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.
Tips on buying sustainable seafood and how to grill fish. Recipe for Mahi Mahi with Tropical Salsa.
Prep Time30 minutesmins
Cook Time10 minutesmins
Total Time40 minutesmins
Course: Main Course
Keyword: Fish, mahi, salsa
To Grill the Fish:
1 ½ -2poundssustainably sourced mahi mahi
salt and pepper
For the Tropical Salsa:
½eachjalapeño chiliminced (about a teaspoon)
2each green onion
¼cuproughly chopped cilantro
¼teaspooncracked black pepper
Prepare the fish:
If the mahi mahi comes in a whole fillet, remove the skin and cut out the center bloodline. Cut into portions of 6-8 ounces per person.
How to keep fish from sticking to the grill:
Heat grill to high.
Make sure the grill grates are clean. Use a wire brush to clean off any debris.
Oil the grill grates: Tightly roll up a clean (old) dish towel and tie it with kitchen string. Dip the rolled towel in a little (not dripping!) canola oil. Use a pair of tongs to hold the towel and wipe down the grill grates.
Restaurant trick: Brush the fish with mayonnaise. Yes, mayonnaise. It sticks to the fish and does not burn when over high heat. It basically melts off and keeps the fish from sticking to the grill.
How to get great grill marks:
Use the mayonnaise trick (see above).
Always place the “presentation” side of the fish down on the grill first. This is the side you want to present up on the plate. Typically, if the skin is left on, the skin side goes down first. If the skin is removed, it is the flesh side of the fish which goes down first.
Remember “10 and 2.” Place the fish down on the grill on an angle to the grill grates. Start with the ten o’clock position. Cook for a few minutes and rotate the fish 45 degrees to the two o’clock position. Turn the fish over and repeat.
Brush the flesh side of the fish lightly with mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper.
Make sure the grill is hot and then place the fish flesh side down onto the grill in the “10 o’clock” position.
Cook for about 4 minutes and then rotate the fish, keeping the same side down, clockwise to the 2 o’clock position. Cook for another 3 minutes.
Brush the back of the mahi mahi with mayonnaise and turn the filet over to cook on the back side for about 3-4 more minutes.
Remove from grill and serve with Tropical Salsa.
To Make the Salsa:
Peel the mango with a sharp knife, then cut ½” slices from it and dice into cubes. Cut the pineapple, avocado, and red onion into a ½” dice. Dice the tomato the same size, taking care to remove excess seeds if possible.
Finely chop the jalapeño. If you have sensitive skin, wear latex gloves and make sure you wash your hands with soap after cutting any spicy chilies to remove any chili residue from your hands.
Juice the orange and limes and roughly chop the cilantro. Add all ingredients to a large bowl and gently combine. Season with salt and pepper.
If you’d like to prepare the salsa in advance, cut all the fruit and vegetables, but keep them separate, especially from the citrus juice. Acid in the juice and the pineapple will cause everything to soften and the salsa will get mushy in a few hours.This would also be good with any fish common in tropical regions; California sea bass, yellowtail, albacore, etc. If you have access to other tropical fruits like papaya, star fruit, dragon fruit or even fresh coconut, any of those would be excellent additions or substitutions to the salsa.
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