I think a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of cooking fish because it is so easily over cooked. They worry about ending up with something that is dry and mealy instead of being juicy and tender.
Just like meat, cooking fish is all about matching the cooking method to the fish type. From species to species, fish vary tremendously in texture and flavour.
When you purchase fish, be familiar with or enquire about its texture, as this will determine the best way to cook it. For example, delicate fish such as bottom-dwelling flounder and sole have a very fine white flake and fall apart easily, so they should not be stir-fried. Follow my guide to cooking methods and I guarantee you’ll end up with delicious succulent fish every time.
Suitable for whole fish, fillets or steaks 2cm or more thick. A good method when cooking for a crowd. Suitable species – all types except gamefish, eg tuna and kingfish, which are best cooked quickly and served rare as they tend to dry out.
Ideal for whole fish and fish fillets or steaks. A very high temperature is required so the fish cooks quickly and does not dry out. Suitable species – all.
Suitable for all species of boneless fillets and steaks, small whole fish and flat fish. For more delicate flaky species, cook in a covered pan without turning.
Frying is one of the most difficult cooking methods to master. Use canola oil and try to fry as quickly as possible. Don’t cook too much fish at once or heat is lost. Use high temperatures for small thin pieces of fish and reduce to medium high for larger pieces so they will cook through fully before over-browning on the outside. Don’t overcook or fish will be greasy. If desired, transfer to a hot oven to finish cooking and keep hot.
Grilling (in the oven)
Suitable for firm to medium textured fish steaks or fillets less than 2cm thick. The high heat of the grill can dry out the top surface of the fish, so you may wish to brush it with butter or oil before cooking. Cook the fish 6-10cm from the heat source without turning.
Excellent for fish steaks of dense or medium texture, game fish and other oily species, whole fish and shellfish. Oil grill well and have it hot before cooking to prevent seafood from sticking. Don’t attempt to barbecue frozen fish as it tends to be dry and flaky. Shellfish can also be barbecued – use the hot plate and add a splash of water or wine.
Steaming & Microwaving
Ideal for species with a delicate flavour, plus all shellfish. The cooking vessel must be tightly covered.
Suitable for species with a large flake and firm texture. The Chinese dust their fish in cornflour before cooking to provide a protective coating that prevents fillets and pieces from falling apart during the stir-frying process.
Good for whole fish and fillets. Cover the fish by 2cm with cold liquid and bring just to a simmer. Once the liquid reaches a simmer, a whole fish will take 12 minutes to cook regardless of its size. The time remains the same because the water will only come to a simmer when the internal temperature of the fish has reached the right heat. To poach fish fillets, immerse in cold liquid, bring slowly to a simmer, simmer for 2 minutes then allow to cool in cooking liquid.
To test for doneness
Press a piece of raw fish before you start cooking to ascertain its texture. When fish is cooked, it should no longer have any ‘bounce’, but it should give with pressure. Cooked fish will also show no resistance when skewered through the deepest part. Another way to tell whether fish is cooked is when small fine white beads of protein start to appear on the surface. For whole fish, cook until the eye starts to whiten and test with a skewer up in the deepest part behind the gills.
Annabel Langbein is the star of the new TV ONE series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook (7pm Saturdays).
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See the cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook for all the recipes from the TV show.
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