It’s no secret that I love to go fishing. I don’t always keep fish, but when I do, I have a variety of preparations that are my go-to methods.
Let me start off by stating that your fish should be fresh. Either eat it the same day you caught it, or if you can’t do that, freeze it as quickly as possible in well-wrapped packages using freezer zipper bags within another freezer zipper bag with all the air squeezed out of them.
There are plenty of other methods but don’t forget about the fillets. Use within a month or so or else the quality will decline.
If you buy fish, make sure of its freshness by checking that the eyes are clear and the gills are red. It should be firm and not smell. You shouldn’t smell anything. The so-called “fishy” smell? That’s spoilage happening. If you shop at a fish market or a supermarket that has a “fishy” smell, don’t buy from there and find a different place.
Now that we have that taken care of let’s check the cooking methods.
Everybody loves fried fish. For good reason. It’s delicious. But if it’s not done right, it can be disappointing, oily, mushy, and not satisfying.
Use an electric frying pan, Dutch oven, or a wok. Pour in enough canola oil to cover the bottom up to about an inch in depth. Set the thermostat to 375 degrees. If you don’t have an electric pan, monitor the heat with a cooking thermometer of some kind.
While waiting for the oil temperature to come up, prepare the fillets. Have three bowls. In the first one put flour, in the second a beaten egg or two, in the third, breadcrumbs or cornmeal — I prefer panko breadcrumbs.
Using a fork or tongs, dip the fish first into the flour, just enough to coat, then the egg and then finally the breadcrumbs. Set aside until you have four or five pieces. Don’t do more than that or else the temperature in the pan will decrease when you put them in.
It’s going to sizzle … a lot. Don’t put a solid cover on the pan, the crust will get soggy. Cover it with one of those screen things from the kitchen supply section.
Cook the fish on the first side until it’s a nice golden brown on the bottom. If the oil gets too hot it will burn, so watch it carefully and adjust the heat as necessary. It should take a few minutes. When it looks nice and brown on the down side, flip using a wire spatula. It won’t take as long to cook on the second side.
When they’re done put them on a rack or paper towels to dry. Salt immediately. This is an important step and if you want to know why, ask the experts like Alton Brown or Kenji Lopez-Alt. Serve with whatever kind of sauce you want. I make tartar sauce using mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish and a dash of mustard. Serve fried fillets on a quality, toasted bun with a slice of cheese or on a plate with coleslaw on the side.
Can’t go wrong.
My second favorite is called pan roasting.
Get a nice nonstick pan. Get it hot enough to melt butter and sizzle a little. Not rip-roaring hot, that’s too much. Once the butter is hot enough to sizzle, drop your fillets, preseasoned with whatever you like, into the pan and leave them alone.
You want the fish to cook on one side until the fillets are opaque almost all the way through. As long as you keep the heat at a reasonable level, they won’t burn.
Don’t touch them.
Don’t flip them.
When the fish has turned white almost all the way, and maybe just a little bit of translucency left on the top, then quickly flip them using a plastic spatula.
Add a quarter cup of white wine, some more butter, and the juice of a whole lemon. Use a plastic spoon to flip the lemon butter over the top of the fish for 30 seconds. Then quickly remove to a plate.
Yeah, that’s good. It should have a nice brown crust on the side that was down first, and the lemon butter should permeate throughout. Pour whatever is left in the pan over the fish and watch it disappear.
A good friend turned me onto some fish cakes that have become a favorite meal.
Set your oven for 400. Place the fish on a baking sheet. Season the fillets anyway you like. I also put a half stick of butter on the pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
When you pull the fish out, it’s going to smell amazing. Not time to eat yet though. The fish needs to cool for about 30 minutes.
Place in a bowl or plate and into the refrigerator. When cooled, transfer everything that’s in the bowl to a big mixing bowl. Put in a half cup of mayo, a cup of breadcrumbs and a couple tablespoons of whatever seasoning you used before. Mix it all up using a silicone spatula. If it looks a little dry and it’s not holding together add a little bit more mayo, not too much.
When it’s all holding together form 4-ounce patties. Yes, I use a scale! Put them on a plate and back into the refrigerator for another 30 minutes. Don’t worry it’s worth it.
Now get your nonstick skillet. Set to medium heat. Put some butter in the pan. When it sizzles add the fish cakes. Cook slowly until golden brown.
Try not to move them around too much. You only want to flip them once. Should take four minutes or so per side. Remove from the pan and put them on plates. Leave the pan on the heat. Add the juice of one lemon, a splash of white wine. A tablespoon of butter wouldn’t hurt either. Let it sizzle in there for a couple minutes.
Any busted off pieces of fish cake, leave them. You could also add a few chopped shrimp. When the sauce is getting a thicker consistency, pour some out onto each fish cake, make sure everybody gets enough or they’ll get mad at you.
If you have leftover fish cakes — it happens — there is one more thing to do: Melt some butter at the bottom of a saucepan. Put a crumbled fish cake in the melted butter and cook until the individual pieces are crunchy. Then pour a high-quality canned potato chowder over the crunchy fish cake pieces.
The melted butter and crunchy fish pieces will fill the chowder and I’m pretty sure you might have a hard time finding a better soup at a lot of restaurants.
There’s more, but that should get you started. Let me add that these are big favorites, and you need to make sure you have enough for everybody or there’s going to be trouble.