Tuesday, March 23, 2010

lessons in fish!

I am 100% clueless when it comes to fish.

I think I've probably eaten fish a grand total of 5 times in my whole life. And I think 3 of those times was at a restaurant. The other 2 or so have been at someone else's house.

I do like fish.

The reason I have absolutely no experience with it is because my mom hates fish. The smell, the taste, the texture. So, she never cooked it when we were growing up. Fish was something other people ate.

A few weekends ago I had the most amazing grilled catfish I've ever tasted (at a restaurant), and since then I've had a hankering for fish.

I didn't know where to begin. How do you buy it? What kind do you buy? What kind of cut do you get? How do you season it? How long do you cook it? What do you eat it with? OhmygoshIdon'tknow.

I almost retreated (yet again) into a fishless existence because of the unknown.

Fortunately, I found some frozen tilapia filets in the freezer and figured that was easier than going to the store. I thawed it out, and since I didn't know what to put on it, I went to Google. I don't think I like the whole "lemon pepper" route, so I tried a mixture of garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Does that go with fish? No clue.

I wanted that same grilled taste so I fired up the George Foreman grill, and on the fish went.

As soon as it hit the grill, I entered panic mode. How long do you cook it?? I should have looked that up beforehand.
I checked the handy dandy grill guide that came with the grill, but Tilapia wasn't on it. White Fish was, and since it was white, I figured it would work. 6 minutes. Then, I second-guessed, and did another quick Google search. Nothing concrete. Ack! I did see something about it being flaky when it's done, but what the heck did that mean??

Fortunately I heard my uncle in the other room.
"Jim!" I yelled. "You eat fish, right?"
He came in to check it, kinda laughed, and said that it was definitely done. he showed me what flaky meant. Okay, the fish had been flaky for a while. Definitely done.

I had leftover green beans and rice with it, since I have no idea what is usually eaten with fish. I had this CUTE tiny little lime- look at how cute it is!

Anyway I squeezed a bit of it onto the fish, because you're supposed to squeeze lemons/ limes on top of fish, right?

Here's my fish. I'm thinking that all meat comes out looking pretty much the same on a George Foreman grill, at least when you overcook it... because it looks like chicken.

It tasted ok, a little dry, and I think I should have used more seasonings because it was kind of bland.

I need help with my fish!
If you have any favorite fish recipes, or helpful tips, please link or post in the comments!


Castal said...

Fish can be tricky, but there are a lot of ways to cook it--pan fried (once again till "flaky"), baked, battered and fried, raw in sushi/sashimi (only from a restaurant or sushi grade please...)

If you are just starting out on the world of fish, stick to the frozen pre-filleted packets, like your tillapia. If you are really short on time you can often just cook those babies in boiling water in the plastic packaging (look at the box for ideas) and season after it is out.

I tend to be pretty plain on fish, and just have some starch like rice or potatoes and some beans, peas, or other veggie, but it really doesn't stop there... I am just lazy. You can crumble it up and put it in chowder after you cook the fish, saute with some butter and capers and serve over pasta (look online for recipes).

I have a recipe for gluten free battered halibut on my blog that works well for any thick fish, but beware--it can be a mess to make. Messy but oh so tasty.

Now onto braver fare:
If you happen to be near a coastline you might want to hop down to a fish market some day to see what is there and talk to the people. Many places have someone who is willing to show you how to cut up fish, or they will do it for you for no charge.

If you are looking for fresh whole fish, look to see that the eyes are not sunken in and the skin/meat is not discolored. If you can see cuts of the fish, look to see that the flesh is firm and not mushy or pulling apart (that means that it is old).

I live in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, so I have to stick with fresh frozen food unless I want a case of food poisioning. I have learned to ask my meat market guy if they still have some fish frozen in the back instead of what they thaw and place out as "fresh" and normally he is willing to grab me some from the back so I know it is as fresh as possible (often times frozen at the docks, before it ever sees land). This works best with whole fish, but I often find Halibut (tasty and not fishy, but meaty) and Salmon (um... firm, fishier than Halibut, and available everywhere--Pacific is much better than Atlantic for taste and texture).

Oh boy... now that I have overwhelmed you I have one more thing. Eat fish from people who cook with it, or from restaurants that cook it in ways you like. Then either ask how they did it (if a friend) or look at the menu and jot down the main words to look up later online for recipes. The internet is a great place to learn about cooking and the restaurants will give you an idea of a few places to start.

Other notes:
Cheap and tasty fish:
--Catfish (depending on where you are, can be mushy sometimes, great deep fried)
--Sole (much like tillapia, a bit fishier)
--Tilapia/Cod (cheap and hard to mess up, but not impossible)

Medium cost:
--Salmon (Pacific is all around better than Atlantic, but more expensive, flexible but good with teriyaki dishes or other sweet preparations)
--Halibut (tastes a lot like Tilapia, but firmer and a little more fishiness, good with savory flavors like dill)
--Trout (best cooked whole in a pan, or baked)

More expensive:
--Swordfish (very firm, steaklike)
--Tuna (called Ahi or yellowfin tuna, fishy taste but often used in sushi)

If you like shrimp, they are done when they turn completely pink (they start out greyish) and I highly suggest buying the pre-shelled variety for new cooks... deveining shrimp is a pain in the rear.

Okay, that is too much information for one post. Feel free to drop me a line on my much neglected blog if you have questions (CasitaGatita.blogspot.com). Happy fish hunting!

Drew said...

I also grew up not eating fish, so I know what you mean by having no idea what to do with it. I still don't rock at it, but I've got a few recipes we like.
I stick to frozen white fish, like Tilapia and Mahi Mahi. J will sometimes do Salmon, which can be soso good - but I'm too afraid to cook it myself. :) Then for sides we usually do a steamed veggie (green beans, broccoli, asparagus), and then rolls.
Here's our favorite fish recipes - I don't know about their gluten freeness though....

Allyson said...

Try fish tacos. Season your thawed tilapia filets with whatever suits your fancy. I usually do a little citrus (lime usually), garlic salt, pepper, and maybe a dash of cumin. Put a little bit of olive oil into a pan and heat on medium high. Cook until the edges look cooked through then flip and cook for about half the time. It will all depend on how thick the filets are. Even if the fish is overdone, it can fall apart in the taco and is still good :)
Put the fish on corn tortillas. Top with shredded cabbage, onions, salsa, cilantro (which I don't care for), tomatoes, sour cream, a squeeze of lime, and any other fixins you want :) Enjoy!

Cindy said...

This is my family's favorite tilapia recipe, it's so frickin good.