Everyone knows that fish is good for you. The fats in fish, especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are thought to help prevent heart disease, and can even aid in preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s and strokes. But it seems that many people are afraid of cooking fish at home. We eat twice as much fish in restaurants as at home. Buying, storing, and cooking fish isn’t difficult; it just requires a little knowledge.
When fish cooks, the proteins denature or unwind, then reattach to each other, or coagulate. This process squeezes out water and the molecules shrink, pressing closer together. Fish is cooked when it is opaque.
There’s a delicate balance between perfectly cooked fish and overcooked fish. For best results, cook fish until it’s almost done, then remove the pan from the oven, microwave, stovetop or grill and let it stand for a few minutes to finish cooking.
To Marinate, or Not?
Marinating fish adds flavour and moisture to the flesh, but any marinating should be very brief. If fish flesh sits in acidic ingredients for more than 30 minutes, the acid will begin to denature the delicate protein, and you’ll have a mushy fish when it’s cooked. Even richer flesh of salmon and tuna should only be marinated for about an hour.
Oil (extra virgin olive oil provides the best flavour) and an acidic ingredient like chopped tomatoes, red wine vinegar, or lemon juice, along with seasonings including salt and pepper. Depending on your tastes, seasonings can range from chopped jalapeno peppers and crushed red pepper flakes to fresh thyme leaves and parsley.
Make sure that your grill is very clean and oil it lightly before adding the fish. If the grill is properly preheated and prepared, the fish will develop a nice crust. Don’t cover the grill as the fish is cooking; the cover traps too much of the smoke and overseasons the flesh.
Place water or stock in a large saucepan and add seasoning ingredients- lemons or ginger will work. Bring the liquid to a simmer, place the fish in the steamer(s) and place over the simmering water. Do not let the liquid boil; this will cook the fish too quickly.
Make sure that you rotate the fish halfway through the cooking time so the fish cooks evenly. If the fillets are of uneven thickness, fold the thinner parts under each other so the fish is about the same thickness throughout. Let the dish stand on a flat surface according to the recipe so the food finishes cooking.
Broiled fish can be really delicious, especially if you season the fish well before cooking. Preheat the broiler before adding the fish and watch carefully. Thicker fillets should be carefully turned halfway through cooking.
Baking at a high oven temperature concentrates the flavours of fish and helps the sugars on the surface caramelize for superior flavour. Season before roasting.
Fish is poached in a flavoured liquid called a court bouillon. Any aromatic herb or vegetable can be used in the poaching liquid. Do not let the water boil. If the water boils the outside of the fish will overcook quickly.
Baking is one of the easiest ways to cook fish. Just follow the recipe instructions for cooking, covering, and standing times.
Using just a bit of olive oil and making sure to preheat the pan are the two tips for a perfectly sauteed piece of fish. Also remember to let the fish cook undisturbed for 2-3 minutes to develop a nice crust and cook batches. The best way to saute thin fillets is to cook over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes, then turn, cook for another minute or two, then remove the pan from heat and let the residual heat cook the fish. Cook thick fillets 5-6 minutes on the first side, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes longer.
Deep fried fish is usually battered, then gently lowered into oil and cooked for about 4 minutes per side, turning once and carefully.
Cooking fish encased in parchment paper or foil is a wonderful way to get the best results. The paper or foil holds in the moisture, concentrates the flavour, and protects the delicate flesh. The packets can be cooked in the oven or on the grill.