BLACK APRON GUIDE TO... FISH AND SEAFOOD

 
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We have put together a guide to help you with the different types of fish and seafood available and what cooking method each fish or seafood is best suited to.

 
 
 

Buying

Freshness is the all-important factor to consider when buying any seafood that hasn’t been preserved for long-term storage. Fresh fish is highly perishable so, unless you have access to supplies as they are landed, mush of the “Fresh” fish for sale will have been frozen on the fishing vessel and then thawed. It is vitally important for you to know the signs of fish in prime condition and those specimens you should avoid.

Whether you are buying you fish at a supermarket’s fish counter, from a fishmonger or from a market stall, the display slab should be spotlessly clean and there should be plenty of crushed ice around the seafood. Whole, gutted fish deteriorate less quickly then steaks or fillets, so look for a display that includes these.

Your nose will give you the first indication of what you should or shouldn’t buy. Good-quality fish has a fresh, ocean-like aroma. It shouldn’t smell “fishy”. If there is any whiff of ammonia or unpleasantness, don’t buy. The odour is caused by bacteria rapidly multiplying as the fish deteriorates.

 

 

 

Quality Points

Whole fish should be firm, not floppy, and the flesh should feel firm and elastic when you press gently. The eyes should be protruding and clear, not sunken or cloudy; any scales should be shiny and tight against the skin; the gills should be clear and bright red, not dull or grey. Fillets and steaks should be cleanly cut and look moist and fresh, with a shiny “bloom” on the surface and no yellowing or browning.

Never buy packaged fish with damaged packaging. There should not be much air between the fish and the wrapping or any pools of liquid or blood. And, of course, you should check the use-by date.

The term “shellfish” includes a wide range of specimens – bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters, scallops),crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, prawns) and cephalopods (squid and octopus) – they should all be consumed on the day of purchase.

When clams, mussels and oysters are sold alive, the shells should be tightly closed; if open shells don’t snap shut when tapped, they are dead. They should be in a net or porous bag, not a polythene bag. Most scallops are sold shucked, often with the roe attached, but occasionally in the shell. Shrimp and Dublin Bay prawns are often sold frozen, but can also be raw or cooked. It is best to buy them in the shell – look for firm flesh, and avoid any with black spots on the shells (except in the case of large back tiger prawns). Squid and octopus are both sold fresh and frozen – the flesh shouldn’t have any brown patches. Both smell foul if not fresh. 

Make sure the packaging on sealed, smoked seafood isn’t damaged and that the use-by date hasn’t expired. If buying loose, it shouldn’t have an unpleasant smell or dry edges. If salt cod is still flexible when you buy, wrap it in a damp towel and chill for up to three weeks; if it is rigid, wrap in foil and chill for up to three months. Always check the best-before dates on canned seafood.

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Buying

Freshness is the all-important factor to consider when buying any seafood that hasn’t been preserved for long-term storage. Fresh fish is highly perishable so, unless you have access to supplies as they are landed, mush of the “Fresh” fish for sale will have been frozen on the fishing vessel and then thawed. It is vitally important for you to know the signs of fish in prime condition and those specimens you should avoid.

Whether you are buying you fish at a supermarket’s fish counter, from a fishmonger or from a market stall, the display slab should be spotlessly clean and there should be plenty of crushed ice around the seafood. Whole, gutted fish deteriorate less quickly then steaks or fillets, so look for a display that includes these.

Your nose will give you the first indication of what you should or shouldn’t buy. Good-quality fish has a fresh, ocean-like aroma. It shouldn’t smell “fishy”. If there is any whiff of ammonia or unpleasantness, don’t buy. The odour is caused by bacteria rapidly multiplying as the fish deteriorates.

 
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Quality Points

Whole fish should be firm, not floppy, and the flesh should feel firm and elastic when you press gently. The eyes should be protruding and clear, not sunken or cloudy; any scales should be shiny and tight against the skin; the gills should be clear and bright red, not dull or grey. Fillets and steaks should be cleanly cut and look moist and fresh, with a shiny “bloom” on the surface and no yellowing or browning.

Never buy packaged fish with damaged packaging. There should not be much air between the fish and the wrapping or any pools of liquid or blood. And, of course, you should check the use-by date.

The term “shellfish” includes a wide range of specimens – bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters, scallops),crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, prawns) and cephalopods (squid and octopus) – they should all be consumed on the day of purchase.

When clams, mussels and oysters are sold alive, the shells should be tightly closed; if open shells don’t snap shut when tapped, they are dead. They should be in a net or porous bag, not a polythene bag. Most scallops are sold shucked, often with the roe attached, but occasionally in the shell. Shrimp and Dublin Bay prawns are often sold frozen, but can also be raw or cooked. It is best to buy them in the shell – look for firm flesh, and avoid any with black spots on the shells (except in the case of large back tiger prawns). Squid and octopus are both sold fresh and frozen – the flesh shouldn’t have any brown patches. Both smell foul if not fresh. 

Make sure the packaging on sealed, smoked seafood isn’t damaged and that the use-by date hasn’t expired. If buying loose, it shouldn’t have an unpleasant smell or dry edges. If salt cod is still flexible when you buy, wrap it in a damp towel and chill for up to three weeks; if it is rigid, wrap in foil and chill for up to three months. Always check the best-before dates on canned seafood.

 
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Safe Storage

 

Get your purchase home and refrigerated as soon as possible, ideally transporting it in an insulated bad. Remove all packaging and clean the fish with a damp cloth, then wrap it in wet kitchen paper and placed on a lipped plate at the bottom of the fridge, at a temperature no higher than 4°C/40°F.

Leave live clams, mussels and oysters in their bag or put them in a dry bowl and cover with wet kitchen paper. Do not put them in a bowl or water or a sealed container, as they will die. Store oysters in their shells, rounded cup down, to keep them fresh in their juices, covered with a wet cloth or seaweed.

All shellfish should be stored in the bottom of the fridge and cooked or eaten within 12 hours. Fresh fish should also be cooked and eaten on day of purchase, although most remain edible for another day if properly refrigerated. Oily fish spoils more quickly than white fish. 

Refrigerate smoked or marinated seafood as soon as you get it home, and consume within two or three days, or by the use-by date.

Points to look for when buying fish

 

You should look for the following points when buying whole fish:

  • The eyes should be bright, full and not sunk, there should be no cloudiness or slime.
  • The gills should be red and bight; there should be no bacterial slime.
  • The flesh should be firm, translucent and resilient so that, it springs back up after being pressed down.
  • The scales must be flat, moist and plentiful.
  • The skin should be covered with fresh sea slime, be moist with a good sheen and no bruising or abrasions.
  • There should be a pleasant fresh smell with no ammonia or sourness
  • The fish should be well iced if being delivered by a supplier to you.

Points to look for when buying fish

You should look for the following points when buying whole fish:

  • The eyes should be bright, full and not sunk, there should be no cloudiness or slime.
  • The gills should be red and bight; there should be no bacterial slime.
  • The flesh should be firm, translucent and resilient so that, it springs back up after being pressed down.
  • The scales must be flat, moist and plentiful.
  • The skin should be covered with fresh sea slime, be moist with a good sheen and no bruising or abrasions.
  • There should be a pleasant fresh smell with no ammonia or sourness
  • The fish should be well iced if being delivered by a supplier to you.
 

Safe Storage

 

Get your purchase home and refrigerated as soon as possible, ideally transporting it in an insulated bad. Remove all packaging and clean the fish with a damp cloth, then wrap it in wet kitchen paper and placed on a lipped plate at the bottom of the fridge, at a temperature no higher than 4°C/40°F.

Leave live clams, mussels and oysters in their bag or put them in a dry bowl and cover with wet kitchen paper. Do not put them in a bowl or water or a sealed container, as they will die. Store oysters in their shells, rounded cup down, to keep them fresh in their juices, covered with a wet cloth or seaweed.

All shellfish should be stored in the bottom of the fridge and cooked or eaten within 12 hours. Fresh fish should also be cooked and eaten on day of purchase, although most remain edible for another day if properly refrigerated. Oily fish spoils more quickly than white fish. 

Refrigerate smoked or marinated seafood as soon as you get it home, and consume within two or three days, or by the use-by date.

 
 

Ways to cook fish

 

The Canadian Cooking theory, developed some decades ago, advocates cooking fish for 10 minutes per 2.5cm/1 inch at the thickest part for dry-heat methods. This is an easy approach for anyone new to seafood cooking, but many chefs today prefer 8-9 minutes for slightly less well-cooked fish. This is a matter of personal taste, so experiment and know how to tell when fish is cooked as you enjoy it: perfectly cooked fish is opaque with milky white juices and flakes and comes away from the bone easily; undercooked fish resists flaking, is translucent and has clear juices; overcooked fish looks dry and falls apart into thin pieces. Tuna and other meaty fish can be roasted and pan-seared like beef to be served rare, medium and well-done.

When you are chargrilling, sautéing and pan- and stir-frying, start with a well-heated pan or wok, so that the fish develops a crust that retains internal moisture.

 
 
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Cooking in oil – sautéing, stir-frying and pan- and deep-frying

            Fish steaks and fillets are most suited to these quick techniques. For sautéing and pan-frying, heat 5mm/ ¼ inch vegetable oil in a hot sauté or frying pan, dust the fish with seasoned flour and fry over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side for thin fillets, and up to 5-6 minutes per side for steaks 2.5cm/1 inch thick.

            Successful deep-frying requires fish to be coated in batter or crumbs and for the oil to be marinated at a steady 180°C/350°F. If you don’t have a deep-fat fryer with a controlled thermostat, use a heavy-based pan and a thermometer: if the temperature is too cool, the fried fish will be soggy; if it is too high, the outside will be overcooked wile the centre will be raw. Work in batches to prevent overcrowding and a reduction in the oil’s temperature.

Cooking in oil – sautéing, stir-frying and pan- and deep-frying

            Fish steaks and fillets are most suited to these quick techniques. For sautéing and pan-frying, heat 5mm/ ¼ inch vegetable oil in a hot sauté or frying pan, dust the fish with seasoned flour and fry over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side for thin fillets, and up to 5-6 minutes per side for steaks 2.5cm/1 inch thick.

            Successful deep-frying requires fish to be coated in batter or crumbs and for the oil to be marinated at a steady 180°C/350°F. If you don’t have a deep-fat fryer with a controlled thermostat, use a heavy-based pan and a thermometer: if the temperature is too cool, the fried fish will be soggy; if it is too high, the outside will be overcooked wile the centre will be raw. Work in batches to prevent overcrowding and a reduction in the oil’s temperature.

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Wet heat cooking –poaching, steaming and stewing

 

            Fish is excellent poached or steamed. Although these techniques are very easy, they can still overcook fish so pay close attention. Another advantage is that the cooking liquid can be incorporated into a tasty sauce to serve alongside. Poach in gently simmering liquid flavoured with lemon and herbs for 8-12 minutes per 2.5cm/1 inch of thickness. When steaming, make sure the seasoned fish never actually touches the water. Steam, covered, for 3-5minutes for fillets and steaks and 8-9 minutes per 2.5cm/1 inch of thickness for whole fish.

            Seafish stews often contain a variety of fish, simmered with other ingredients. To prevent overcooking, add the seafood towards the end, adding the most delicate pieces last – they will only take 2-3 minutes. Don’t allow the liquid to boil.

Wet heat cooking –poaching, steaming and stewing

Fish is excellent poached or steamed. Although these techniques are very easy, they can still overcook fish so pay close attention. Another advantage is that the cooking liquid can be incorporated into a tasty sauce to serve alongside. Poach in gently simmering liquid flavoured with lemon and herbs for 8-12 minutes per 2.5cm/1 inch of thickness. When steaming, make sure the seasoned fish never actually touches the water. Steam, covered, for 3-5minutes for fillets and steaks and 8-9 minutes per 2.5cm/1 inch of thickness for whole fish.

Seafish stews often contain a variety of fish, simmered with other ingredients. To prevent overcooking, add the seafood towards the end, adding the most delicate pieces last – they will only take 2-3 minutes. Don’t allow the liquid to boil.

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Dry heat cooking – barbecuing, grilling, chargrilling and roasting

 

Whole fish, fillets, steaks and kebabs can be cooked by these methods, and oily fish are particularly suited to grilling, barbecuing and chargrilling, because the natural oils they contain baste the flesh. Their full flavours are not overpowered by smoky aromas. Marinate white fish before barbecuing.

Barbecuing and grilling are similar, with the former cooking from the bottom and the latter from the top. In both cases, position the rack about 10cm/4 inches from the heat. Brush the rack with oil, add the fish and cook until the flesh flakes easily, basting with a marinade or melted butter. Ideally cook the fish without turning; if the surface is browning too quickly, adjust the rack position. Barbecue thin fillets and small fish, such as sardines, in a hinged fish basket.

Chargrilling is a quick way to give fish a barbecue flavour without having to light a barbecue. Heat a cast-iron griddle pan over a high heat, brush the fish oil and chargrill until seared on one side and cooked through.

Whole fish are particularly delicious when roasted, as the skins and bones preserve the natural flavours. Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 and make a few slashes on each side. Rub the fish with oil, put in a roasting pan and roast uncovered, until the flesh comes away from the bone when tested – the skin becomes crisp, while the flesh remains tenderly moist.

Dry heat cooking – barbecuing, grilling, chargrilling and roasting

Whole fish, fillets, steaks and kebabs can be cooked by these methods, and oily fish are particularly suited to grilling, barbecuing and chargrilling, because the natural oils they contain baste the flesh. Their full flavours are not overpowered by smoky aromas. Marinate white fish before barbecuing.

Barbecuing and grilling are similar, with the former cooking from the bottom and the latter from the top. In both cases, position the rack about 10cm/4 inches from the heat. Brush the rack with oil, add the fish and cook until the flesh flakes easily, basting with a marinade or melted butter. Ideally cook the fish without turning; if the surface is browning too quickly, adjust the rack position. Barbecue thin fillets and small fish, such as sardines, in a hinged fish basket.

Chargrilling is a quick way to give fish a barbecue flavour without having to light a barbecue. Heat a cast-iron griddle pan over a high heat, brush the fish oil and chargrill until seared on one side and cooked through.

Whole fish are particularly delicious when roasted, as the skins and bones preserve the natural flavours. Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 and make a few slashes on each side. Rub the fish with oil, put in a roasting pan and roast uncovered, until the flesh comes away from the bone when tested – the skin becomes crisp, while the flesh remains tenderly moist.

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Round Fish Directory

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Flat Fish Directory

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Fresh Water Fish Directory

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The Shellfish Directory

 
 
 
 
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