Fishy Business

Fishy Business

Reposted From Asheville  Citizen- Times:

 

We know that fish is good for us. So why don’t we eat more of it? When you gaze uncomfortably at the assortment of sea creatures in the fish case, you may be wondering what to do with them. Not everyone knows how to purchase and cook fresh fish fillets, but most take less time to cook than a boneless chicken breast. Many folks are likewise hesitant to cook frozen fish fillets. Let’s see if we can get this fishy business straightened out.

First, how to buy. Trust Your Fishmonger (But….) A person who makes their living selling just fish will not want to sell you bad fish. If you want to get friendly with how fresh fish is supposed to smell, feel, and look like, buy directly from the seller who buys from — or is — the fisherman. freshseafoodnc.com brings sustainable catch from the NC and VA coast to the mountains each Thurs., Fri., and Saturday. Wild Salmon Co.’s owner, Heidi Dunlap, is the real deal — she catches the salmon in Bristol Bay, AK, and the fish are carefully placed into an icy slurry brine that flash cools them.

They are then processed as quickly as possible to seal in that “Just Caught” freshness. Dunlap sells her frozen, portion-packaged salmon online and in area farmers markets; many Asheville restaurants, such as The Market Place, serve her salmon. When you purchase fish from the supermarket, it should smell fresh like the sea, not stinky like a brackish goldfish tank. Fillets and whole fish should feel firm. If there is any question about how long the fish in the supermarket case has been thawed, ask for a fillet that is still frozen. Most of the fish in those displays have been frozen right after catching, so they’ll make the trek from water to store. I have a friend who always asks for the still-frozen scallops and cod from the freezer case in back, rather than the thawed ones in her supermarket’s case.

She swears she’s never had an issue with freshness. Vacuum-sealed and packaged fish fillets in the freezer section are a bargain; most of the time, price for a comparable fresh fillet is much higher than frozen. And freezing a fish immediately after it’s caught locks in the best possible taste and texture before it has a chance to decline. The fish will last in the grocery freezer case longer. (In addition, flash freezing on the boat kills the microorganisms that can give fish a bad rap.) Who Wears The Pants? Not the fish. Handle that fish like you’re the boss.

First, know these pointers. “Cod, catfish, tilapia are all easy and fast to cook,” says Traci Taylor, chef/owner of Fig. “I like to cook a good piece of fish with only a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, or I’ll roast cherry or roma tomatoes for a salsa. You don’t really need sauces that are time-consuming to make; fresh fish is delicious on its on, taking the pressure off cooking dinner.” To ensure even cooking, your piece of fish should be of an even thickness. But unless you are buying a a fillet that comes from the center, thicker portion, the fillet will have a thinner tail section. If the skin is not attached, just fold that thin tail under, creating an even thickness. If the skin is attached, season the top of the fish and fold the tail up and over; you’ll end up with the skin side up. “At Fig, we use every bit of a protein’s byproducts,” says Taylor. “When we butcher salmon, we make fish cakes out of the scraps.

Likewise, at home I’ll reserve the thinner tail section of a white fish fillet and make a delicious fish cake from those trimmings.” Adds Dunlap, “When you purchase a side of salmon, or fillets cut from it, you will have a portion of the side that thins at one edge. The thinnest part is the belly and it has the most fat, so it won’t overcook.” Cook the fish according the measurement of the thickest part. You may have read the general rule to cook fish 10 minutes per inch. That is the upper range. I’d rather err on the side of underdone; test it at 8 minutes per inch. You can always cook it longer.

Dunlap’s Wild Salmon Co. also sells their wild-caught cod, and she has a few tips about cooking it. “Some cod fillets come 2 inches thick. Those I cut crosswise into 1-inch wide medallions, and cook them on the cut sides for 8 minutes, period.” “To tell the truth,” admits Dunlap, “I like it when people buy 10 pounds of fish fillets at a time. I know that by the time they cook 10 pounds, they are comfortable cooking fish.” There you go. Buy more fish. Ready, Set… The consensus among our experts is to pan-fry fish fillets until you feel confident about venturing to new techniques. “Besides,” says Laura Reuss, chef/co-owner of White Duck Taco Shop, “you get a nice brown, delicious crust that adds flavor to the fish and seals in juices.” All three were adamant that you cook in a very hot, heavy-bottomed pan.

“A good heavy-bottomed pan makes all the difference,” says Dunlap. Then leave it alone for a few minutes. Reuss gets serious: “Here’s the secret: Put a heavy pan over medium-high heat until it is very hot, and then add enough oil to coat the bottom. When it is barely shimmering, add the seasoned fish and don’t touch it until it gives.” Gives? She continues, “When the fish is ready to flip, it will yield easily to a spatula. If you have to dig a spatula under the fish, it will fall apart. You want a nice brown crust on both sides, and that fish will give it up to a spatula when it’s ready. We cook pounds and pounds of tilapia daily at each White Duck, and this method works every time.” Dunlap concurs, but always sets a timer. “If someone talks to me, I may get distracted. For a 1-inch-thick piece of cod, I let the fish cook until it is ready to flip, then I set the timer for 2 minutes. If it’s not ready, I give it more time in 2 minute increments.” Done And Done Interesting thoughts here. I’ve always heard that “fish flakes when it is tested with a fork”. But by the time it flakes on the plate, it’s sometimes overcooked. Reuss suggests to “nudge a fish fillet and if flakes slide apart easily, it’s ready to plate.”

Dunlap has more of an unorthodox method to tell doneness, and I can attest that it worked on the fish she cooked for this story. She explains, “Pull the pan from the heat. Insert a butter knife into the thickest part of the fish, then touch the tip of the knife to your lips. If it is cold, the fish is not cooked. If hot, the fish is overcooked.” Great. What If I Overcook It? There is always a way to fix it. “First,” suggests Dunlap, “don’t tell.” Most folks won’t know. Still, Dunlap’s dad, a salmon fisherman too, mixes 1 part jam to 2 parts mayonnaise and serves it with overcooked fish. Taylor flakes the fish and turns it into pseudo crabcakes. They all say to sprinkle a little white wine over the fish after it’s flipped once for a preventive measure. Or you can drink the wine and fall back to not making a big deal about it. And try, try again.

Pan-Fried Wild King Salmon

Heidi Dunlap has been cooking salmon since she was old enough to catch them. She drizzles the fish with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkles it with her favorite seasoning salt from Spice and Tea Company: Italian Street Fair Spice Blend. It’s a smoky salt and pepper blend accented with sweet onion, fennel, and anise. Season the fillets and set them aside; place a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-high heat and let it get hot. Drizzle in a little olive oil, and place the fish, skin sides up, in the pan. Set a time for 3 minutes to give it time to form a nice crust and release easily from the pan. If it needs another minute, give it more time. Flip the salmon and cook it no more than 8 minutes total per inch. “Pay attention to the timing when you see white dots of moisture appear,” says Dunlap. Pull the pan off the heat to check for doneness. Try Dunlap’s butter knife test as mentioned above. She notes: “Sockeye salmon is not a thick fish, so it will take 6 to 8 minutes total.”

Fried Wild-Caught Cod Po’ Boys Dunlap suggests cutting thick, 2-inch cod fillets crosswise into 1-inch-thick pieces and cook on the cut sides. If the fillet is an inch thick, just cut the fish into 2-inch squares. “It’s better to undercook cod than to overcook it, so test the fish after cooking 2 minutes on each side. And remember it will continue cooking a little as it rests,” says Dunlap. All-purpose flour 1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) 1 to 1 1/3 pounds firm-flesh white fish, such as cod, cut into 2- x 1-inch pieces Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper Vegetable oil Collards Slaw (recipe follows) Place flour, egg, and panko in separate shallow bowls. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Dredge fish pieces in flour, shaking off excess; dip into egg, coating evenly, and allowing excess to drip back into bowl. Dredge in panko and place on a plate. Heat 1 1/2 inches oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, if necessary, add fish pieces and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until browned and fish flakes. To serve, place fish pieces on bottom halves of hoagie rolls; top with slaw and pickled jalapeños, if desired. Makes 4 servings. Collards Slaw 1 small bunch collards (about 1/2 pound) 1/2 small head cabbage, very thinly sliced 1/2 small red onion, vertically sliced 1/4 cup desired salad dressing: vinaigrette, ranch, sesame ginger Pull stems from collards, and stack the leaves; roll up tightly and slice crosswise into thin strips. Place in a large bowl and toss with cabbage, onion, and enough salad dressing to moisten. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes. Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

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