Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Ocean perch to overcome a fear of fish
2 ocean perch fillets (or other white fish fillet)
salt and pepper
Where I come from, the closest sea is around a 10 hour drive away, so not surprisingly, it’s not one of the world’s biggest fish regions. Besides the handful of spring flounders, carps and trouts fished from the rivers and lakes, until recently, all you could buy were fish sticks, until with the arrival of the big supermarket chains, frozen fillets became available. The latest development, according to my informants, is one store that features fresh fish a couple of times a week at horrendous prizes.
Not surprisingly, I never learned how to cook fish. There was no mother to daughter passing on of recipes and tricks of the trade, because there simply were no recipes and tricks of the trade. Everyone seems to have their own food they are afraid to prepare, and to be honest, I was a little scared of those raw junks of fish meat (as you can well imagine, exotic novelties like sushi was not to reach our corner of the universe for years to come) and didn’t really know what to do with it.
So for me, moving to the coast and living with a seafood connoisseur was a major revelation. He taught me to love the flavors of the sea in oysters, the buttery delicateness of sushi, the fun of getting my hands dirty cracking crabs. And how easy it is to cook fish.
There are many variations of cooking fish and I love most of them, but I have to admit a certain difference for keeping the focus on the fish itself and enhancing it with a few simple ingredients instead of overpowering it with too many other flavors. One of my favorites is using the leftovers of my arugula-basil pesto as a semi-herb crust.
Usually in our weekly grocery shopping, we buy fresh fish for two nights and freeze one portion for later use, and so far all of the different varieties have taken it well. On the day we want to have the frozen one for dinner, we take it out in the morning and put it in the fridge, where it usually defrosts over the course of the day, but that can also be done in the microwave.
The rest of the preparation is rather straightforward: I wash the fish and pat it dry with a kitchen towel, place it on a cutting board and rub it with some sea salt and pepper. If the leftover pesto is to dry, a little extra olive oil makes it easier to spread but it shouldn’t be too liquid. I cover the fillets on both sides with the pesto and transfer it to a pan with a little bit of more olive oil. Depending on the thickness of your cut, it might take between ten and fifteen minutes for the fish to be cooked - if in doubt, I puncture it with a fork and if it feels soft, it should be ready.
Now pour yourself a glass of white wine, light a candle and enjoy the earthy aromas of lemon, garlic and herbs mixing with the tantalizing tastes of the ocean.
Life is good!