Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fish #1

Fish are aquatic vertebrates with fins, used for propulsion and
balance, and gills for breathing. They are an important source of
human food, whether derived from salt water or fresh. The
number and variety of saltwater fish greatly exceed the fresh water
varieties, with over 30,000 oceanic species identified.

Generally speaking, fish are divided into two broad groups,
according to their skeletons: cartilaginous fish like sharks, rays and
skate or bony fish, the largest group, characterized by salmon, cod
and bass. Various body shapes also exist with the round fish,
considered the most flavorsome, and the flat fish, a more mild or
delicate flavor, being the predominate varieties. Mollusks,
crustaceans and cephalopods are considered fish in the broader
sense, but these clams, lobsters and squid or octopus are outside of
today’s discussion, much as I love them as food.

All fish should be purchased, if not caught directly by the eater,
from reliable sources where inventory turnover is rapid. Fish are
highly perishable and, if not frozen, should be stored on flaked ice
if not eaten immediately. Fresh fish, whether steaks or fillets,
should be firm to the touch with no “fishy” smell. If purchasing a
whole fish, the gills should be red with no browning or
discoloration, the skin taunt and springy and the eyes bright and
shining. If any of these conditions do not exist, reject that fish and
find something else for supper.

Fish are harvested wild by fishermen on the ocean or farmed from
a controlled environment where they are fed protein pellets. As a
rule, wild fish are more desirable than farmed, but the real key to
good fish is how it was harvested, how soon it was processed, and
how carefully it was handled after leaving the boat. Many large
trawlers freeze their catches within hours of being caught, so often
frozen fish can be of better quality than fresh. I have read that
most sushi-grade fish, over 90%, are frozen right after being

Fish lends itself to a large number of cooking methods from
broiling or grilling, to steaming, poaching, baking, pan frying or
deep-frying, and smoking. Whichever method is chosen, the
challenge for the cook is to get the texture of the cooked fish right.
The cooking process transforms the muscle proteins, and one must
control the coagulation process so it doesn’t proceed too far,
resulting in the muscle fibers becoming too hard and the natural
juices drying up completely. A good rule of thumb on fish is to
cook it to between 120 degrees and 140 degrees when measured
with an instant read thermometer, where the fish is still moist and
succulent. Many recipes call for cooking fish until it “flakes,” but
to my taste that’s just a little too much. An old rule, if you don’t
have a thermometer, is to cook it for 8 minutes to each 1 inch of
the fish’s thickness, but one can also make a small incision in the
fish to see if it’s interior is still translucent or has turned opaque, or
try pulling on a bone to see if the connective tissue has dissolved
enough to release it.

Here's a simple but delicious way to cook stripped bass, salmon, halibut or any firm fleshed fish with skin on.

Sauted Wild Stripped Bass With Crispy Skin

4 stripped bass fillets with skin (5-6 oz each), scaled
Salt & pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1 non-stick saute pan

Take the fish out of the refrigerator about 10 to 15 minutes before using. Pat the skin dry with a paper towel and season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a the saute pan coated generously with extra virgin olive oil over medium heat until the oil is hot.  Gently place the fish fillets skin side down in the saute pan.  Cook the fish slowly one the skin side for most of the cooking time.  As fish cooks it turns from translucent to opaque as can be seem on it's sides. The idea is to cook the fish 2/3s of the way on the skin side and flip it over for the last 1/3 of the cooking time. The rule for fish is about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness, a little less if you like your fish more on the rare side.

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