Friday, November 11, 2011

falling for fish

Oh, fish. What have I said about fish so far? Why haven't I gotten into cooking it before now?

I used to be scared of it. I have always found it delicious. Sometimes it is embarrassing. As a chef it has been for me a challenge. But it is definitely a food that inspires great conversation. There are certain people who feel very strongly about it. As a kid I remember loving my mom's tuna sandwiches. But the girls at school would tease kids who brought tuna, what with the fish breath that followed throughout the afternoon well into second recess. It's such a delicate thing. Sushi chefs have an almost spiritual relationship with fish.

Here's a great TEDtalk from a very intelligent and well spoken chef and author, Dan Barber. It's all about his take on the factory farming of fish and ways that farmed fish can be done more ethically and sustainably.

My dad makes great fish. Mostly cedar plank s
almon on the barbecue. My mom specializes in fried sole. It's tasty but when she cooks it the whole house smells to high heaven and I end up days later still detecting a redolence that could only have its origins in the crumbly white fish I had eaten earlier that week. Both my parents taught me to always soak the fish in milk before I begin cooking with it. It takes away some of the old fishy smell and texture and revives it before a being rinsed under cold water and dried with paper towel.

I still use that trick and have found that if J spots some nice fish at the store and I don't have time to cook it, I can put it in the freezer, let it thaw in cool water for a while and the milk will do the rest.

Last month J found a lovely piece
of salmon that was large enough for both of us with rice, cooked bok choi, and butterleaf lettuce and mozzarella salad. I did the salmon up in little breaded morsels, flash fried then glazed in a french mustard and herbs sauce. Before that it was those incredible pan seared scallops.

This week J thought his luck was repeating as he found a lovely piece of salmon at the store again. It turns out that what he found was actually steelhead trout. I cooked it crispy this time, instead of gooey, choosing a crus
t of crushed nuts as the source of crunch and fried goodness.

Pistachio-Crusted Steelhead Trout

Prep a portion of fish as above in pan with milk high enough to cover most of the fish.

In another pie plate or deep dish prepare a half a cup of flour with a good sprinkle of kosher salt, and maybe a half tablespoon of lemon pepper. Stir together with a large fork.

After the fish has been left soaking in milk for 30 minutes (or up to 2 hours, covered and refrigerated), rinse under cool water and pat dry.

Place fish in flour bed and press firmly before turning over and repeating.

In another dish crack and beat 1 egg. Use a second if preparing for more than 2 people. Lift fish from flour, shaking off excess, and dip both sides in egg mixture.

This is the moment where I thank the kind men at Akhavan for selling me shelled pistachios so cheaply. I went to the jar on my counter, took out a handful of pistachios, maybe a scant half cup. I didn't want to waste any. Using J's amazing magic bullet I crushed up the pistachios in a buzz or two and dumped them out into another deep dish. Shake the dish back and forth to ensure an even layer of crushed nuts on the bottom of the dish.

Life the fish out of the egg pan and wait for the excess to drip off. Transfer the fish onto the bed of pistachios and press down firmly, ca
reful not to damage the flesh of the fish as you do so. I gathered up all the stray bits of pistachio and crumbled them over the uncoated side and then flipped each piece over to ensure an even coating on both sides.

In a medium nonstick pan heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When the oil moves around the whole pan easily and is starting to shimmer, carefully place each piece of fish into the pan. Shuffle the pan back and forth to ensure the oil is encircling the fish.

Watch the sides of each piece in the pan. As the fish begins to cook the flesh changes colour and texture, usually about 5 minutes. When the fish is changed a little more than halfway through, flip it over. Continue cooking for half the time that it took the first side to cook, about 2 min. You may need to turn down the heat at bits of coating from the fish come off and start to burn. Transfer to a plate with doubled up paper towel on bottom.

*Remember to pour off your leftover cooking oil into a dirty dish or jar and dispose of it in the garbage once it is cooled. Never pour cooking oil down the sink.*

Serving suggestions:
Prepare rice before you start working on the fish. I tossed some zucchini sticks in a marinade of maple syrup, ground sage, fresh ground pepper, and olive oil. Other vegetable ideas - grilled stuffed portobello mushrooms, roasted butternut squash, steamed broccoli with cheese sauce, asparagus, Greek salad, corn niblets, mashed sweet potatoes.

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