Many of my friends and family are afraid or do not like to cook fish, either because they do not know how to or because “it smells!” Fresh fish should never have a strong odor, before it is cooked, while it is cooking or after. If it does, throw it out and don’t use it. Smelly fish = old fish or fish that is beyond its prime or perhaps even leaning towards spoiling. Fish should “smell like the ocean,” as the chefs say. What you should smell when you open your package of fish is no fish odor!! Always buy fresh fish or “flash frozen” fish. There is a great debate about flash frozen (quick frozen) vs. freezing in your freezer (there are many blogs and posts on it). The type of fish may play a part in whether a fish freezes well or not. Some believe a fatty fish like salmon freezes better than a thin fish like tilapia, but this is also a subject of controversy and perhaps worth additional research if you are truly interested or concerned. My personal preference is to purchase “flash frozen” fish from a fishery (not a supermarket) when I can’t get fresh or it is a good deal. Recently, one of my favorite seafood fisheries in Alaska had a big sale on Coho salmon fillets (flash frozen) and I purchased 25lb. and split the order between two friends and me. If you buy fresh, buy what is in season and not something that has been “previously frozen.” I prefer “wild caught” over “farm-raised” but this is personal preference. If you shop regularly at the same fish market (or fish section in your grocery store), get to know your fish monger and learn what you can about the different fish that the market carries, what fish are in season at what time and know the local catches in your area. Buying local is best and always the freshest when you can get it!!
Fish is really very easy to cook and something I often make as a main course when I want to make dinner in a hurry. From store to table, fish fillets can be prepared according to my foolproof recipe in 30 minutes. You can serve fish with a number of interesting side dishes, ones you make or ones you purchase, depending on how much time you have or wish to take to prepare dinner. You can have a healthy nutritious, no fuss dinner and the clean-up isn’t difficult either. I use the recipe for foolproof fish on many different types of fish, but typically ones that lean towards the fatty or meaty side such as salmon, halibut, cod, chilean sea bass. I have also used this recipe for mahi mahi, red snapper, and some other thinner fish (with a cooking time of about 2 minutes on each side). The recipe also works for fish steaks like swordfish or tuna, but just be careful not to overcook as steaks can run to the tough side anyway. I must admit these are not my favorite cuts of fish.
If the fish has skin on one side, leave it on to cook the fillets, it keeps the fish moist when cooking and is easily removed once the fish is cooked. Removing the skin prior to cooking is a Herculean feat!!
Sauteed Herbed Salmon
1 salmon fillet/person (approximately 6-8 oz)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Dried dill weed
1-2 T butter
Defrost salmon fillets if frozen (in refrigerator or ice water [in air-tight packets]). Set fillets on counter and allow to come to room temperature (about 30 minutes). Rub 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil on top of each salmon fillet, salt & pepper, sprinkle with dried dill weed to cover and press seasonings onto fish. In a medium-large to large frying heat 1 T olive oil and 1 T butter (depending on how many fillets you are cooking, you can also increase the olive oil and butter according to the size of the pan). Place fillets fish side down in skillet over medium heat and cook for 3 minutes (for 1/2 inch thick fillets). Sometimes I cover the skillet at this point for 1 minute to steam the fish a bit. After 3 minutes, turn the fish over skin side down and cook for 3 more minutes. Serve with lemon slices or wedge and a few sprigs of parsley. You can see from the picture that the salmon is cooked perfectly and is very moist. If you like your salmon a little pink, medium-rare in the middle, saute a 1/2 inch fillet for 2 minutes on each side. If the salmon is 1 inch thick, I would saute it 4-5 minutes on each side and check the middle for “doneness” at 4 minutes either by pressing down with your finger (if it springs back, it’s done) or make a small cut and peek. You can also use a meat thermometer to check the temp. At 125 degrees, the fish should be medium-rare and by 140 degrees, it will be opaque and flake. The main issue with fish is that you don’t want to overcook it. You are better off to err by undercooking it because if it is a bit underdone, put the fish on your serving plate and cover it with a piece of aluminum foil for a few minutes and it will finish cooking just by the heat of the fish itself and it will not overcook and get dry. You can see the stages of preparation in the photos above. B’tayavon!
You can use different dried herbs with different dried fish, e.g. tonight I am making Alaskan black cod and I probably will use Herbs de Provence as my dried herb in addition to salt & pepper. I don’t recommend fresh herbs because they tend to contain moisture and burn in the oil during sauteing.