27 September 2010

Op ALPHABET SOUP: Fabulous Fish, Four Ways!

It's undeniable: so far as proteins go, so long as you choose carefully and with variety, fish is a great, healthy option. As a cook, I find it to be an easily adaptable canvas that takes seasonings exceptionally well. If you're not too heavy handed, you're pretty much guaranteed a good feed.

In the spirit of variety, and since it makes for great alliteration, I'm giving four ways to cook fish. Of course there are about forty more, but this is a good start. You can also check the archives of this blog to find some other recipes I've given for easy, flavourful fish at home.

When you buy fish, you want it to be fresh. Ask your friends and neighbours to find out who has good, fresh stock of fish in your area. In the town where we live, it's a humdrum supermarket that just happens to have a great fish counter – largely because they go through so much, they're taking daily deliveries. That's what you want in a fish purveyor!

For all of these, cooking times will vary according to the cut and thickness of your fish pieces. Use your discretion even when I've given cooking times. Fish is done when it changes from being translucent to opaque, and for most fish, when it's flaky. Shrimp, of course, are done when they're fully pink.

Take a filet of white, flaky fish such as whitefish, tilapia, or cod (this is exceptional on shrimp, too). Put it in a shallow glass dish or large plastic container with a lid to fit. For this, get filets without skin if you can, though it's not the end of the world to have the skin on

In a glass bowl or measuring cup, whisk the juice of a full lemon with two crushed cloves of garlic, a generous dose of fresh black pepper, and a finely sliced green onion. Pour over the fish. Cover, refrigerate, and allow the fish to marinate for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Using a spatula, transfer to a well-oiled, pre-heated cast iron pan or a heavy-based coated frying pan, pouring the marinade on top of the fish.

Cook over medium low heat for about 6 minutes, flip, and finish with another 5 minutes over the heat.

Take about 600 to 800 grams of tilapia, cod, or haddock and lay it on the middle of a large sheet of aluminum foil (about 18" long) that you've sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Lay the pieces of fish side by side, but don't stack them.

Sprinkle the fish with the juice of two limes, then a little black pepper and a tiny bit of salt. Top that with a light sprinkle of chili powder and some chopped green onions and cilantro (or parsley).

Pull up the sides of the foil and roll to seal up, making a leak-proof packet for your fish. Set on a preheated grill over medium heat and cook for about 10 minutes. Turn the foil packet over and cook another 7 minutes or so.

Serve with hard or soft corn or flour tortillas, salsa, and whatever other taco fixings you like. I'm partial to fresh diced tomatoes, chopped mango, lettuce, and hot sauce, but you can do it anyway you want.

This one's great on any pink fish like rainbow trout or salmon. You can grill, pan fry, or bake it. Just spray the pan or baking sheet or foil liberally with cooking spray and keep the heat sort of low so the sugars in the glaze don't burn.

3 Tablespoons maple syrup
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 Teaspoon white vinegar
Generous pinch black pepper
Optional: tiny pinch of Cayenne

Whisk together, then brush over fish before cooking. If grilling over high flame, brush on halfway through cooking time.

If you travel to Mexico or the Caribbean and eat locally, you're likely to run into ceviche. It's a fish dish wherein the fish is "cooked" by being marinated in some wicked powerful lime juice. Mix in a bit of fresh herbs and spices, and you've got a fabulous appetizer to serve with tortillas or nacho chips.

However, there's some contention over whether you can safely "cook" fish in lime juice enough to kill any foodborne pathogens (aka icky things that make you sick for the rest of your trip). When the fish is straight out of the ocean, the limes are super acidic, you're young and healthy, and you're drinking enough cerveza that you stop caring about such things, you might be willing to take the risk.

But if you're not near the ocean, or you're just a little more cautious, there are still options.

Take about 500 grams of tilapia or shrimp and put it in a heavy frying pan with a splash of lime juice and a splash of water. Put a lid on it and let it poach for about 10 to 15 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from heat, drain any remaining liquid, and allow to cool.

When the fish or shrimp is cool enough to handle, flake it with a fork into small pieces (for shrimp, chop roughly). Place it in a shallow plastic container or glass dish.

Squeeze over the juice of 2 limes, about 1 tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro (or parsley), about 2 tablespoons of very finely chopped sweet red pepper, and a green onion. Add a touch of salt and black pepper, and if you like it spicy, a bit of finely chopped habanero pepper or hot sauce. Cover, give a quick shake, and refrigerate for about two to four hours. Give it the occasional shake to mix things up again.

Serve in a large bowl surrounded by tortillas, or in small individual servings, or as a salad topper instead of tuna or salmon. It's a very tangy dish, so don't pair it with anything too acidic. Great with beer!

There are some of my favourite go-to fish options. Certainly you'll find dozens of other ways to cook fish, but these are a start. Change the quantities of these marinades or sauces to match the quantity of fish that you have on hand. Just remember, with fish, flavours soak in quickly and can be overpowering if not kept in balance.

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