Understanding Fish & Seafood (Part 2)
Having read the previous post (Understanding Fish and Seafood part 1- Purchasing & Preparing to Cook), you now know how to purchase, clean, prepare and store your fish and seafood. In this part, I will walk you through the most common methods for cooking the fish and seafood you have purchased.
The methods described in this post are also commonly used for preparing other foods, these terms are therefore generally good to know.
An ideal method for cooking whole fish. This method is also applicable when cooking large fish fillets, steaks of fish or when cooking crustaceans like prawns and lobsters…etc. Baking Fillets allows you to make the crusted fillets, which are delicious. These fillets will be topped with a crust (herbs, breadcrumbs, olive oil or butter and seasoning). This crust will brown and add flavour and crunch to the otherwise buttery fillets of fish. This crust is also a very good way to keep fish from drying in the oven.
Baked fish should be cooked in a preheated moderate-heat oven (300 F-150 C). A whole fish simply seasoned (salt, black pepper and olive oil) and stuffed with some herbs is a delicious example of this method. Another example is fish au papillote, which is fish baked in a parchment bag. The bag seals in the flavours and moisture which creates super tender and flavourful fish. This method also works with squid, octopus, tiger shrimps…etc.
To bake a whole fish, you need to make 2-3 slashes in the skin with a sharp knife (in the direction of the gills) to ensure even cooking as well as to avoid it from curling. Then, lay the fish in a shallow dish, season and drizzle with olive oil and bake, covered for 45-60 minutes for a large fish (the cooking time varies according to the size of the fish. Roughly 6-10 minutes per Kilo). In the last 5 minutes, uncover and broil to brown slightly.
- Baste the fish once or twice with the baking juices 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.
Whole fish cooked using this method makes 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.
When baking fish fillets and steaks, they will benefit from the addition of a little liquid in the form of stock or wine, and as such should also be covered with a lid or foil. This prevents them from drying out as they are delicate and cannot withstand dry cooking.
- Whatever you do, be careful not to overcook the fish! There is nothing worse than overcooked, dried fish.
- Test the fish frequently as it cooks, and take it out as soon as the flesh flakes easily. (See the first video)
- Fish and seafood are so delicate and 30 seconds is all it takes to overcook them! So keep a close eye
Because fish cooks quickly, it might sound unusual to prepare a fish casserole. It is however a good way to cook fish. And always results in succulent and very moist fish. Generally speaking, 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 or oil until softened and slightly browned. Liquid is then added in the form of stock, cider or wine 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 until the fish is tender. You can serve the stew with chunks of bread which your guests can use to soak up the delicious juices. Otherwise it can be served with potatoes, rice or quinoa, couscous and even freekeh…etc. Check out this video for a beautiful recipe that showcases this cooking method.
Make sure to oil the BBQ grill rack, the kebab sticks or grids so the pieces don’t stick, otherwise, and because they are delicate, you will have a big mess! The best results are often granted to marinated fish pieces, so do marinate the pieces before BBQing and it also helps the texture if you brush them with oil during the grilling. You can also add a little seasoning and herbs to flavour the skin of your fish.
Among the options that work well for BBQ
- Go for firm fish that will not disintegrate during cooking. These can be cut into thick fillets or large chunks for kebabs.
- Whole fish filled with herbs or butterflied are also an excellent option for BBQ.
- Small whole fish can also be BBQed. These will benefit from being wrapped with some leaves to avoid burning on the outside and to keep them moist (try wrapping the fish with vine leaves , banana leaves, or even damp and herbs newspapers. The newspapers could give the fish a beautiful smoked flavour. ) You can add herbs, lemon juice, seasoning…etc to the parcels before closing them. You can also Marinade the fish before grilling.
Add flavour to your grilled fish and seafood 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 smoked flavour to the final outcome. (the cherry wood chips are the most commonly used)
This is a fast method of cooking small whole fish like whitebait, ladyfish, Small Sheri…etc. These are my personal favorites! Served hot, straight from the fryer, sprinkled with my beautiful Sumac and served alongside a Tahina dip (recipe on this link). 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-190C) 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 the 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, do 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 being 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, egg wash and breadcrumbs or a batter are all coatings that are great for fish.
- Fry small quantities at a time, so the oil temperature is not reduced.
This is a quick method for 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. A more common coating is of course flour.The oil should come just under half way up the pan and must be preheated before adding the fish. The skin of the fish must be slashed with a knife a few times to prevent the fillet from curling over. Start with the skin side down, basting the top with the oil until the skin is crisp and golden. Once cooked the fish should be drained on paper towels and served immediately.
Done in a large shallow pan or a wok. This method is especially good for fast and easy cooking of small pieces of fish or shellfish. Start with stir-frying the prepared vegetables (onions, peppers, snow peas, carrots, cabbages….) then add the 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.
This method is applied to when the fish is gently cooked 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 the fillets 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 the flesh flakes easily.
Usually, the poaching liquid is used in making an accompanying sauce or reserved to use for a fish soup.
A simple and easy method that ensures the fish stays juicy and moist as it is surrounded by moisture while cooking.
Be careful not to overcook the fish. The fillet will take about 10 minutes to cook. 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. Serve steamed fish with freshly cooked seasonal vegetables accompanied by a light sauce like: parsley sauce, mustard sauce or cheese sauce, alternatively, a Hollandaise sauce and even a bearnaise are good sauces to serve with steamed fish. I personally also love serving tomato confit with this fish or pickled green tomatillos, chopped and mixed with aioli will also work really well here.
This 2-part series
(Understanding Fish and seafood parts 1 & 2),
should be a comprehensive read on purchasing, cleaning, and preparing, fish and seafood, finished with the most common methods of cooking this fabulous food type.
This series is meant to help you ease your way into creating your own fish and seafood recipes and flavour combinations. After all once we understand things inside and out, and once we practice we reach a point when we are ready to venture out of the comfort zone and start creating.
Do try out my DS Fish & Seafood Spice Mix, that I have personally designed to bring out the the flavours of fish and seafood. Made using organic spices and aromatics, small batch and chemical/preservative free.