So many people love to eat fish, but for them, the actual act of cooking it is off-putting! It could be the smell of fish cooking in the house, but fresh fish should not smell or anything other than the sea and maybe a slight briny aroma. Or it could be a case of bone-phobia, as many fish have bones that are not digestible, even when cooked and some you should not even attempt to swallow.
Thirdly, perhaps you do not know the best way of cooking any particular fish, so perhaps you don’t bother and leave it to the chefs when you dine out. Whichever problem you may have, there are ways of getting round it, and taking advantage of one of the healthiest meals you can provide your body with.
Choosing the perfect fish
I am a great believer, where possible, to buy fresh fish straight from the fisherman on the quayside, but that is not always possible if you do not live near the sea! If you do, all is well and good, but if not, spend a little time investigating reliable suppliers, selling ‘fresh’ fish, and not fish that has been frozen in packed ice and left to defrost for several days. Unfortunately, a lot of supermarkets fall foul to this and you are faced with a counter full of gloomy looking fish, that have not seen the sea for around a week.
A fishmonger is another alternative, who let it be known that they serve fresh fish, landed that morning – also, keep an eye out for ‘catch of the day’. Check out with friends ,who buy fish where they source theirs from – word of mouth is often the best way. In the UK, Cornwall is famous for its beautiful fish and many Cornish fishmongers will dispatch their catch to you, vacuum-packed, within 24 hours of it being landed. Scotland is another wonderful area for both freshwater and seawater fish, the most famous being Scottish salmon.
Take care when choosing your fish
If you buy from a supermarket or fishmonger in their shops, there are a few points to look out for:
- The skin should be shiny and metallic looking, if any dry patches, avoid them.
- Eyes – must be glossy and bright, not sunken, dull or have red blotchy patches.
- Feel – give the fish a good feel! It should feel firm (whatever it is), so if it has any ‘slack’ in its texture – it is old.
- Smell – probably top of the list – it really should not smell of anything other than the sea or the seaside. An ammonia smell, or a fishy smell means you should hot foot it in the opposite direction and save your money.
- Fins – not broken or scraggy, but well defined as they would be when the fish was alive.
- Gills – faded, sad looking gills are a no-no. They should be moist and a nice clear pink or red in colour, depending on the type of fish.
Seriously folks, take this advice and you will have a fish or two that are the cream of the catch.
Cooking your fish
There are several methods of cooking fish, and the way you cook it is dependent on the fish that you have chosen. There has been a huge trend towards cooking fish with the skin on to make it crispy, but if you really do not like it that way, take the skin off, or ask your fishmonger to skin and debone it for you. These are the various methods and the fish most suited to each method:
Grilling – suited mainly to oily fish such as salmon, trout and tuna which are firm and meaty. Oily fish can tend to have a stronger aroma, so use marinades, citrus and herbs to cook and go easy on oil or butter.
Poaching – fabulous for fish such as cod, haddock, sole and halibut as poaching is a delicate method that will keep the fish moist and not affect the flavour. You can poach in simply water or water and wine with herbs, a melange of vegetables, or stock.
Baking – also known as ‘en pochette’ where the fish is wrapped in parchment paper or foil. No smells here other than goodness! Inside the packet you can put fresh herbs, slices of citrus fruit, thinly sliced shallots and even part-cooked slices of potato. The fish will be tender, moist and glossy and should melt in your mouth. No need for oil or butter, as the fish cooks in its own juices and those of the fruit or vegetables. Almost any fish can be baked, it is just a case of timing, according to the thickness.
Steaming – Always have a lid for steaming. You can use any type of steamer, including bamboo. It is a gentle way for white or oily fish to be cooked. Marinate the fish with herbs, spices, citrus – try ginger or chilli with Chinese vegetables, it is yum. Sea bass or sea bream is a perfect partner for steaming. Put vegetables under the fish so that it does not stick to the plate.
Stir-frying – A quick and nutritious way to cook fish, particularly seafood. Add vegetables in matchsticks and seasoning of your choice for a quick and tasty meal.
Frying – Not a favourite in my home, as the aroma can last for days, whether you shallow or deep fry. It is also not the healthiest method to eat delectable juicy fish, and too much oil is needed, which will inevitably be absorbed by the fish. If you want to cook this way choose a firm fish, not too thick and cook for around 3 minutes each side.
Fish contains a multitude of nutrients that keep our heart healthy and aid our cognitive skills. High in protein but low in saturated fat, it is a great alternative to meat.
Eating 2 portions a week (one oily) should keep you in good health.
Looking for inspiration for fish soups? Try this soup recipes for pescatarians.