Fish has been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years. For most of that time the fish was caught and prepared by the same people, the end of all the activity was to sustain life. It has not been until relatively recently that the main focus of preparing fish to eat was geared toward taste. With dozens of ways to cook dozens of types of fish, there is no need to stick to only one or two different methods. Trying new techniques will increase your enjoyment of eating fish and may reawaken you to the possibility this culinary method can hold in store.
Whatever technique you choose you will need the best cuts of fish. Buying whole fish can be a great way to make sure you are getting fresh product. Once you have the meat itself you can get on to the business of preparing it. Grilling fish is often seen as difficult. Fish have been known to stick to the grill surface which results in fish fillets that are ripped in several pieces. This has led to enough frustration that the idea of grilling most types of fish is not taken seriously. Eliminating grilling as a way to prepare your fish may be an act of oversight. There are steps that can be taken to reduce the hassle that has historically plagued fish grilling.
The first thing to do is to let your grill heat up. After it has reached a suitably warm temperature, it needs to be lightly oiled. After this, oil the skin side of a fillet of fish and salt the other. Reduce the heat of the grill and allow the fish to reach a safe internal temperature. By taking the time to oil both the fish and the grill, the odds that there will be detrimental sticking will be greatly reduced.
Searing fish takes advantage of the skin that is often left on the fillet. Instead of taking the time to remove the skin, quickly scale the fish instead and allow the process of searing to crisp up the skin. This provides texture and taste that is sometimes not had with other fish cooking techniques.
Usually carried out with boneless pieces of fish, pan searing a fish takes about ten minutes and requires only the fillets themselves, salt, oil, and garnishes. Set a steel or cast iron pan over high heat and apply the oil to the pan. Putting the fillet on the pan next is all there is to do. Apply garnishes or seasoning to taste and flip the fish until a safe internal temperature is reached.
Roasting uses an oven to cook your cuts of fish. Heated to 400 degrees and set for ten minutes per inch of thickness, this method of cooking fish is fairly simple. The most involved portion of this technique is the way in which the fish is prepared before it goes into the oven. This is one part of roasting fish that will take hands-on experience. Everyone likes their fish a little differently and it may take a couple of attempts before your fish is exactly how you would prefer it. Experiment with different seasonings and levels of oil to get the right balance of outside flavor and meaty richness.
The other key part of roasting is knowing when the fish is done. This can technically be judged with a thermometer, but the outside of the fish is an indicator in its own right. Look for the fish to start flaking. When this is the case and the fillet is less transparent than it was when you started then it is a good sign that the fish is close, if not ready, to eat.
A less common, though satisfying technique for cooking fish is poaching. Poaching is a type of cooking that relies on moist-heat. It involves cooking by dunking food into a prepared liquid. These liquids can vary and are usually assembled to imbue certain flavors and textures and can include water, wine, stock, or milk. This is where the idea of moist heat comes in as the actual cooking takes place in the hot liquid. Poaching is a low heat method and the fluid used should not exceed boiling temperatures.
Poaching is accomplished by placing a ready to eat a piece of fish in a deep saucepan and covering it with the desired poaching liquid. The temperature should be increased until the liquid is simmering. From there it usually only takes ten minutes to get the core temperature of the fish to adequate levels.
If grilling doesn’t appeal to you like a technique but you still want fish that exhibited qualities of grilled fish then broiling could be your best bet. Broiling is a compromise between baking and grilling and involves exposing the fish to be cooked to high heat in a direct radiant fashion. It will still need to be turned over like with grilling, but by using an oven, the temperatures can be more easily discerned and controlled. Pans can also replace grills and can be more easily lubricated to help prevent fish fillets from sticking.
Fish that are baked often have the compliment flavors of breading or a more heavy dose of seasoning. Depending on the type of fish you are using this can be a massive benefit. Some types of fish by nature are not as naturally flavorful, but can still be tasty given the right amount of added extras. Breading can be store bought or homemade and is really a simple mixture of eggs and crumbs of some sort. This is another area that may require practice, but to start you can use the same breading recipe that you have used for chicken.
If you are feeling especially fancy and adventurous then this method may be for you. En Papillote means ‘in paper’ and is a great way to embrace Mediterranean flavors. The fish is seasoned appropriately and then covered in parchment paper or aluminum foil. The fish is cooked in the oven at temperatures usually used in the baking process. The paper or foil keep the meat’s natural juices close which utilizes them in the cooking process, giving a boost to the natural flavor of the fish.
The last way to try cooking fish is also the oldest. If you fancy yourself a fisherman/woman or just want the freshest experience possible, doing things the way they were done throughout much of human history will be a rewarding thing. Catch fish straight from a body of water, gut and scale them, and then place them directly over a fire. You will be surprised at how rich the natural flavors of a fish are in that setting.
Trying new ways to cook fish does not guarantee that you will want to forget your favorite tried and true methods. Even if you do not find anything that replaces what you have always done, you will gain an appreciation for how versatile fish can be, and who knows, you just might find something that helps you rediscover why you like to fish in the first place.