A Seaworthy Guide to Fish Prep
Raw or poached, ceviche or sashimi, baked or flaked…with apologies to Casablanca, a fish is still a fish, and according to Chef Bruce Mattel, the fundamentals still apply. The senior associate dean of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and former fish butcher at New York’s Le Bernardin restaurant has been working with every type of seafood for decades, and offers a few of his favorite fish prep tips:
Consider the individual attributes of your seafood product to determine the best way to handle it. Each has a unique optimal doneness, and a distinctive flavor, which can range from aggressive or grassy to delicate or mild. For example, tilapia’s grassy taste goes well with a fairly strong batter and spicy Thai chili sauce. However, you would never want to take that approach to the delicately flavored halibut, best showcased with a simpler method like poaching, and served with a light butter sauce. Salmon, especially wild salmon, is best very rare, barely cooked; however, swordfish must be fully cooked or it’s not tender or palatable.
Low activity fish: Cod, haddock, halibut don’t move around a lot, resulting in less fat, light-colored flesh and mild taste. These delicate flavors work really well for poaching, sautéeing and frying.
Medium activity fish: Groupers, tile fish, bass, blackfish swim around rocks, hiding at times, and as a result, have a small amount of fat content. These fish are very versatile and lend themselves to any kind of cooking technique; also great served as cruda or ceviche, and hold up to acid nicely.
High activity fish: Salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies. These dark-fleshed, oil-rich fish, like salmon or tuna, can be very good served raw. Others such as mackerel, sardines and anchovies, are better pickled, marinated, cured and/or smoked.
Raw fish caution: Be cognizant of food safety concerns. Now, most sushi or sashimi is required to be frozen for a certain amount of time in order to eliminate any parasitic elements that might exist.
Ceviche: Use impeccably fresh fish for this popular item. Cut the fish at a long angle or in small cubes to maximize its surface area, and marinate with a citrus juice. Allow the fish to sit for at least 25 minutes in the marinade while the proteins become de-natured and essentially “cook” the item.
Sashimi: Also requires very fresh, but also prime pieces of fish (for example, the thickest part of the center piece of salmon), sliced into pieces about 1 inch wide by 1. inches long by . inch thick. Use a sharp knife to slice through the fish in one stroke, and remove all sinews, fatty parts, skin and bloodline. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.