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The Cookstr 10: Fishing for Compliments

April 15, 2010

Here fishy, fishy, fishy.

A lot of people are nervous about cooking fish at home. They think it will turn out dry, or boring, or that fish is just hard to make well. Cooking a great fish dish at home doesn’t have to be any harder than cooking up a chicken breast or a steak (unless, of course, you’re aiming for something fancy). And because there are so many kinds of fish available, and the quality of what you can buy has increased dramatically in recent years, diving into the deep is very rewarding. Fish is healthy, it is wildly versatile, it can cook up in a flash, and there are so many varieties to explore. Buy your fish fresh, refrigerate it quickly, cook it within a day or two at most, and become buddies with your local fishmonger, who will tell you which fishes are really great that day and what preparations each variety best lends itself to.

Rick Bayless's Ceviche Salad with Avocado, Cilantro, Green Chile

We don’t often get up on our soapbox (mostly because we can’t reach the stove from that high), but it is worth glancing at the list of which fish are the best choices to cook and eat from a sustainability point of view. Luckily there are tons of great choices that won’t leave a big fat global footprint on the environment. Don’t make yourself crazy; if we are all respectful, there will be plenty of fish in the sea for all of us to enjoy.

1. Rocco DiSpirito’s Char with Pea Sprouts and Forest Mushrooms. The tartness of the vinegar works with the woodsiness of the mushrooms in a very interesting yin-yang way. Arctic char is like a cross between trout and salmon in flavor, with a beautiful rich deep pink color. It is moist and firm and has a great mild taste. And–perfect timing!–pea shoots and spring mushrooms are just appearing in the markets now.

2. Robb Walsh’s Perini Ranch Fried Catfish. Fast, easy, Southern, and deeply satisfying, a great piece of fried fish has a special place in our hearts. The lightly seasoned cornmeal exterior is a crackling counterpoint to the tender catfish inside.

3. Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze’s Herb Salad with Thyme-Crusted Tuna. A fluffy pile of mesclun and verdant herbs provides a perfect bed for a quickly seared tuna steak, sliced and appealingly arranged. This is the kind of salad that you would be delighted to see in a restaurant, but it’s yours for the making.

4. Anne Byrn’s Eighteen-Minute Salmon with a Fresh Ginger Glaze. The name of this dish is an apt indicator of how simple the whole thing is to pull together. You can prepare a large piece for a dramatic presentation, or smaller fillets ready to slide onto individual plates. Soy, honey, ginger, garlic–that’s all you need to transform a rich piece of salmon into an Asian-inspired meal. If you cook a whole fillet, the inside will stay on the rarer side while the outside cooks more quickly, so everyone can get a piece cooked to their liking.

5. Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Mark Bittman’s Halibut with Mustard-Nut Crust. Halibut is a pleasingly solid fish, substantial enough to stand up to this zingy topping. The fish is braised and then a quick trip under the broiler creates a bubbly crust with a lot of pow.

6. Debra Ponzek’s Baked Rainbow Trout with Leeks. Talk about a conversation entrée! Small whole fish are stuffed with leeks and thyme, and then all tied up with long strips of leek, which looks so cool. You can prepare this in stages, but it’s just not nearly as hard as you might think. Cooking whole fish instead of fillets guarantees you moist, tender meat, and then the simple thyme crème fraîche sauce is the kicker.

7. Penelope Casas’ Catalan Fish Stew. You pick the fish steaks that you (or your seafood purveyor) think are the freshest and then quickly stir up a stew that will ferry you and your lucky dining cohorts to Spain faster than you can say suquet (which is the Catalan name for this stew). The toasted almonds are the special ingredient here, but the saffron doesn’t exactly hurt.

8. Sheila Lukins’ Not-Quite Blackened Tilapia. Farmed tilapia is more than just eco-friendly; it’s sweet and attractively white. It lends itself quite well to this eternally popular Cajun treatment, where a tantalizing and highly aromatic assortment of herbs and spices (paprika, cumin, garlic, thyme, oregano, dry mustard, cayenne…) are blended up and slathered on the fish, which gets a quick sear. Super easy, super fast.

9. Rick Bayless’ Ceviche Salad with Avocado, Cilantro and Green Chile. For this ceviche (lime-marinated raw fish) you should buy the freshest sushi-grade fish and prepare it right away, as this recipe calls for a short marinating time, which allows the sparkle of the fish to enjoy the spotlight. Try salmon, tuna or snapper, and see how easy this blueprint recipe is to play with.

10. Anya von Bremzen’s Fresh Sardines with Garlic and Parlsey. Little fish are a different kind of delicacy, and for some people fresh sardines or anchovies are one of the biggest treats in the sea. You can certainly ask the fishmonger to clean and butterfly the sardines for you if you’re more into the cooking than the cleaning (far be it from us to sit in judgment about that!). Once the sardines are ready to go, it’s less than two minutes from pan to plate.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Maramara permalink
    April 17, 2010 8:09 am

    I was looking around for some good ceviche recipes and found your blog… thanks so much! I’ve been trying to prepare Latin American food lately and learning Spanish online at ( — it’s keeping me warm while it’s still so cold in Germany, even in April!!

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