Never overcook. Cooking fish at too high a temperature or for too long a time can toughen the fish and destroy natural moisture and flavor. Overcooking is the most common mistake in fish and seafood cookery. Fish loses its translucent appearance and becomes opaque when thoroughly cooked. Pierce the fish at the thickest point. If it flakes easily and the flesh falls from the bones, it is done.
Know your product. For best results, it is helpful to know whether fish is fat or lean. Both can be used in most cooking methods, but lean fish require the addition of more fat during cooking to retain flavor and moisture. Fat fish contain more than 5% fat; lean fish contain less than 5%. All shellfish are lean. (See the calorie, fat, and protein table for information on specific fish and shellfish.)
Handle with care. Fish flesh is delicate, so handle as little as possible. Frozen fillets and steaks do not have to be thawed before cooking as long as additional cooking time is allotted. Do not thaw breaded frozen fish items before cooking. However, if you plan to bread or stuff fish, thaw it first.
Methods of Cooking Fish
To poach a fish, use a shallow frying pan, wide enough to hold all of the fish without overlapping. Barely cover the fish with a liquid such as water seasoned with salt, herbs or spices, milk, or a mixture of either with wine. Put a lid on the pan and simmer the fish until just done. Serve poached fish as main course or use it in casseroles or chilled and flaked in cold dishes.
This is perhaps the least fattening way of preparing fish because no oil or sauce is cooked with the fish. Natural juices and flavors are retained. Steam generated from boiling water cooks the fish. To steam, use a steam cooker or a deep pan with a tight cover and some sort of rack to keep the fish from touching the water. You may add seasonings or wine to the water. Heat the water to a boil, then place the fish on the rack and put a lid on the pan. Cooking time is about 5-10 minutes. Serve the same ways as poached fish (see above).
This method is similar to baking, using dry heat. The heat generated by broiling is direct and more intense. To broil, place the fish in a single layer on a well-greased broil-serve platter or broiler pan. The surface of the fish should be 3-4 inches from the heat source. Cooking time for fillets and split fish is usually 6-10 minutes without turning; for steaks 6-16 minutes. Turn whole fish and thicker pieces. Baste all types of fish at least once during cooking. Lean fish and shellfish, especially, need fat added to stay moist. Baste before and several times during cooking.
To bake a fish, place it in a greased baking dish, uncovered, at a moderate temperature (350 degrees) for a relatively short period of time. Baste the fish several times with melted fat or a sauce to keep moist. A whole fish may be stuffed with an herb and bread stuffing. Fish baked with the head and tail on is usually more moist.
This is a unique way of baking whole fish, steaks, or fillets.Carefully oil a hard wood board or plank, then place in the oven at a low temperature (225 degrees) to heat slowly. Remove plank from oven and raise the temperature to 350 degrees. Arrange fish on the warm plank, brush with fat, and bake until the fish flakes easily. Serve on plank at table, and if desired, arrange potatoes, vegetables, or other garnishes around fish.
Also known as "charcoal broiling," this is a dry heat method of cooking over hot coals. A well-greased, long-handled wire grill will facilitate preparation, as the fish will flake and fall apart during the end of the cooking period. Use a basting sauce that contains some fat to ensure a moist, tasty final product. Baste before and during cooking. Broil about four inches from moderately hot coals, turning once. Total cooking time is 10-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
A very popular method, pan frying requires only an open fire, a fry pan, and a little fat. Heat about 1/8 inch of fat in a frying pan. Arrange breaded fish in a single layer, leaving "breathing room" between pieces. Fry at a moderate temperature on the first side until light brown. Turn carefully, scraping under each piece, and continue cooking on the other side until brown. Total cooking time is about 8-10 minutes. Drain on absorbent paper.
This method produces a result that is quite similar to fried fish, but it isn't really a frying process. The fish is baked in a hot oven and basted once with a small quantity of fat. Fish cooked by this method does not require turning and the cooking time is short. The coating and high temperature seal in juices and produce a crispy browned crust. This method is easily accomplished with a large quantity of fish and is therefore especially good for serving to a group. Try dipping serving sized portions of fish in salted milk and coat with cereal crumbs or toasted dry bread crumbs. For additional flavor add dry mustard, grated cheese, or minced parsley to the crumbs. French dressing and crushed cheese crackers make a good coating. Place the fish on a well-greased cookie sheet. Drip melted fat over the fish and bake in an extremely hot oven (500 degrees) for 10-12 minutes or until fish flakes easily.
Deep Fat Frying
Use this method for the classic tender chunks of fish coated with a crispy brown crust. Fill a fryer no more than half full with oil. Place breaded fish one layer at a time in fry basket and lower it into fat heated to 350 degrees. Cook until the fish are tender and browned lightly. Three to five minutes is usually enough time (depending on the thickness of the fish). Drain on absorbent paper. If frying additional fish, return the temperature to 350 degrees before adding more fish.
--Excerpted from "Fish and Seafood--Dividend Foods," by Charlotte M. Dunn. For a free copy of the printed brochure, email your mailing address to Linda Campbell email@example.com
copyright 2001 University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute
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