How to han­dle and pre­pare most any fish Buy­ing fish

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - Larry Crowe, As­so­ci­ated Press file By Bill St. John

I think it’s hi­lar­i­ous that we pay our strong­est com­pli­ment when buy­ing, smelling, cook­ing or tast­ing fish, that “it isn’t fishy.”

It’s true: Our best fish­ing ex­pe­di­tions are more about tex­ture or brini­ness or even the neu­tral­ity of a piece of fish as it car­ries other fla­vors to us with it: cream, cit­rus, char, the green snap of herb or the fire of chili heat.

Fish, strangely, ought never be “fishy.”

Keep that in mind when shop­ping for fish or when pre­par­ing it for eat­ing. Here are some tips on both. Too many of us stay away from ei­ther task for fear of ex­pe­ri­ences “fishy.”

Stretch out your thumb and first fin­ger. Fresh fish must feel like the pad of flesh in be­tween them, never mushy like the same pad when re­laxed. If frozen, the fish should be as solid as a puck, with no signs of freezer burn. (Don’t buy frozen fish that you can­not see through the wrap­ping.)

If the fish seller al­lows you to sniff, it should smell neu­tral, at most like a sea breeze and, of course, never fishy. If the seller won’t let your nose near the fish, see if he will fan its aroma to­ward your schnoz.

A whole fish makes for cool cook­ing, so don’t shy away from buy­ing such. Taut skin and scales; bright red, moist gills; shiny clear eyes — all are sig­nif­i­cant.

Stor­ing fish

It’s risky to re­frig­er­ate fish for more than a day af­ter you buy it. Af­ter the trip to the store, keep it in a closed plas­tic bag set atop a bowl of smashed ice. Use the back of the low­est shelf above the bot­tom bins, the cold­est place in the ice­box.

Keep the skin on more del­i­cate types of fresh fish (sole, floun­der, hal­ibut) and also salmon. The skin not only helps hold the fish to­gether when even­tu­ally cook­ing it, but also adds fla­vor. (Score skin lightly with a very sharp knife or ra­zor blade when cook­ing to pre­vent curl­ing un­der the heat.)

Run your fingertip over filets of fish to feel for “pin” bones, lit­tle pesky pains that run per­pen­dic­u­lar to the back­bone or rib cage and that lie hidden in the flesh. Re­move them with tweez­ers, pulling “along and away” more than up and out.

Pat­ting fish dry be­fore cook­ing en­sures crisp­ness of both skin and flesh.

Cook­ing fish

Many cooks ad­here to the “10 min­utes per inch” in­junc­tion: What­ever the method, cook fish for 10 min­utes for ev­ery inch of thick­ness of the flesh.

But that ad­her­ence rules out con­sid­er­a­tions such as the firm­ness or fat con­tent of the fish (or, looked at an­other way, the del­i­cacy or lean­ness), or whether, in some meth­ods of cook­ing over direct heat, the left-on skin pro­vides, in ef­fect, a heat shield.

It’s bet­ter, I be­lieve, to tai­lor the cook­ing method — sautéing or fry­ing in a pan; deep-fat fry­ing; roast­ing or bak­ing; poach­ing; or grilling — to the type of fish.

For ex­am­ple, the more ten­der chicks of the sea such as floun­der, sole or hal­ibut are well suited to sautéing, ill-suited for grilling (un­less they are the whole kahuna, nose to tail and both sides now). Grilling is great for the cows who swim that are tuna, sword­fish, mahi-mahi or, of­ten, salmon. Their firm, some­times-fatty flesh is like fish steak.

Poach­ing, ei­ther in the oven (try in crimped parch­ment pa­per pack­ets or small casseroles) or atop the stove in lots of liq­uid, is made for fish such as cod, pol­lock, sole, had­dock, snap­per, hal­ibut, trout, char — in short, many a white fish and any that are del­i­cately fleshed. Large por­tions of skin-on salmon are also dra­matic when poached.

If you bake or broil fish, be sure the flesh is dense, firm and well-fat­ted. The lat­ter char­ac­ter will baste the fish as it cooks. For that mat­ter, bak­ing lengthily and at a low tem­per­a­ture (say, 40 min­utes at 250 de­grees for a chunk of char or salmon) turns out such di­aphanously del­i­cate fish flesh that it’s like pud­ding with gills.

Firm va­ri­eties of fish like tuna, above, sword­fish and hal­ibut are great choices for the grill.

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