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Food Prep 101: Know your way around a fish
March 6, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
Did you read last week? Beef cuts with a lot of connective tissue should be: B) stewed.
Moving right along with our proteins, the next cooking spot to catch is fish. Concerns about health have caused a great rise in the popularity of fish. They fall into two categories: Fish and shellfish. No -rainer here: fish have fins, shellfish have shells. Today, we will look primarily at fin fish, and I will serve up shellfish on another day.
We eat fish that comes from both saltwater and freshwater sources. Fin fish, poisson to the French, can be round or flat. Fish have an internal skeleton of bones and cartilage, backbone, pin bones, ribs and a head and an outer skin of scales, large dorsal fin, smaller pelvic fins, a lower anal fin and a tail. Round fish swim vertically with eyes on both sides of their head — think of goldfish, catfish, bass, mackerel, sharks, tuna and salmon. Flat fish swim in a horizontal position with eyes on the top of their heads — flounder, sole and halibut fall into this group. Flat fish are bottom-dwellers found in deep ocean. They are all pretty funny looking.
Fish come to us fresh or frozen. The fresher the better. If a fish is labeled fresh, it has never been frozen. “Chilled” indicates the catch was held at a cool 30 to 34F to keep it fresh. Flash-frozen fish are quickly frozen within hours on board a ship or processing plant. Fresh frozen fish are frozen fast, but not as fast as the “flash”?variety. Frozen just means it’s held at zero degrees or lower. Glazed fish has been dipped in water so that ice crystals protect it from freezer burn, and “fancy” is a code word for “previously frozen.”
Buying fresh fish is a challenge in upstate New York. It is important to work with a reputable vendor with whom you can check the value of the fish caught or delivered that day. Even in the home, fresh fish should be ice-packed to keep it freshest. Fish stored at 32 to 34F will last twice as long as fish stored in a 40F refrigerator.
Fresh fish should have no smell; particularly, it should not have a fishy smell. It should have bulging clear eyes, not sunken or smokey eyes. The scales should be shiny and adhere to the skin; the flesh should be firm to the touch; the fins and tail should be moist, not dry.
We should purchase approximately a half-pound of fish per person dining. Fish can purchased in these forms:
= Whole — with the skin, head, skin, scales, etc.;
= Drawn — a whole fish but with the entrails removed;
= Dressed — the whole fish but with the scales, entrails, head, tail and fins removed;
= Steaks — pieces cut widthwise across the fish, right to left, leaving the back or pin bone in the center;
= Butterfly — the sides (fillets) are removed, remaining together over the top bone;
= Filleted — the sides of the fish are removed along the rib bones, leaving no bone, no skin. We get two fillets from round fish, four from flat (two on the top, two on the bottom.
= Pieces or wheels — these are usually smaller pieces cut from the steak or fillet.
Fish can be lean and delicate (bass, snapper) or oily (salmon, trout, swordfish). Fish should be completely defrosted before cooking. Unlike meat, and poultry, fish is inherently tender.
Overcooking, the most common mistake when preparing fish, makes it become dry and tough. All fish should be cooked approximately 10 minutes for every inch of thickness. Fish is cooked when the flesh: is opaque and firm, separates from the bone easily and begins to flake.
When cooking fish, there are some concerns. Dry heat methods are best for all types when grilled or broiled. Fish should be oiled to hold in the moisture. Dredging fish in seasoned flour when sauteing will help protect the delicate flesh.
Fish can be marinated for a short time with a mild marinade such as white wine or lemon juice. Most fish just need a bit of flavoring. The most popular seasonings for baked fish are lemon, butter, salt and pepper.
Moist heat methods are popular, as they don’t add any fat. Poaching fish in a court bouillon (white wine, salted water, onion, celery, carrot, herbs, and spices) holds in the moisture and adds a bit of flavor. Steaming fish in paper is also popular.
Task to Try:
Herb Fish en Papillote
2 Tbs. chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. minced lemon zest
1 to 1-1/2 lb. fish fillet, divided into 4 servings
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. lemon juice
4 Tbs. butter
Heat the oven to 450 F.
Mince the parsley, garlic, and lemon zest together. Set aside.
Slice the scallions diagonally.
Season the fish with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Divide the scallions among four sheets of parchment (about 10 inches), top with fish.
Cap each portion with herbs then butter. Fold paper in half over fish. Seal edges by making small folds in a semi-circle. Oil the paper and bake on a sheet pan until puffy and browned, about 8 min. Use kitchen shears to open the top of each package in front of each guest.
Quiz: When cooking poultry, it should be cooked until an instant-read thermometer reaches what temperature? A) 140F, B) 365F, C) 212F, or D) 165F.
Comments??Readers may write to anita@anitaala carte.com.
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