Thursday, January 26, 2012

Something Fishy

It's cold and dark and I'm in the midst of my seasonal morph into Homo sapiens ursus - like the bear that ursus refers to I don't want to do anything but hunker down, eat, and sleep until someone tells the days that they need to be longer so I can play outside after work.  Trouble is, my weight and cholesterol say that I need to be more careful of the eating part, and move my office job body more. 

I've been on a sort of binge on burgers in recent months but normally I don't eat a lot of meat.  That's not because I object to the eating of meat - it's because of the conditions of factory farming.  But it's a nuisance to have to go someplace out of the way to get a humanely raised piece of whatever I'm craving and then wait for the frozen-brick-hard thing to thaw in the fridge.  And they won't let hunters sell game meat - I've got no objections to eating something that was alive one moment doing whatever it naturally does and dead the next.  We tend to eat too much protein in our culture, but we do need some.  So I've been trying to learn more about fish - how to choose it, how to cook it, and how to eat it.

For most of my life, I didn't like fish unless it involved batter and deep frying - I thought fish tasted fishy otherwise.  That's still yummy, but, again, there's the excess calories and fat thing.  My opinion of fish started to change when I had my first taste of really excellent seared tuna with ponzu sauce.  Well alrighty - let's re-think this!  It occurred to me that my family didn't come from a place where fish were readily available - a poor mountain-top farm serves up chicken, pork, and beef, and the nearest stream of any size was a good ways away and contaminated with mine run-off.  And who has time to fish when you are trying scrape a living off a small farm, anyway?  So the rare occasions when we did have fish may not have reflected a particularly broad or skillful understanding of it.  Maybe there could be something beyond deep frying and Mrs. Paul's fish sticks.

It's my nephew's fault that I cook much at all - several years ago he gave me The Cook's Encyclopedia of Thai Cooking  for Christmas, and that led me out of the darkness of canned, frozen, and processed products into the world of fresh and carefully balanced flavors.  A new cookbook has followed every year, and this year's hit the jackpot - For Cod and Country, a collection of simple but delicious recipes for fish and shellfish that is focused on fresh and sustainable.

My culinary adventures with fish have a lot of assistance from the fish counter manager at our local grocery store - she has a passion for her product, so a morning run for ingredients for dinner presents me with an immaculate cooler full of fresh fillets and whole fish just received that morning.  The end result since New Years Day has been dishes such as stewed catfish and black-eyed peas with chunks of catfish so light they dissolved in the mouth; tilapia with roasted spaghetti squash, caper yogurt, and a smoky balsamic reduction that is excellent on other roasted veges; eggplant stuffed with smoky tomato-anchovy ratatouille; and this week's crowning glory of trout and autumn squash with roast garlic and toasted pecans.  All far more easy to make than the names sound, and all delicious.

Since I make two servings at a time, my freezer is full now, so I need to subsist on that for a while before my next cooking adventure so that things don't sit in there too long.  I may switch cook books next, too - I'm thinking maybe Goan style clams and mussels from my Fresh Indian book may be next.  I have to say that it's all WAY better than anything I ever tossed onto a baking sheet out of a box.  And not a bit fishy.


  1. For a real change of pace in the fish department, give ceviche or bacalhau a try. I'd imagine the ceviche will be a bit easier, since you don't have to find a source of dried salt cod.

  2. You need to try some Icelandic Ýsa... The iceheads have over 300 recipes for it :-) We know it better as haddock...LOL

  3. Fish skin is really really fishy. Get a cheap Rapala fillet knife, lay the fillet down on a cutting board, skin side down and take the skin off with the blade laid down flat and parallel to the board.
    Makes for a better tasting fillet.
    One of these:
    Takes a little practice, but you'd be surprised how little flesh you lose.

  4. @Bob - Ceviche is on the list for warmer weather. And I actually may be able to get salt cod.

    @Old NFO - Haddock done on the grill or broiled is the first fish I tried in my explorations. Definitely a favorite for a quick dinner, although the grocery store doesn't always have it available fresh.

    @Country life - So far, all yummy.

    @kx59 - Isn't most of the fat just under the skin? Also, fish exude a sort of slime to protect their skin, so maybe that's caused my a combo of fat and that. In the above shown recipe, the trout steams from below while the broiler crisps its skin. I peeled the skin off after the photo.

  5. Actually Long John Silver serves Icelandic Haddock, and it's not bad... :-)

  6. @Old NFO - We have one of those in combo with an A&W here. My experience with the A&W side means I won't be going back...