serving minced fish. :shock:

A pie or cheese slice server or anything that has a 'scoop' works the best.

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja

http://www.gourmetindia.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When raw, you can safely score down to the bone. There is enough of the cross section to hold the squares attached. And when it is cooked you can easily spoon a piece onto your plate.

This is how Chinese restaurants serve the fish. It works great. As far as the comment about needing practice to serve a "professional" fillet off the fish this way, I never try for that. I'm very happy to get the fish cooked, and if the side comes off in a few scoops, that's just fine with me. I guess I'm used to getting it this way, so a whole fillet in one piece just doesn't matter to me.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hello, all. I found a fabulous source for frozen whole tilapia right here in the middle of the country, in Milwaukee. Chinese markets here sell them, and cheap, too. Just ask. My fish was frozen very fresh, as it defrosted with just a hint of fishiness, and a clear eye. About $3 a fish, and easy to work with, too! --Lizz

Lizz

---

"you miss 100% of the shots you don't take"

-Wayne Gretzky

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lizz, I agree that frozen fish can be quite good, and it's good you have found a nice source. :rolleyes: A warning sign that the the fish has thawed during shipment and been re-frozen is a block of solid ice at the bottom of the package, water from a thawed fish that has frozen at the bottom.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...