Cook Fish Like You're an Expert
People don’t usually make fish at home because they have no idea how to prepare it. To begin, every variety of fish has a particular way of cooking in which its flavors will shine more. Just like with meat you have, lean fish that usually have less than five percent fat (red snapper) and then you have the fattier fish that will go from five to 35 percent fat (salmon). As a general rule, the fatty fish are great for baking, broiling, and grilling, and the leaner ones are more suited for poaching, stewing, baking, broiling, grilling, and frying.
When buying fish look for moist, shiny skin, bright gills, and bright, clear, and vivid eyes. It should smell like the ocean and like fish, but once it starts smelling fishy, don’t buy it.
Lastly, fish is done when the meat is no longer opaque and has lost most of its slime.
Baking is probably my favorite preparation because it doesn’t require much work. This technique works best with a whole fish. Take a gutted, scaled fish, rinse it and pat it dry with paper towels.
Season the fish on both sides and inside the cavity. Place in a baking pan. Stuff the cavity with fresh herbs, chilies, ginger (et cetera), drizzle some olive oil on top, and bake for about 30 minutes (if your fish is about 700 g).
Another interesting way to cook whole fish is with the salt bake technique. You take a whole fish (still with scales, just gutted) and pack some rock salt all around it. Finally, the French technique of “papillon” is great. Grab a nice fillet or steak, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, lemons, a couple of chopped vegetables, and wrap the whole thing in parchment paper with a slit right on top.
This preparation is great if you want a nice solid intensity on your fish steaks. Put your fish steaks in a saucepan and fill, just to cover, with your poaching liquid; this can range from pure olive oil to broth or to tea even. Bring up the temperature until just before simmering. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the meat has lost its opacity and flakes on a fork.
Pan-Frying and Broiling
There is no smell better than a fillet going off some butter in a pan. Start by melting a little bit of butter and some olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning) in a non-stick pan. Get it nice and hot, add aromatics if you are using some (herbs, garlic, ginger…). Fry the fillets one at a time and continuously base with the oil, only turn when a crust has formed on the bottom. Season with salt and pepper. If you are using thicker steaks or fillet, follow the same method but don’t flip over, just keep basting and then eventually put the fish under the broiler in your oven and cook until slightly firm to the touch.
Only thick steak cuts or whole fish are recommended on the grill. My personal favorites are salmon, tuna, and halibut steaks that are at least an inch thick with the skin on, if possible. You want to bring the grill to about medium high (if you can keep it on for 3 seconds that’s perfect). Baste both sides of the fish with some kind of oil and seasoning, place it on the grill and cook for about 10 minutes (if your steak is one-inch thick), only turning it once after approximately six minutes. The use of woodchips gives amazing results.
How to carve a whole fish
Working from the belly side, use a thin-bladed knife to gently separate the top half of the fish. When properly cooked, it will slip right off the bone.
Carefully transfer to serving plate, using your hand like a spatula if necessary and gently turning the fillet so that it is skin-side down.
Peel off the fish frame like a Band-Aid, detaching it at the base if necessary.
Serve bottom half, carefully transferring it skin-side down.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.