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Fish: Guide to Cooking Methods

You have several options when cooking fish: from grilling to poaching to roasting on a plank

Regardless of which method you choose to cook fish, make sure the fish you use is the freshest possible. Smell it and feel it; if it has a fishy odor, forget it, and if feels slimy and anything but smooth and wet, don't use it.

Here are a few of the more popular methods for cooking fish.

-Fried catfish and hushpuppies are a southern natural. You can fry many types of fish as long as the temperature is high and the fish is battered. Because fish absorbs flavors, use only fresh oil, preferably peanut or vegetable. If you use a professional fryer or a deep skillet or pot, this method is also known as "deep frying."

-Shallow frying uses less oil and the fish cooks in the oil first on one side and then the other. Trout and mackerel are good candidates for shallow frying, but still require a batter. Batters can be made of flour or breadcrumbs and eggs. Dip first in the dry mix, then the egg wash, and then back into the dry for a perfect, crusty exterior.

-Grilling. Choose firm-skinned, "oily" fish. These are the species packed with Omega-3 fats and are good for you. You can grill fish by using the indirect method (the coals or wood chips are placed to the side) or the direct method with the heat source directly underneath. For oily fish, the indirect method prevents flare-ups, which can hamper the flavor. Before grilling, you can season, stuff, or marinate the fish. If you use a barbecue sauce with sugars, wait until the last couple of minutes of cooking time to add or the sugar will cause your fish to burn and taste bitter. If you are stuffing fish, however, you can coat the interior of the fish ahead of time and close it up with string.

-Smoking. This method is another wonderful excuse to cook outdoors. Smoking fish requires the same attention as meat and poultry, but requires brining first. That means you soak the fish in a salt solution for several hours before placing it on the grill. Smoking fish is as much a labor of love as it is labor-intensive.

-Poaching. You can poach fish in the oven or on a burner. The fish bastes itself in a hot liquid of your choice: stock, fish sauce, spices, and onion. Aluminum foil wrappers work well for this method.

-Steaming. The fish can cook in its own juices by adding a bit of lemon juice for acidity. Wrap in foil, place in a steamer basket, and then put inside a larger pot filled with water. Salt and pepper to taste.

-Oven Baking. Place in a covered casserole dish with bit of stock and seasonings. May dry out quickly - be ready to add extra stock.

-Plank Cooking. Purchase planks at specialty stores or on the Internet. You can make your own as long as it is untreated wood and about ½" thick. Soak the plank overnight and coat with olive oil. Warm the plank in the oven - once it produces a light smoke, you can add the fish. Oven planks last much longer than grilling planks, which char and eventually break up.

Remember that fishes are delicate and should always be handled carefully. A meat thermometer is essential regardless of how the fish is cooked. Once the fish has reached an internal temperature of 135 degrees and no more than 140 degrees, it is done.

It is a common mistake to overcook fish. Be sure to follow recipes exactly and you should create perfect fish every time.


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