Tips for swimmingly successful fish dinners

July 17, 2008

I’ve been working on a recipe development project that features fish recipes and I’ve realized from talking to people about what I’m doing at work that many people find choosing fish difficult.

To do my bit to help others cook, eat and shop for food with confidence, I’ve decided today to excerpt the advice I wrote about buying fish for my book Dana’s Top Ten Table. (If you’d like more great tips as well as 200 recipes for entrées your family will love, then please pick up a copy of my book at a bricks and mortar or online bookstore. US and other International customers can send me a request via email and I’ll ship a book directly to your door. And, yes this is a shameless plug.)

“A century ago when first nation’s fishermen returned to their camps with the day’s catch, their preferred cooking technique was to impale cleaned, freshly caught fish such as salmon on strong, green twigs and then plant the twigs into the ground so that the fish leaned over an open fire. Because they caught, cleaned and cooked their catch immediately, the resulting meals were no doubt delicious despite the lack of fancy marinades and interesting sauces.

Today’s home cooks seldom catch their own ingredients so we all need to know how to buy and store fish to ensure that the meals we serve will be as fresh and delicious tasting as possible. There are a number of fish counter options at most stores. In fact, frozen and fresh fish are sold whole, as sides, fillets, steaks, pieces and even chunks in the case of large fish such as tuna.

I always recommend buying fish in a store with a high turnover. Also, don’t be too shy to ask which days of the week fish are delivered and to buy accordingly.

Whether you purchase whole or semi-prepared fish don’t settle for anything less than fish that has firm flesh that’s moist without being watery. If pressed lightly with your finger the fish’s flesh should bounce back without leaving an indentation.

When purchasing whole fish, the eyes should be clear, shiny and not sunken. Regardless of cut, size or origin, truly fresh fish smells clean and sweet, never ‘fishy’ or similar to ammonia in any way.

Refrigerate and use fresh fish and seafood quickly, ideally within a day or two. In fact, if the weather is warm and fish is on your shopping list, take along a chilled cooler to transport the fish home.

If nice quality fresh fish isn’t available, frozen is a good alternative; however, inspect the packaging. If the fish is wrapped in a single layer of store applied plastic wrap, there’s a high likelihood that it was frozen because it was becoming too old to sell as a fresh product.

If your store carries plant packed frozen fish, opt for individually flash frozen fillets or steaks since they are usually more uniform and visually appealing than block pressed fish. Likewise, flash frozen fish fillets and steaks thaw considerably more quickly than blocks so you can be cooking (and eating!) sooner.”

Text excerpted from Dana’s Top Ten Table: 200 Fresh Takes on Family-Favourite Meals. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright (c) 2007 by Dana McCauley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.