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Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Understanding Fish & Seafood Part 2 - Methods for Cooking Fish & Seafood

Having Read Understanding Fish and Seafood part 1, you now know how to purchase, clean, prepare and store your fish and seafood. In this part we move on to exploring the most common methods for cooking the fish seafood you have purchased. 

The methods described in this post are also commonly used for preparing other foods, these terms are therefore good to know :)

An ideal method of cooking whole fish, and also excellent for large fillets, steaks of fish, Shellfish like prawns and lobsters...etc. Baked fish should be cooked in a preheated moderate oven (300F). A whole fish simply seasoned and stuffed with some herbs is a delicious example of this method.
To bake whole fish, you need to slash the skin in 2-3 places to ensure even cooking. Lay in a shallow dish and bake uncovered for 45-60 minutes according to the size of the fish. Baste once or twice with the baking juies throughout the baking process. (Basting is either brushing or using a spoon to pour baking juices over the fish to keep it moist and to have the flavours incorporate within it). Fillets and steaks will benefit from the addition of a little liquid in the form of stock or wine. They should also be covered with a lid or foil in order for them not to dry out.

Be careful not to overcook the fish! there is nothing worse than overcooked, dried fish. Test frequently and take it out as soon as the flesh flakes easily. As a rough guide allow 6-10 minutes per pound + 6-10 minutes over depending the thickness of the fillets. Fish and seafood are so delicate and 30 seconds is all it takes to overcook them! So keep a close eye.

Whole fish cooked using this method makes for an attractive centre piece. It can also be used in the appetiser section of the buffet; often served cold, skinned and attractively garnished after cooking.

Fish Stew
Because fish cooks quickly, it might sound unusual to prepare a fish casserole. It is however a good moist way to cook fish.
In this method, large chunks of fish are cooked on top of a selection of chopped root vegetables which have been stir-fried in a little butter till softened and slightly browned. Liquid is added in the form of stock, cider, wine or apple juice just to cover the fish. Then the casserole is seasoned and fresh herbs can be added to round up the flavours. The casserole pot or pan is then covered with a lid and left to cook over gentle heat till the fish is tender. You can serve the stew with chunks of bread which your guests can use to soak up the juices.

Because fish and seafood cook easily and quickly, they are among the best foods to be cooked this way. Nothing beats the open fire, the aromas of food barbecuing, while socialising with friends! Just bear in mind that fish barbecues really fast. Oil the BBQ grill rack, the kebab sticks or grids. before barbecuing, either marinade the fish or brush with oil. You can also add a little seasoning and herbs to flavour the skin of your fish.

You can BBQ firm fish that will not disintegrate during cooking. These can be cut into thick fillets or large chunks for kebabs. You can also BBQ a whole fish with the cleaned filled with herbs for example. don't forget to slash the skin in 3 areas. Small whole fish will benefit from being wrapped in a sort of a parcel (baking paper parcels, banana leaves, damp newspapers or even foil...) before grilling. You can add herbs, lemon juice, seasoning...etc to the parcels before closing them. You can also Marinade the fish before grilling. Another way to flavour your grilled fish and seafood is by adding damp wood chips to the coal, as they burn, they will produce smoke which in turn will smoke your grilled food adding that smokey flavour to the final outcome. (cherry wood chips are most commonly used)

Deep Frying 
This is a fast metod of cooking small whole fish like whitebait, lady fish... These are my personal favourites! Served hot, straight from the fryer, alongside a Tahina dip (Tarator)! Divine!!

This method is also fabulous for cooking breaded prawns, battered fish fillets or shellfish...etc. In general the oil should fill 3/4 the frying pan and must be heated to 360F before frying. It is important that the oil is new (not reused) and of sufficient depth to cover the food. If the oil was not heated to required temperature the result will be soggy fish, as the heat of the oil will not have sufficiently coated the outside of the fish to seal everything in, and will therefore sog.
With that said, be careful of extra heated oil as it will burn the outside before the insides having the chance to cook. You can use a Candy thermometer to check the exact temperature of the oil to ensure success, or you can set the exact temperature of your electric fryer. Because oil cooks food very quickly, and because of the delicate nature of the fish, it needs to be coated before beng exposed to extreme heat. The coat will serve as both a protective layer from heat, and a flavor seal that will keep the flavours sealed inside. So seasoned flour, batter or eggwash and breadcrumbs are all coatings that are great for fish.
Fry small quantities at a time, so the oil temperature is not reduced. Once the fish is cooked it will be golden and crisp. remove immediately from heat, and drain on paper towels.

Shallow Frying 
A quick method of cooking small amounts of fillets, steaks or small whole fish. The fish must be protected with some sort of coating. A diverse and good coat for shallow frying is oats, it also gives an appetising finish and texture. The oil should come just under half way up the pan and must be preheated before adding the fish. Add the fish then quickly seal on both sides, then reduce heat slightly and cook until crisp and golden, turning once or twice. (you can cover the pan with a splatter guard to prevent spit burns) Once cooked the fish must be drained well on paper towels and served immediately.

Stir frying 
Done in a large shallow pan or a wok. This method is especially good for cooking small pieces of fish or shellfish quickly. Start with stir-frying prepared vegetables (onions, peppers, snow peas, cabbages....) then add fish pieces and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. The most important factor in stir frying is that all items are prepared and assembled before the oil is heated. Vegetables must be cut in even sized strips. Stir frys are usually served accompanied with steamed or fried rice. The food is simply cooked by stirring continuously over high heat using a slotted draining spoon. Soy sauce is often added before serving but you can use many other sauces such as oyster sauce, fish sauce, mirin which are all very tasty.

Poaching Fish    
Is cooking fish gently in a liquid such as milk, wine, water, or stock. Heat the liquid first then add the fish and cook in a single layer, allowing the liquid to cover 3/4 of the fish. Season and cover with a tightly fitting lid and poach small fillets and cutlets for about 8 minutes. Whole fish may take 15-20 minutes. Just like with all the other methods, check regularly and remove from heat as soon as flesh flakes easily.
Usually, the poaching liquid is used in making an accompanying sauce or reserved to use for a fish soup.

Steaming Fish 
An easy method that ensures the fish stays juicy as it is surrounded by moisture while cooking. Be careful not to overcook the fish. The fillet will take about 10-15 minutes to cook. Serve steamed fish with freshly cooked seasonal vegetables accompanied by a light sauce like: parsley sauce, mustard sauce or cheese sauce. You can add herbs and seasoning to the water before steaming, this way the finished fish will be subtly flavoured with those herbs and spices.

Understanding Fish and seafood parts One and Two, should be a comprehensive read on purchasing, cleaning, preparing, and methods of cooking this fabulous food type. They are meant to help you better understand how fish and seafood are prepared and cooked. Having read the 2 parts, it should be easy for you now to follow any recip handling fish and seafood, and you should also find it easy to create your own recipe and flavour combination. I hope that you have become more familiar and inspired to carry out cooking fish and seafood at home. It really isn't hard, and everything comes with practice, so make sure you do.
If you have enjoyed this Understanding food post, check out the Understanding Food Links to the right of the post for Understanding other food types and preparations.

Here are some Related links that you will enjoy making at home

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