Give Fish A Chance

by Jane Wangersky | October 17th, 2014 | Cooking Basics

salmon-74284_640While I was developing a recipe for tuna cakes this week, I realized I’d never written about fish before — unless you count once, over three years ago, when I came up with a recipe for a sauce for it. I further realized that in the back of my mind was the idea that no one wanted to read about cooking fish — that no one liked fish.

That’s understandable. Even at my house, we don’t eat fish often, though we live not far from the ocean. (That doesn’t make it any less expensive, which is one reason we don’t get much of it.) It’s also true that lots of people say they prefer meat. But why?

I really think it’s because the taste of fish is at its peak for such a short time after it’s caught. After even just a day, while it’s still completely safe to eat, the fish taste can be so strong it’s a chore to get it down, and it only gets worse with time. Unavoidably, lots of people, early in life, find themselves eating fish that’s past its best and then decide they hate all fish.

Of course, there’s freezing to put a stop to the decline in taste, but frozen fish has a bad name too. Canned fish also seems low-rent, kind of the Spam of the fish world. However, fish is healthy, quick and easy to cook, and pretty tasty with a little care, so we can’t give up on it.

If you buy fresh fish, cook it and eat it that same day — the only exception is when you’re using a recipe that tells you to put it in a cure or marinade overnight. You can bake it in a greased dish at 400°, or simmer it in a little liquid on the stove top, till the flesh is solid colored and flakes when you put a fork in it. That should take about 10 minutes for each inch of thickness; considering how thin most fish are, you see why they cook quickly. Frying fish is something to tackle when you’ve mastered this.

It’s best not to freeze fresh fish at home. (Our neighbor and his co-workers froze the salmon they caught on a fishing trip — I know because he gave us a package of it clearly labeled FROZEN — but they were all lawyers.)

Frozen fish has improved greatly with the use of individual quick freezing. Just be sure to look for “IQF” on the packaging. I won’t say it’s as good as fresh fish, but it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. You can cook it the same way as fresh fish — you don’t even have to thaw it, just allow twice as much time (20 minutes per inch of thickness). I’d season it more strongly than fresh fish, however.

As for canned fish, that’s what my other article is all about this week.

Give fish a chance, it’s worth it.

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