Friday, July 9, 2010

How To Saute a Fish Fillet Perfectly

“Sautéing is one of the best cooking techniques for fillets, which tend to dry out when roasted or even grilled or broiled.” 
Joy of Cooking  by Irma Rombauer et al.
Have you ever tried to sauté a lovely fish fillet and had any of these disasters befall you?
·         The fish falls apart while being lifted from the pan.
·         After cooking, the batter is soggy, oily.
·         The oil smoked while cooking.
·         The butter burned and ruined everything.
·         The fillets cooked unevenly, with burned spots.
Take heart. Sautéing fish fillets at home is easy once you know how. Whether you are going to buy fish to fry or throw out a line and catch your own this summer, boning up on the fundamentals of fish frying is essential. 
(1)     First, make sure that when you buy fish that it is fresh. Whether you order from an online seafood market or buy it from a local fishmonger, a fish should never have a “fishy smell.” If it is whole, the eyes should be clear. The flesh should be firm, without any milky or watery liquids. So check that fresh halibut or cod in the market, or those trout your better half brought home. A great alternative is ordering fresh seafood online for overnight delivery.
(2)     Choose the proper pan. Fish like a little personal space, so don’t crowd them in your fry pan. If you have a fairly small pan, you may need to fry your fillets in batches, keeping the cooked ones warm in a warm oven (200° F).
(3)    Choose the right oil or fat. While Irma and friends recommend a blend of olive oil and butter, or even clarified butter, more cooks prefer canola or safflower oil because they do not smoke and burn at high temperatures. So save your expensive olive oil for marinades and sauces, not for sautés.   Avoid bacon fat, lard, and seasoned oils.
(4)    Coat the fish to your taste. Dredge the fillets in flour (or cornmeal or breadcrumbs) seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs of your choice. (You can dip them in first in a mixture of one egg blended with 2 tablespoons milk, or in milk alone, or consult more recipes for batters, such as tempura.)
(5)    Use the right temperature: medium-high. If a bread cube tossed in the oil sizzles and turns golden, you’ve got it right. If it sinks and absorbs the oil or burns to a crisp in a flash, so will your fish. If it’s smoking, lower the temperature. If the cube is soggy, raise it.
(6)    Sauté with care. Don’t wander off. Fish fillets only need cooking for 2 or 3 minutes per side, depending on thickness. Slide them into the oil (which should sizzle but not spatter), leaving space around each fillet. Do not add too many at once as this will reduce the oil temperature drastically. Do not overcook or they fall apart. You can use the time to cut up lemons and/or prepare tartar sauce.
(7)    Remove them with care, serve with pride! To keep the first ones crispier, place on a rack over a paper towel-lined platter, keep warm in oven. Serve hot when all fillets are ready with lemon wedges and parsley garnish.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The next time you buy fish, follow these steps and you’ll discover your own joy of cooking fish as well as the joy of eating it! 

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