How to Cook Fish - The Legal Sea Foods Way

When fish is truly fresh, its flavor stands alone. Fresh fish that's grilled or baked and served with a touch of butter or lemon juice is gourmet food in the best sense of the word. But we suggest numerous cooking methods because the way fish is prepared is often a matter of personal preference. Many fish are so versatile that you can cook them several ways, while a few fish taste best when prepared with a specific technique. If you master the cooking techniques below, you'll be able to cook any fish or shellfish in the ocean.

From the "Legal Sea Foods Cookbook" by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
 
  • How to Bake Fish

    Most fish respond well to baking. If the fish is fatty, such as salmon or bluefish, there's little need for additional fat. A leaner fish, such as cod , needs a dab of butter or oil. You'll notice that the baking recipes in the Legal Sea Foods Cookbook call for an oven temperature of 400° to 450°F, which is a higher temperature than you might expect. Fish baked at a high temperature stays moist because the high heat seals in the juices. For plain baked fish, place it in a buttered nonreactive baking dish - or a pan strewn with vegetables for flavor - and dot it with butter. If you wish, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dry white wine to baste the fish as it bakes. (If you use wine, or any acidic vegetables such as tomatoes, be sure to put the fish in an enamel, glass, or stainless-steel baking dish because the acid in the wine or vegetables reacts to aluminum, giving an off taste.) The fish is done when its flesh is opaque rather than translucent. Serve immediately. From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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  • How to Broil Fish

    Cooking broiled fish is a cinch: Preheat the broiler, give the fish a protective coating with oil, and cook it the proper distance from the heat. Forget anything you have ever read about broiling fish a set amount of time on each side. Broiled fish should be cooked on only one side because the radiant heat from the pan will cook the other side. Also, the only fish that can be turned successfully are steak fish such as swordfish or salmon . Most other fish will fall apart as they are turned. Coating the fish with a flavorless oil before broiling is important because it protects the surface from burning and retains the fish's moisture. How close you place the fish to the broiling surface depends upon how hot the broiler has become. Three or four inches away from the coils is ideal. Note: For lean fish, try a combination of dry and moist heat. Place the fish in a buttered baking pan and barely cover the bottom of the pan with white wine or fish stock to about 1/4 inch up from the sides of the pan. Broil the fish until done, basting once or twice with the liquid. Either boil the liquid down until it has a sauce-like consistency or freeze it to add flavor to future fish dishes. From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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  • How to Fry Fish

    Properly prepared fried food is light and virtually greaseless. Fish should be fried in fat heated to 365°F. A deep-fat thermometer is essential for testing the temperature of the fat. If the cooking temperature is too low, the fish coating will absorb the fat and the fish will taste greasy. Conversely, if the temperature is too high, the coating will burn, and the fish may not cook through, depending on its density. We recommend dipping all food to be fried in cold buttermilk and then in a fried fish coating. Of course, you could use milk, but buttermilk adds a richer flavor. Then shake off any excess mixture and deep-fry the fish in preheated oil until it is cooked through but not overdone. It's important to fry only a few pieces at a time so the pan does not get overcrowded. When it does, the oil temperature decreases and the food becomes oily, has trouble browning and cooking evenly, and will be limp, not crisp. It's best to butterfly any thick fillets. You could also use wet batter, as the English do with their fish and chips. We've experimented with this technique but keep coming back to soaking the fish in buttermilk and then coating the pieces with a dry mixture. This method keeps the fish crisp yet juicy, because the fish steams in its own juices, which the batter seals in, and the flavor is retained. No matter how you fry the fish, serve it immediately. Otherwise the fish will become soggy. (The steam exuded from the interior softens the coating.) From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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  • How to Grill Fish

    Grilling is an excellent method for cooking most shellfish and fish. Firm-textured fish cut into steaks - or whole fish - grill easily. Fillets are great too but should be prepared on cedar planks or in foil pouches to prevent them from falling apart. If you have a thick whole fish, such as flounder, slash it twice diagonally across its body so that the heat penetrates more evenly. Always oil the fish with a flavorless vegetable oil before you put it on the grill. Sear it on the hottest part of the grill. Then move the fish to the edges of the grill where the temperature is lower to finish cooking. Turn the fish once. Serve immediately. From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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  • How to Microwave Fish

    Essentially, all microwaved fish is steamed in its own juices, which makes microwaving a good choice for purists. Because fish cooks through so fast regardless of the cooking method, you really don't save a lot of time microwaving fish, but it is convenient on days when you don't want to turn on the oven or heat up the grill. Before you start, check out the wattage of your microwave, because fish microwaved in a higher-wattage oven (such as 650 or 700 watts) will take a third less time than in a lower-wattage oven (400 to 500 watts). In a higher-wattage oven, four 1/2-to-3/4-inch fillets placed in a microwavable dish will cook through in three to five minutes. One-inch-thick steaks will take about two minutes longer. (If you are cooking smaller quantities, such as a half-pound fish for two people, it will cook through in two to three minutes.) You can also microwave frozen fish; just add a minute or two to the cooking time. How you arrange the fish for microwave cooking is also important. Many fish fillets are thicker in the center than on the ends. If so, fold them under to create a uniform thickness. The easiest way to arrange fish fillets for four persons is to place the fish pieces fanning out from the center of the microwavable dish. From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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  • How to Poach Fish

    Poaching is an excellent way to preserve the fish's moisture - particularly if you are serving it cold. If you poach fish frequently, then it's worth investing in a fish poacher, but you can improvise with a large deep pan, such as a turkey roaster, and a meat rack. Poach the fish either in salted water or in a flavored broth. Either way, preheat the liquid. Wrap the fish in cheesecloth, place it on the rack, and lower it into the liquid. The liquid should barely cover the fish and be kept at a gentle boil. Poach the fish about ten minutes per pound, but check after eight minutes (per pound) so that you don't overcook it. Slightly undercook the fish if you're planning to cool it in the liquid, because it will continue to cook as the liquid cools. From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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  • How to Sauté Fish

    Sautéing is probably the easiest way to cook thin fish fillets. As you cook them in a small amount of hot fat on top of the stove, it's important to sauté the fish in a pan that's heavy enough to distribute the heat evenly. A professional sauté pan (available at any restaurant supply store) or iron skillet is ideal. When you sauté fish, use enough oil (or butter and oil) so that the surface of the pan is generously coated. Make sure the fat is hot before you add the coated fish or it will stick to the pan. Place the fish in the hot oil, leaving ample space between the fillets, and cook the fish uncovered. Otherwise, the fish will steam rather than fry, and the coating will be soggy rather than crisp. Sauté the fillets until they are a light golden color on each side, turning once. Serve immediately. From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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  • How to Steam Fish

    Oven-steaming is easy to do and is a particularly useful cooking technique for people who want a meal-in-one. Virtually any kind of fish tastes good cooked this way, as do any number of vegetable combinations. Regardless of the type of vegetables, slice them no wider than 1/4-inch thick so that they will cook as fast as the fish. Essentially, you steam the fish along with thinly sliced vegetables in an envelope of heavy-duty aluminum foil, allowing the fish and vegetables to steam in their juices. You can add herbs, butter, or cheese - and make the recipe as fancy or plain as you wish. Using this method, the fish always comes out moist, with plenty of fish and vegetable juices to spoon over rice, pasta, or potatoes. There's a wonderful aroma when you open the packet - and the bonus is that fish cooked this way is almost as good served cold or reheated. From the " Legal Sea Foods Cookbook " by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, illustrated by Edward Koren
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