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katen

Seafood 101

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Hi everyone,

I need some help. I want to try and start eating more fish, and since I don't dine out regularly (almost never actually) I need to get the basics for preparing at home.

I don't even know what types of fish I like other than canned tuna, crab cakes and fish fry! I know that the texture of lobster and shrimp are not my favorites. I used to eat fish whenever we went out when I was a kid, but became almost phobic(slight exaggeration there) as I grew older.

So, how do I find good fish? I've always been suspect of the supermarket stuff.

How do I know what to get? Is some more "fishy" than others? How do I prepare it? Do I have to live with a stinky apartment after I cook it?

I told you I needed help! Any advice would be appreciated!

Thanks!

BTW, I'm in the Chicago suburbs (Naperville) if that helps any!

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Hiya -- welcome!

I'm really fond of salmon. I particularly like the fillet -- it's the easiest thing in the world to prepare: season with salt and pepper, pop it on some tin foil and place in the oven for about 10-12 minutes on full heat broil. Lift it off the skin (which will stick to the foil -- or if you want to keep the skin, just drip some olive oil on the tin foil before placing the salmon on it) and serve it.

As simple as that is, you can easily add other flavors to it, without making that much extra effort: I often add some grated ginger and orange zest.

You can also just pan fry it skin side down, which is what I did today -- nothing but salt and pepper:

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Then of course, there's the grill -- salmon always look (and of course, tastes) great with some nice grill marks:

gallery_28832_1203_30095.jpg

You can also go slightly upscale and wrap it in prosciutto:

gallery_28832_1138_17082.jpg

And you can make some much fancier things (that is, fancier LOOKING, but still fairly simple to prepare), like a puff pastry-wrapped Salmon Coulibiac:

gallery_28832_1203_23897.jpg

or like so:

gallery_28832_1138_28645.jpg

And finally, if you have a few hours to spare on a weekend, you can always smoke some:

gallery_28832_1138_13830.jpg

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Fish has different tastes and textures, some (like salmon) have more natural oil=stronger flavor, some (like tilapia) are more lean=milder flavor. People who "don't like fish" often do like meaty fish like fresh tuna. Tuna is lean and tastes great if you sear it in a skillet or broil it. If you have a nice fresh piece, it's best to cook just so it's still "rare" in the middle (red/pink). Take a 4-6 oz. tuna steak, rinse in cold water and pat dry. Rub with a little canola oil; lightly salt and pepper. Heat a skillet (pref. non-stick) over med/hi heat, add a drop of oil. When you cook the tuna, you'll see how it turns color up the sides. When the color changes halfway up, turn the tuna over and continue to cook the other side until you see the color change up the sides. The rule of thumb is 10 minutes total per 1" thickness, but you might need less time depending on how hot the pan gets, how thick the steak is, if the tuna is cold (I often cook them while still partially frozen), etc. Better to undercook than to overcook, 'cause it gets dried out. Great on the grill, too.

Since it is a lean fish, it benefits from something "wet" to garnish, I sprinkle with some citrus juice or serve with homemade salsa. Or you could brush it with a teriyaki glaze before serving.


"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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Fish has different tastes and textures, some (like salmon) have more natural oil=stronger flavor, some (like tilapia) are more lean=milder flavor. People who "don't like fish" often do like meaty fish like fresh tuna. Tuna is lean and tastes great if you sear it in a skillet or broil it. If you have a nice fresh piece, it's best to cook just so it's still "rare" in the middle (red/pink). Take a 4-6 oz. tuna steak, rinse in cold water and pat dry. Rub with a little canola oil; lightly salt and pepper. Heat a skillet (pref. non-stick) over med/hi heat, add a drop of oil. When you cook the tuna, you'll see how it turns color up the sides. When the color changes halfway up, turn the tuna over and continue to cook the other side until you see the color change up the sides. The rule of thumb is 10 minutes total per 1" thickness, but you might need less time depending on how hot the pan gets, how thick the steak is, if the tuna is cold (I often cook them while still partially frozen), etc. Better to undercook than to overcook, 'cause it gets dried out. Great on the grill, too.

Since it is a lean fish, it benefits from something "wet" to garnish, I sprinkle with some citrus juice or serve with homemade salsa. Or you could brush it with a teriyaki glaze before serving.

I think 10 minutes for an inch thick pice of tuna is a bit too long!


I love animals.

They are delicious.

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A few tips:

Always ask to smell the raw fish. If it's fishy or bleachy or otherwise weird, don't buy it. If it smells like a clean, sweet, cool sea breeze, then you're in good shape.

Generally speaking, fresh is far, far superior to frozen. Buying fish that's spent less time out of the ocean and has been sitting on ice at a reputable store: good; previously frozen fish in styrofoam that's sitting in a grocery store case for who knows how long: bad. And not-fresh fish can turn you off something for a lifetime, whereas a fresh piece of, say, bluefish, which few people have had truly fresh, is a remarkable thing.

Most people overcook fish. I'd recommend buying a small piece of fish you like and sautéing it slowly in some butter or olive oil and salt. Way before you think it's done, start eating pieces of it. At first, it might seem a bit too raw, but then you'll hit that silky, perfect stage, and then you'll watch the flesh get drier and start giving off that white foam that is a sure sign the fish is over-cooked. The trick is to cook the fish until you're a minute or so before that perfect stage, since it will continue to cook from the heat already in the flesh.

Fish vary widely; some are more "fishy," more oily, more firm, more flaky.... Talk to your fishmonger and be blunt about what you like and don't like. If he or she is good, they'll have interesting ideas about what other fish you can try. You might also convince the fishmonger to make you a little sampler packet of six or eight things, one ounce a piece, that you can try to see the differences in texture and flavor.

If you like "fish fry" in the midwest, chances are pretty good that you like one of two things: either cod, which is a salt-water fish, or something like perch, walleye or whitefish, which is a fresh-water fish. (If the fish has thick filets and flakes in large pieces the size of a thick quarter, then it's probably cod. Thinner filets and far finer flakes is probably a fresh-water fish.) My gramps was a Gloucesterman, so I'm a salt-water fish fan. You should figure out what you prefer, too!


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Here are a few other simple prep suggestions:

- Sole or flounder, dredged lightly in flour and pan fried in butter. If you want to get fancy, after you remove the fish to a warm plate, add another knob of butter to the pan, a squirt of fresh lemon and a few capers to make a pan sauce

- Swordfish, salted and peppered, pan seared in a bit of olive oil over high heat. Once both sides are nicely browned you can leave it on the stovetop or pop into a hot oven for a few minutes to finish cooking. We had this last night as part of a composed salad plate.

- Any firm-fleshed white fish on the grill. We were at Cape Cod last week, where striped bass season just opened, and followed our fishmonger's advice: marinate in teriyaki sauce (or any other marinade of your choice) for about 15 minutes, then place on a hot grill flesh-side down. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, then flip the fish over and continue cooking, covered, until it's done (about 7-8 add'l minutes).

I usually buy whatever is on special and looks the best when I get to the market or fish store. If you're just preparing enough for one or two diners it's not a huge investment to try different varieties when they are on special, to see what you like.

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I would also suggest (even though it's not exactly seafood, but freshwater fish) is poached catfish, like Alton Brown has done on Good Eats. Easy and forgiving.


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Beyond Salmon has a great page on fish personalities. I also like her tips for telling when fish is done.

I would suggest you find a good fish monger and go pick his brain.


Eating pizza with a fork and knife is like making love through an interpreter.

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A few tips:

Always ask to smell the raw fish. If it's fishy or bleachy or otherwise weird, don't buy it. If it smells like a clean, sweet, cool sea breeze, then you're in good shape.

Generally speaking, fresh is far, far superior to frozen. Buying fish that's spent less time out of the ocean and has been sitting on ice at a reputable store: good; previously frozen fish in styrofoam that's sitting in a grocery store case for who knows how long: bad. And not-fresh fish can turn you off something for a lifetime, whereas a fresh piece of, say, bluefish, which few people have had truly fresh, is a remarkable thing.

Amplifying just a bit on that - with experience, you can get to the point where you can tell whether a piece of fish is worth pursuing further just by looking at it - fresh fish glistens, the color of the flesh looks vibrant; old fish looks dull and may be a bit grey. (This is easier with white fish such as sole & flounder.)

I generally use peanut oil for frying/sauteeing fish filets. The flavor is neutral, it's not as rich as butter, and it has a higher smoke point than olive oil. (Sometimes the flavor of olive oil is a good thing though.)

If you find a really good fishmonger who has fresh channel catfish, you might want to give it a try, the sweet mild flavor & texture are superb. As a midwestern boy who was raised on the stuff, I can't abide the farmed catfish, which is what you find most places. I've never seen fresh channel cat here in the East.


Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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If you're just getting your feet wet (hehe) with seafood, and aren't sure about "fishy" fish, I'd suggest some nice flounder filets. They're versatile, easy to cook, and are very mild. Folks have already given lots of great tips for cooking fish here, so I won't repeat those, but if you want to branch out into some shellfish, even though you said something about not caring for the texture of lobster and shrimp, you might think about making a crabmeat stuffing for flounder. I *far* prefer crab to lobster or shrimp, unless I'm cooking the latter myself and have time to make sure it's done perfectly... otherwise you wind up with a rubbery mouth feel that is fairly unpleasant to me. For 1 1/2 lbs. of flounder, I use around 1 1/2 cups of crabmeat, 1/2 to 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I like to use my own homemade bread, but any good bread will do; just don't use the storebought dry bread crumbs,) an egg, a tablespoon or so of mayonnaise (again, homemade olive oil mayo is my favorite, but any good mayo will do,) and add-ins as you see fit. Very finely chopped sweet peppers or onions are nice, as are capers, some shredded Swiss or Parmesan cheese, or a clove or two of roasted garlic. Fresh herbs to complement whatever sauce you might like or to go along with the rest of the meal theme are mandatory, for me, along with a bit of salt & pepper. To "stuff," I rinse the filets, pat them dry, and lay them out on a work surface, then top each with equal amounts of the crab filling. Roll each filet up, beginning with the tail end, and set in a buttered baking dish on the rolled end (so you can see the swirls from the top.) I bake them at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes as is, or if I want to top with a sauce (white sauce with Gruyere is a favorite here,) I bake for about 20 minutes at 375 before topping with the sauce, increasing the oven heat to about 425, and then finishing up for another 5-6 minutes, until bubbly and beginning to brown.

This is not exactly an "elegant" dish, perhaps, but it's delicious and satisfies a lot of my seafood-skittish friends & family. The other nice thing about it is that if you're entertaining, you can assemble this hours ahead of time and refrigerate until you're ready to bake. The bad news is, it takes a nice, healthy food like fresh flounder and makes it... well... not so healthy. ;)

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I'm not a big fish fan, however...

Until a year or so ago, I'd have to cook it quite often. My mother adores seafood of all sorts, and would buy it regularly. Since she also adores having her children cook for her, that meant whoever was around would get practice with fish.

White fish are mostly alright in my book. Individually quick frozen fillets of tilapia and catfish are one of mom's staples. They both survive freezing fairly well, and have a flavor that I rather like. They're also (mercifully) well suited to a variety of cooking methods, including things like southeast Asian fish soups. If you can get fresh trout (the scent and texture notes everyone is giving you are critical here) it's also very nice. Since you're in the upper midwest, sunfish and crappie should be common in your local lakes and streams, and are good eating if the water is clean. Cod can be very nice to work with as well, but if you're not near the ocean it's harder to get good quality ocean fish. If you get lucky and some kind fisherman gives you a bunch of quick frozen rockfish, have a party. These guys freeze well and are delicious.

Since freshwater whitefish can be farm raised, they tend to be quite inexpensive. Saltwater whitefish is usually pretty unpopular, especially if the name sounds odd or it's a small fish. That makes whitefish good to experiment with. Each species has a slightly different flavor and texture too.

Scallops, clams, mussels and oysters tend to be good shellfish if you like white fleshed fish. The texture isn't so odd, and the flavor is more fishy and less candy-like. All of these are rather nasty when overdone, and lovely when cooked to a turn. The proper degree of done here is largely a matter of taste and what sort of dish it is. Clam chowder gets a lot more cooking than a seared scallop. These are all very dubious unless you get lucky and find ones that have been flown in fresh that day. You also can sometimes find high quality frozen, but be picky with them. If it doesn't smell good thawed, it's not worth using.

For shrimp, lobster and crab, they tend to have a sweet taste and they get rubbery when overcooked. They're also very easy to overcook. If the sweet taste disturbs you, try them with things like sriracha sauce or other good quality hot sauces. They're also really good with lots of garlic and tomato. If they're cooked properly, the texture won't be so weird. It's ok not to like these. I'm only in the mood for these sorts of shellfish once every couple of years. In Chicago, unless you're buying a live lobster, you *will* be getting these frozen.

Red fish like tuna and salmon are (IMO) really unpleasant. The fat often has a distinct "fishy" taste, unless it's sublimely fresh. The meat is much "meatier" than white fleshed fish and shellfish, and I find that combined with the texture to be very offputting most of the time. These fish also don't ship well at all, and suffer a lot from freezing. About once in a blue moon, I'll be in the mood for smoked salmon on a cream cheese covered bagel. Otherwise, I avoid red fleshed fish. These tend to be very popular fish, and the price will reflect that.

I grew up about 3 hours from the ocean, and a family friend would work summers as a fishing tour captain. Even that close to the ocean, you *will* get better quality fish when working from frozen. It's expensive to truck fish 3 hours or more at low enough temperatures to keep them properly fresh without getting them frozen, and it must be done daily. If the boat has good onboard freezing equipment, you can get amazingly good frozen fish for much less money tho. Even now, I live about 5 miles from the ocean and I'm *still* better off buying frozen fish. The average grocery store around here has a terrifying "fresh" fish department that smells nauseating. At least I know the frozen stuff hasn't been abused that badly.

Emily

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You've gotten great advice so far so I won't add to that except to tell you that I also live in Naperville and you can get really good fish at the fish market on Washington and Gartner. Also, if you go to the farmers market on Saturday morning, there's a guy there that sells great salmon. The only way you're going to like fish is to get the best quality you can afford.

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Lots of great ideas here! Guess I'm in for some trial and error, huh?

Definitely planning on trying the lemon-caper sauce (love those!).

Jean, I think I have seen that market, is it by the Trader Joe's? I was planning on making a stop there.

I'll have to post when I try something, probably sometime early next week as I leave for Atlanta for a few days on Thursday!

Thanks everyone and keep 'em comin!

Kate

Hmm...does this mean I get to buy one of those fancy fish spatulas? :wink:

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Also, foil packets in the stove are great ways to cook fish (and easy)

When I am running short on time or just feeling blah, I cook fish this way.

I love to do a spinach bed, some tilapia on top and drip olive oil (and some seasoning).

The foil packet steams it and it cooks in minutes under about 400 or so in the oven.

Just make sure you trim enough aluminum foil, if you make it too small, too much air gets in.


Edited by laurelm (log)

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Beyond Salmon has a great page on fish personalities.  I also like her tips for telling when fish is done.

Whoa, that is a helluva blog! Excellent culinary find. Thanks.

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