Cooking Fish The Easy Way
Americans tend to eat twice as many fish dinners at restaurants as they do at home largely because they are unsure how to properly prepare fish. Here are some easy and common sense tips about cooking fish at home.
Fish should be purchased either frozen or very fresh at the market. Since fish is delicate, fresh fish should not be refrigerated for more than one or two days. Frozen fish should be well thawed before it is cooked and both frozen and fresh fish should be well dried before cooking.
One of the most popular methods of cooking fish is to pan fry it in a shallow amount of oil. White fish should be coated before it is pan fried in order to protect the delicate flesh from the heat. A coating of seasoned white or wholemeal flour or a mixture of flour, beaten egg and fine bread crumbs is sufficient.
Olive oil or a combination of oil and butter will give the fish a tasty crispness. The oil should be shallow, about 1/8 inch, and should be preheated in a cast iron or heavy skillet over medium heat to about 365 degrees F. This is hot enough to make a small cube of bread sizzle loudly and brown up in about 45 seconds. Place a few pieces of coated fish into the skillet without crowding and cook them for about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Thicker pieces should cook for 5 to 6 minutes on the first side and for about 4 minutes on the other side.
Avoid overcooking the fish because overcooking will cause it to taste dry and tough. White fish will change from a translucent color to an opaque color when cooked and will begin to flake when it is done. Fish that flakes too easily is an indication that it may be dry and overcooked.
Grilling is a great way to cook sturdier fish such as grouper, salmon, tuna, and swordfish. Just be sure that the grill is preheated and is cleaned and lightly oiled so that the fish will not stick to it. The sturdier fish may be cooked with a light coating or without any coating. More delicate fillets should be coated and grilled in a grill basket or grilled on a heavy duty sheet of foil.
One of the easiest ways to cook fish is to bake it. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and place the seasoned, coated fish onto a lightly oiled baking sheet or shallow baking pan. Bake the fish for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. As with pan frying, the white fish is properly cooked when its color turns opaque and it begins to flake when a fork is inserted into the center.
Oven broiling is another great way to produce delicious cooked fish. Season and coat the fish well ahead of time. Preheat the broiler and place the fish 5 to 6 inches beneath the broiler. Watch the fish carefully to avoid overcooking. Thicker fillets should be turned halfway through cooking.
The microwave oven can be used to cook a delicious fish dish. Use your favorite recipe for coating and seasoning and try to make the fillets even thickness for best results. Thinner sections of the fish can be folded under each other to help make the fillet an even thickness. Rotate the fish halfway through the cooking time if the microwave oven does not have a turntable. Let the fish stand for a few minutes to finish cooking. Use the color and flake tests to check if fully cooked.
Lastly, fish can be steamed or poached with excellent results. To steam the fish, place it in a metal or bamboo steamer. Place the steamer into a saucepan that has water or stock that has been seasoned with lemon, ginger, or any seasonings from your favorite recipe. It is important that the liquid reaches a simmering temperature but not a boiling temperature. Similarly, the fish can be poached by lowering it into a liquid that is simmering but not boiling. A boiling liquid will cook the fish too quickly and cause the outside of the fish to overcook. The poaching liquid can contain any aromatic herb or vegetable that you enjoy. Cooking times are only a few minutes and depend on the thickness of the fish. As always, test the fish if fully cooked with the color and flake tests.
These easy and common sense tips should give confidence to the preparation of fish dinners at home. Fish is a delicious source of protein and should be included regularly in a healthy diet.
Larry L. Taylor is a Nutrition and Healthy Living advocate
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