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Monday, 4 October 2010

Understanding Fish & Seafood Part 1 - Purchasing & Preparing to Cook

"Fish should smell like the tide. Once they smell like fish, you are too late!"
Make sure your fish has a straight from the ocean smell when you purchase them. They have to be moist and fresh. This makes all the difference to the final texture and flavour.

If you are looking for renewal, for inspiration and for variety in your kitchen, head towards the sea. There is a whole world happening in the ocean. A whole world of varieties, flavours and textures. The sea creatures are delicate, naturally moist and flavoursome. Think of it this way; you know how we sometimes brine meats in preparation for cooking? The ocean is a large container of brine, out of which comes the most tender and moist food offering. When cooked properly, fish and seafood are succulent, moist, and noticeably tender, almost dainty. What better way to start a dish, than with an ingredient of such characteristics?

Whole Sea Bass
(White Fish)
Nothing beats Fresh Seafood, and nothing tastes like it! There is a tremendous difference in flavour between fresh seafood and those frozen or the ones that have gone a little old. With fresh seafood there is no odors, no unpleasant flavours, only the sent of the sea and the buttery smoothness of the flesh. Various Seafoods have particular flvours not found in other foods, making them unique and identifiable.

When eaten raw some fish and seafoods are buttery with an almost melt-in-your- mouth experience, like salmon, Ahi Tuna or Scallops. Others have a distinguished flaky texture like eel. Some are crunchy like prawns and others are tender and fleshy like White Dori and Tuna. Whatever the texture you are after, you will surely find it in one of the ocean's offerings. This allows you to unleash your creativity when it comes to conceptualising a dish and choosing ingredients and deciding on texture.
Fish is not only delicious but also nutritious. It is full of body-building proteins while being low in calories. White fish contain almost no fat at all. Oily fish on the other hand contain from 0.5% - 20% fat. However, these fats are the sorts of healthy fatty acids as they are believed to assist prevent coronary heart disease. Fish also contains almost no carbohydrates and is an excellent source of vitamins. Oily fish are full of vitamins like A, D thiamin  and riboflavin. With all of these health benefits, as well as for the mere deliciousness of this food type,it is obvious why we should make more use of this super food. We must incorporate it more often in our diets. To do that it is essential to learn how to buy, handle, store and cook this food type.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about fish and seafood. Most believe that it is hard to cook and prepare. This is totally false, as cooking fish and seafood is surprisingly simple. I will be sharing with you tips and recipes that make preparing seafood a breeze. Until you get accustomed and comfortable in preparing fish and seafood, follow my instructions and you will not go wrong.

Another misconception is "Fish smells and makes my home smell bad!" !! I was surprised at the amount of people who told me they don't like cooking fish or seafood because they believe it is smelly!! Seafood is not smelly, and should not be smelly. Fish and Seafood must smell like the ocean, like a sea breeze; and must never have any unpleasant odors. If you make sure to buy fresh fish and shellfish, you will never be faced with bad odors, you will only smell the sea. When fish stinks or has what is referred to as "a fishy smell", then it is most probably old - Not Fresh! You don't want to buy that.  In fact you want to stay clear from that! (read on for how to know if fish is fresh)

Just like with eggs or chicken...etc once you are done cleaning fish, you need to wash the work surfaces with warm water, soap and detergent. This way, your kitchen will not smell and you will ensure that work surfaces are clean and no cross contamination will take place when preparing other foods. This is very important as food must always be handled safely or it can be hazardous. Unpleasant smells occur when residue of foods start getting old and bacteria is forming, which means that smelly area has not been cleaned properly! Cleaning up well after your done, will take care of that, and will keep your family safe from food borne diseases.

Clams (Shellfish)

Choosing Your Fish or Seafood
When it comes to choosing your fish and seafood, it helps to know the different types and their characteristics. Knowing if a fish is meaty, oily, fleshy, full of bones...etc will help you determine the method of cooking. For instance, if you are after searing a fish you should go for oily fish types, like Tuna for instance. If you are after crock-pot-cooking scallops are not your answer and so on... Here are general guidelines to fish types:

Fish and seafood are often ctegorised according to the type of flesh:
  • White Fish  has a distinctive white flesh. Examples: cod, sole and sea bass. These are very good types for baking, grilling and frying. Most of these are also good for stewing.
  • Oily Fish      has oil distributed through its flesh, giving it a grey or red tinge. eg salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines. Most oily fish types are great for searing, smoking, and preserving. These are also good for pan frying, grilling and baking. 
  • Shellfish        This group is enclosed within a shell. Shellfish are further classified into 2 groups:
      1. Crustaceans   usually have  limbs and a shell, like crabs, crayfish and lobsters. These are good grilled, baked, boiled, steamed and are often used in stews. Prawns for example can also be fried.
      2. Mollusks           having a shell only, like oysters, clams and mussels. Mollusks are fabulous in stews and soups. They are usually either steamed, shortly boiled and can at times be baked shortly like in the Oyster Rockefeller
Skate Fish
From Flat Fish Category

Fish can also be classified into groups referring to their shape:
  •  Round Fish  have a rounded body and eyes on either side. This category is large and includes a wide range of fish from freshwater salmon to sharks. Methods of cooking fish in this category vary according to the fish itself.
  • Flat Fish      have both thir eyes on top. Thisgroup includes skate and flounder.  

Buying Fish
When selecting fish to buy, the most important thing is its freshness. It has to be the freshest possible for best results. Whole fish is easier to judge when it comes to freshness and it is often cheaper than prepared cuts.

To know if the fish is fresh:

  • It must look moist, the flesh firm, the eyes should be bright, the scales should sparkle, the gills must be red, and there should definitely be no unpleasant smell
  • Some fish have natural slime, which is easy to remove by rinsing. 
  • The same principles apply to buying prepared cuts, fillets, or fish steaks. The flesh must be firm, moist and look fresh, without any unpleasant odours
  • White fish must be really white not off-white or any other colour.
 Once bought it is always preferrable to cook on the same day. If it must be refrigerated till the next day, then it must be cleaned, washed, pat dried and kept in the refrigerator in an air tight container till the next day. If you want to freeze fresh fish, then clean and wash it, pat dry it, and wrap tightly with nylon wrap then immediately freeze it. If you do not clean your fish before freezing, you allow for odors to build up when thawing.

Shellfish on the other hand, deteriorate rapidly, and must therefore be used on the same day.
There is a wide variety of fish and seafood to choose from in most supermarkets. You will find different shapes, cuts and preparations. For best and freshest fish head to your local fish market. You are definately going to get the freshest, and most probably going to find a wider variety.

Scaling Whole Fish
Cleaning and Preparing Fish & Seafood
Despite everyone's shared anxiety, preparing fish and seafood for cooking is not difficult at all. There are precise methods with specific types like oysters or mussels, but nothing too complicated that you won't be able to peform at home!
Follow these step by step instructions and you will find it easy and quick to clean and prepare any fish or seafood. Also keep in mind that most recipes will give you instructions on how to prepare your fish for the specific recipe. You can also ask the fish monger to scale, clean and fillet your fish so it's ready for cooking at home!

Hold body of fish firmly and cut through the underside towards the tail
 Preparing and Cleaning Whole Fish
Scaling a round fish : 
  •  Hold the fish firmly by the tail. Using the blunt side of a knife scrape the scales moving at an angel towards the head removing scales as you scrape.
  • Rinse fish thoroughly under cold running water to remove any remaining scales that are clinging to the skin.
  • With a pair of kitchen cissors, trim the dorsal fin, if you want to remove the whole fin, snip through it with cissors and pull.
To clean the fish
  • Hold the body firmly with one hand, and cut down the underside of the fish to the tail.
  • Remove the innards. Innards should be easy to take out. Just simply pull them out.
Pull innards out of fish
  • Cut the head if desired, just behind the gills. (Note that the head maybe used in making fish stock)
  • Filleting Fish
  • Clean and remove any remaining residue by rinsing the fish with cold running water.
  • Then fish is now ready for filleting
Holding the fish firmly, cut along the backbone from just behind the head towards the tail. Cut across the fish and slide your knife between the ribs and the flesh. carefully lift the flesh away, making sure not to break it.

Fresh Oysters
Preparing Shellfish
  • Opening and preparing Oysters
Place oyster on top of kitchen towel, fold the kitchen towel on top of the oyster leaving the hinge side uncovered. Place your hand on top of the towel, holding the oyster firmly in 1 hand, insert the oyster knife with the other hand into the hinge and twist till the shell opens. Slide the blade of the knife under the oyster and cut through the connecting muscle in order to seperate the oyster from its shell.

Perform this task with extreme caution as oyster have super sharp edges that can cause deep cuts.

  •  Preparing Mussels
Scrub mussels to remove sand or any residue. Debeard the mussels by pulling the byssus which protrudes from the shell. (beards are strands of seaweed that help the mussels stick to the rocks) Beards can be easily pulled off.
Discard mussels with broken shells, or that do not close when tapped. Place all musseld in a basin full of  cold water and a handful of flour and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the mussels then follow through as recipe requires.

  • Preparing Prawns
Remove the legs of prawns and break off the shell by bending both sides backwards. If desired you can leave the tail intact. Cut down the back of the prawn. Cut deep enough to expose the intestinal vein which must be removed. Removing the vein is called deveining prawns.

Butterflied Prawns
You can also butterfly prawns, which refers to opening up the sides of the prawn's flesh while keeping the tail in place. You just have to cut the opening for deveining a little deeper, open up the flesh by gently pulling both sides backwards. Place the flesh opening side down and give it a knock around the middle to keep the sides in place. This technique makes your prawns look better for some presentations. Works very well with tempuras and frying for instance.
    Cut through the lobster with a sharp knife
  • Preparing Lobsters
 Using a sharp Knife, cut the lobster down the centre, beginning right behind the head. Cut right through the lobster from head to tail to seperate into 2 pieces. Remove the green liver or roe from the lobster.
Holding the body of the lobster seperate the tails from the body. If you want to shell the tails, then remove the meat by breaking the shell apart. Cut the large part of the claw away from the bits which don't contain meat, then crack claws oprn to removethe flesh from inside them.

Freezing Fish
Fresh fish can be seasonal and  limited to geography. Frozen fish are available a all times and almost everywhere. Before fish is frozen, it is usually prepared and cleaned ready to cook. This makes frozen fish particularly easy to handle.
To freeze fish these are the general guidelines:
  • White fish may be frozen for up to 4 months.
  • Oily Fish maybe frozen fo up to 3 months.
  • Shellfish must be consumed within 2 months of freezing.
For best results defrost fish and shellfish in the fridge overnight.

By now, you should be able to select fish and seafood, clean and prepare them for cooking. You also know how to freeze and defrost fish. So you are ready to take Seafood :)
Happy Fishing !! :))

Hope you enjoyed this post and found all this inform useful. I am hoping this will encourage you to take on the ocean and all its offering. Most importantly encourage you to go for it and try these techniques out...
If you liked this post, check out part 2: On Seafood Cooking Methods ...