You're Never Too Old
I had been cooking professionally for a really long time when I joined the Sitka Seafood Market team, so naturally I thought I knew a thing or two about cooking fish. Well, it turns out that was not entirely true.
When it comes to practical knowledge of any sort, there is no substitute for repetition. You master techniques, build efficiencies, and truly understand the fundamental nature of a thing with every run. As a generalist in the kitchen, I realized that I simply didn’t have enough seafood cooking reps under my belt, but with lots of practice, I started filling in some of the gaps.
While shooting the latest series on seafood cooking tips and techniques and revising our online Cooking Guides, I discovered a few indispensable things I hadn’t known before. So, hat in hand, I’d humbly like to share just some of my findings with you:
- Proper thawing is not only essential for taste and texture, but ease of cooking. Let’s break it down:
- Contrary to my initial belief, thawing fish overnight in the fridge is infinitely better than the quick-thaw method. The gradual change in temperature is more gentle on the fish.
- Taking it one step further, thawing fish overnight between layers of paper towels absorbs excess moisture which makes pan-searing or grilling more successful. (If the paper sticks to the fish, just lightly moisten it with your finger to loosen the paper.)
- If you do find yourself having to use the quick-thaw method, remove the frozen fish from the pouch and thaw it in a cold (no ice necessary) saltwater brine (¼ cup salt to 3 cups water). The brine imparts flavor and removes excess moisture — counterintuitively — making it easier to cook.
- Refrigerating your brined fish on paper towels, uncovered, for even just 1 hour helps dry out the surface so your fish will release from a skillet or grill much more easily.
- Brining is another essential step. It can be a wet brine or simply a good sprinkle of salt on the fish as you preheat your grill or oven and prepare the remaining ingredients for your recipe. As mentioned, brining draws out moisture and tightens the proteins. Just be sure to pat the fish very dry before cooking.
- I initially defaulted to cooking fish in nonstick skillets because they are pretty foolproof. Yes, they are indispensable for some fish, but not all. The choice of cooking vessel should be based on several factors: fat content, moisture content, and the texture of the fish. Some key elements I learned:
- Fatty fish like salmon and sablefish (black cod) can be cooked in practically any type of skillet, including stainless steel, provided they are really dry when they hit the pan. (See brining and drying, above.)
- Lean, delicate fish that hold moisture, like Pacific cod and rockfish, do best when brined, as it is the liquid protein released during cooking that glues the fish to the pan. While nonstick really is the best choice for these fish, you can use a well-seasoned cast-iron or carbon steel pan, especially if you dust the fish with flour or coat the fillets in bread crumbs.
Needless to say, I’m far from done learning and would love to hear about what you all have learned along the way. Please share your tips and techniques with me at AskGrace@sitkaseafoodmarket.com and add “You’re never too old, Grace,” in the subject line!