Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting next to a land locked state

Fish Cookery is one of my most popular and most requested classes.
Initially, I was surprised by this but it makes total sense.  Many people in Oklahoma just aren't comfortable with fish unless it's something they pulled out of one of the area lakes, like crappy or bass.  Then, guess what?!  They fry it...I mean, what else are you going to do with it?  Hence the popularity, nay fascination with, cooking fish.  I hear everything from...I have no idea what to do with it to what the Hell is that? to I don't like fish!  Imagine that, taking a class about food you don't like.  Here's the thing...they end up liking it by the time the class is over!  I LOVE that!!
But before we get started...let me get some preaching out of the way.
TILAPIA...stop it!  It is the bane of my existence.  It doesn't make you a bad person if this is the ONLY fish you think you like or can cook or will order in a restaurant but let's examine this tasteless, character-less specimen.  Abundant?  Yes, because it is farm-raised.  Now, in and of itself, being farm-raised is not a bad thing unless the only reason for it is to create tons and tons of it (to meet consumer demand, I know).  People love that sh-t!  You know why?  Because it has no flavor!  It isn't "fishy".  But, wait a minute, it is fish...shouldn't it taste like fish?  Is "fishiness" a bad thing?  I guess it is.  That's another thing we tackle in class...hang on, I'll get to that, I'm not finished with this.  Tilapia is an overly available, tasteless food.  Sustainable does not mean that it has to be uninteresting and uninspiring.  Please don't pay $15 or $20 in a restaurant for it.  Please try something else! I'm finished.
Cooking fish involves basic skills that anyone can learn.  It does not have to be breaded and fried.  In class, we do everything from grilling to sauteing to oil poaching.  But you do need to know your fish before you decide what to do with it.
I recommend finding a good fish monger.  Depending on where you live, you might have one at your local grocery (highly unlikely in Oklahoma, however).  A fish monger is someone who sells fish for a living; she/he eats, sleeps and breathes fish and should be able to recommend what's good/freshest/in season and best cooking methods for it.  For instance, if you buy sole (a fish with a delicate flesh and not "fishy"), it probably is not a good idea to grill it because it will fall apart before you get it off the grill....probably before you get it near the grill.  It needs to be quickly sauteed or baked with a light sauce, something like that.  Also, your fish source should get fish in at least once, if not twice a DAY not a WEEK!  Therein lies the smell factor.  Fresh fish does not smell "fishy"!  You should either smell nothing or the ocean but not old fish.  If you smell old fish, tell the person who is trying to sell it to you that it smells bad and pick something else...maybe the pork chops.  A whole fish should look like you just caught it.  Clear eyes, beautiful skin and NO SMELL!  If you are buying filets or steaks,  treat it like you were buying a piece of meat you're familiar with.  You wouldn't buy an old dry, brown, stinky piece of steak.  Same goes for fish, good color, moist, and not stinky!
You do not have to buy wild fish but if you do, make sure that it is "running" that means in season.  Halibut runs from March to December but Pacific salmon runs mainly in the summer months (June, July) so the rest of the year, you're stuck with Atlantic, typically farm raised, salmon which just does not have the oil content or flavor of the wild varieties.  Also, it is usually colored by the distributor to make it look red like its wild cousins...just sayin'.  I'm just providing information, here.  There are many other wild fish, again, check with your fish monger for seasons.

What you put with your fish is just as important as your fish itself.  Your fish is fresh so don't mess it up with frozen or canned vegetables.  Fresh goes with fresh.  I know you have to shop more often but fresh, seasonal produce is (typically) less expensive and certainly more flavorful and the texture is better than the canned and frozen varieties. Most importantly, do NOT overcook your fish.  That will turn you against fish in an instant!  It will dry out and the mouth texture will be similar to desert sand...just don't do it.  Delicate fish should flake.  Firm fleshed fish should be opaque, nothing more.  And, if you're talking seared ahi, well, that's doesn't mean much more than just showing it the grill or saute pan.

Since I know you're wondering (I'm psychic that way), personally, I like fish with a firm texture and richness, such as, halibut, grouper, swordfish, tuna, and salmon.

So let's look at Candace's five tenets of successful fish cooking:
  • Do not buy smelly fish...that means it's old and should have been thrown out
  • Wild fish should be "running" - that means in season
  • Match fish with cooking method - a sole is not a swordfish
  • Do not overcook your fish - delicate flesh should flake, firm flesh should look opaque
*A final note about shrimp because I can't help myself.  Unless you live on a coast and I mean right on the coast, the shrimp you buy, no matter where you buy it, will have been frozen.  Typically, raw frozen shrimp is just fine out of the freezer case at your local grocer.  You don't need to pay high dollar for "fresh" shrimp from your fish monger...sorry, guys, I love you, but you know this is true.  And, don't buy cooked, frozen shrimp that's just wrong!

Here's your recipe bonus...oh, and the next Fish Class is Thursday, May 16...

Pan Seared/Oven Roasted Halibut

Serves 4

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ lb thick skinless halibut fillet (or other mild white fish, like cod), cut into 4 equal pieces
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium bowl, mix the tomatoes, oregano, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Season the fish with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot.  Add the fish and cook until it browns and releases easily from the pan about 3 minutes.  Flip the fish, pour the tomato mixture around it and transfer the skillet to the oven.

Roast until the fish is just firm to the touch and opaque 3 to 6 minutes.

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