In the last post, we discussed sustainable fish and seafood and how we can be responsible stewards of the world’s oceans in what we choose to order, buy and eat. But do you know what to look for when buying fresh fish and seafood in terms of freshness of the product? And once you get that fish home, do you know the best way to cook it. If you don’t know your poaching from your pan roasting, read on below for
Tips for buying fresh fish and seafood:
- Trust your fishmonger. Have a conversation with the person behind the fish counter. Can they answer questions as to where the fish comes from, how it was raised or how it was caught? If not, reconsider where you buy.
- Trust your nose. Fish should never smell “fishy”. If whole, the eyes should be bright and clear and the flesh should be firm and unmarked.
- Shellfish should smell like the ocean and never have any hint of an ammonia smell.
- Live shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels) may be slightly open, but should close tightly when tapped. If they don’t close, they are dead and should be discarded, not eaten.
- Live crabs and lobsters if in a tank should be moving/swimming. If they are limp they have died and should not be eaten as the meat inside the shell begins to deteriorate after death.
Now that you’ve got it home how do you cook it? Here are some of the main methods for cooking seafood.
Grilling- Cooking seafood over charcoal, wood or gas. This method has been around since the beginning of time. Fire makes food taste good and grilling is especially well suited to many of the denser types of finfish like salmon, yellowtail, sea bass, and mahi mahi. Sustainable sardines (the large whole fish rather than the ones you’d find in a can) are excellent on the grill.
Fish can be grilled whole or in fillets. Avoid very delicate flaky dish like sole because it may fall apart. Shellfish, like shrimp, can be skewered and then placed on the grill. See the recipe for Grilled Mahi Mahi below for tips on how to get perfect grill marks and how to keep fish from sticking to the grill. Heartier sauces like salsas and pesto go well with grilled fish.
Sautéing-Cooking in a skillet or sauté pan over high heat in oil or butter. Fish is often lightly floured first in this preparation. Think Sole Meuniere. Delicate lemon and butter sauces go well with this method.
Broiling- Cooking under or over a direct heat source, similar to grilling. Most ovens have a separate broiler compartment under the heating element. Broiling fish takes very little fat and the fish cooks quickly under such high heat so take care not to overcook. Shellfish like shrimp and scallops also do well with this method. How about some broiled red curry shrimp skewers for example?
Poaching- Poached fish is equally good hot or cold. It’s a very healthy way to cook without additional fat and lets the flavor of the fish shine front and center. Poached fish is wonderful on top of a salad and if cooked as a whole side, looks beautiful on a buffet table. Typically fish and shellfish are poached in a court bouillon, a fragrant quick broth made of citrus, vegetables and herbs. See my recipe for Poached Salmon for this method.
En Papillote- A French term for cooking in a parchment paper packet wrapped around fish. This method can also be achieved by using foil. The packet can be placed in the oven or on a grill and the fish steams inside the paper, puffing it up. You can also put thinly sliced or tiny vegetables in the packet to cook along with the fish. Try adding a dollop of herbed butter to the packet before cooking for extra flavor.
Frying- To cook in oil, in a deep-fryer or a stove top pan, the fish is sometimes first dipped in flour, breadcrumbs, or a batter to coat it and give a crispy shell. Tartar sauce is the most common sauce served with fried fish.
Pan Roasting- This is similar to sautéing, though no flouring of the fish is done. It works best with skin-on fish because it yields very crispy skin. Salmon, striped bass, and halibut all hold up to pan roasting quite well. To try this method, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Get a sauté pan with a heat proof handle very hot, add a tablespoon of canola oil and carefully add well-seasoned fish to the pan. Cook until the skin side gets browned and crispy and turn the fish over in the pan. At this point, slip the pan into the hot oven to finish cooking. The surrounding heat will cook the fish more evenly and faster than finishing it on the stovetop. Try a vinaigrette sauce as a piquant contrast to the crispy fish. Check out this halibut with artichokes recipe or this pan roasted salmon with quinoa for more tips and photos of pan roasting.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx
Marine Stewardship Council http://www.msc.org/
Sustainable Seafood Cookbooks:
Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast by Becky Selengut
For Cod and Country: Simple, Delicious, Sustainable Cooking by Barton Seaver
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