Guide to Cooking Fish

Fish is a healthy food that makes a fine addition to any diet. It's a versatile meat that can be cooked in many interesting ways. From frying to grilling, there are a number of methods for preparing fish.

Frying Fish
Deep-fried fish are delicious and hold together better when the fish is breaded. A hot seasoning salt such as Tony Chachere's, with black and red pepper, chili powder, garlic and lemon pepper, is good to use in breading. Shake the fish pieces or small whole fishes in a mixture of cornmeal and spice.

Cook in deep-fat peanut or vegetable oil. Use a deep, heavy pan and plenty of oil for the fish to cook crisp and brown. Dredge the fish in the cornmeal or flour and seasonings and drop a few at a time in oil that has been sufficiently heated. The pieces will cook rapidly. When browned, they should be removed with a slotted metal spoon and laid onto paper towels to drain.

Serve with lemon wedges, hush puppies, fried potatoes or tartar sauce.

Best for Frying: Catfish, Red Snapper, Carp, Bass, Dogfish, White Perch, Grouper, Blue Gill

Grilling Fish
Grilling fish gives it a better flavor by charring the surface of the meat. Only firm, meaty fish do well on the grill. The fish can be wrapped in tin foil or laid whole across the grill. Grilling fish can be tricky and disastrous. Care should be taken in choosing the firmest fish available. Delicate white fish and thin fillets are almost sure to fall apart when turned.

Grill over a hot fire, making sure the grates are open. Use only a small amount of oil on the fish because this can cause a flare up and burnt fish. Start with skin side down on the grill rack. The skin may stick when you turn; if the meat is too fragile to risk turning, close the grill lid and don't turn.

Special grilling racks are made for holding the fish together while cooking.

Best for Grilling: Jack, Blackfish, Red Snapper, Pompano, Sturgeon, Mackerel, Trout, Bluefish (only whole with care), Salmon, Flounder (Dover Sole), Swordfish, Arctic Char

Broiling Fish
Broil fish that are too delicate to survive grilling without disintegrating. Lay the fish in one layer in an oiled, shallow pan or on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil. If the fish is thick, you may ensure timely cooking by preheating the oven on the bake setting and then switching to broil when you are ready to place the fish into the oven.

Place the rack close as possible to the heat source. Broiling is simpler and more foolproof than grilling, and fish are still tasty and juicy. If the fish is thinner than one inch, you will not need to turn it. Baste the fish after five minutes and continue cooking another five minutes or so.

Broiling can produce enough fish ready to serve at the same time than some other methods.

Best for Broiling: Any type of fish under three pounds, Bluefish, Gar steaks, Catfish steaks, Tilapia filets, Bass, Trout, Herring

Sautéeing and Pan Frying
A favorite for this style of cooking is tilapia. Tilapia is sold individually wrapped and frozen. This allows a cook to take out only as many filets as needed. Run cold water over the filets before opening and then cut the end of each plastic bag with kitchen shears. The filets will thaw very quickly. Heat a skillet and then add 2 tablespoons of pecan oil or peanut oil. Heat the oil and quickly add flour to the filets. Sprinkle each with lemon pepper and salt. Cook on first side about four minutes. Turn carefully and season the second side. Cook three to four minutes.

Best for Pan-frying: Bass, Catfish fillets, Smelt, Spot, Tilapia, Whiting, Rainbow Trout, Northern Pike, Wall-eye (Perch), Pacific Cod, Flounder (Sole), Striper, Perch, Dogfish, Croaker, Butterfish, Porgy (Scup)

Stewing Fish
Fish is stewed if it is cooked in soups or gumbos. Stewed fish is cooked with a minimum of seasonings as the fish juice provides most of the flavoring. The fish should be boneless fillets and added when the soup is nearly done, simmering only 5 to 20 minutes. Timing is more flexible and several types of fish may be cooked together.

Best for Stewing: Swordfish, Sturgeon, Haddock, Croaker, Pacific Cod, Carp, Blackfish, Catfish, Ocean Perch

Steaming Fish
For steaming, use small or medium whole fish cooked with only its own juices and little added seasoning.

Best for Steaming: Sea Bass, Salmon

Braising Fish
Braising is cooking fish in a small amount of liquid. The liquid is usually highly seasoned and adds flavor to the fish. Braising can be done in the oven and saves the work and much of the calories from cooking in oil.

Best for Braising: Red Snapper, Carp, Striped Bass, Grouper

Roasting Fish
Large, whole fish are good roasted in a hot oven. Whole fish are drenched in a sauce or oil and spices, course salt and herbs. A whole fish will take about 20 minutes to cook and should be turned and checked frequently.

Fillets are usually dipped in milk and rolled in or covered with breadcrumbs or placed on a bed of vegetables with spices and herbs in the sauce. These fillets can then bake without drying out, and the baking sauce adds flavor and texture to the dish.

Best for Roasting: Cod, Whitefish, Haddock, Mullet, Orange Roughy, Tuna, Tilefish. Sea Trout, Largemouth Bass

Poaching Fish
Poach fish by adding the fish to a small amount of seasoned stock or water and covering to cook in the liquid. The fish may be cooked in a poaching pan on top of the stove so that steam rises from water boiling below and cooks the fish above. It can also be done by cooking the fish in a casserole dish with a cover or in aluminum foil inside the oven. When you poach fish, you usually pour out the liquid after cooking. Serve over rice or with salad or fresh vegetables.

Best for Poaching: Blue Trout, Salmon, Cod Sturgeon, Halibut

How to Tell When Fish Is Done
Fish should be cooked 8 to 10 minutes per inch. This is a standard suggestion. The recipe, type of fish and method of cooking will dictate cooking time. Thin filets cook very quickly and may take only three minutes.

A thermometer can be used and should read 135º to 137º F when fish is done. 120º F is good for fish you might like to serve medium rare, like swordfish, salmon or tuna steaks.

Learn to tell if the fish is done by testing it with a fork or the tip of a knife. Poke around inside and see if the thickest part of the fish has become flaky and if it is opaque and chalky white inside. Is the texture firm? These are all signs that the fish is done.

Take it off heat when it is slightly less done than desired, as the meat will cook slightly between the stove and the table.

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