Go fish: 10 tips to get you cooking this summer
Carol Huntsberger, who has owned Quality Seafood Market in Austin for more than a decade, says her favorite summertime fish is grilled halibut, but she's just as likely to skewer swordfish or scallops.
Remember, when it comes to seafood, it's always good to pay extra attention to the place of origin and harvesting methods, for both health and environmental reasons. Seafoodwatch.org keeps a detailed list of species not recommended for eating.
Huntsberger offered 10 tips for making better fish this summer.
1. Don't fear the grill basket. Grilling large fish on a plank can make for a nice presentation, but if you're cooking for only a few people, a smaller grill basket might be a better approach. Certain kinds of fish, such as the super-flaky halibut, need a little extra support so they don't break apart when handled. The baskets come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and if you grill more than once a month, you won't use it just for fish.
2. Get the good salmon. Wild salmon run in the summer, and they taste infinitely better than the light-pink farmed fillets.
3. Keep the skin on. If you are working on a grill, the fish skin can help hold the fillet together, much like a plank or basket. Start cooking the fish skin side down over direct heat, with the thickest part of the fish over the hottest part of the grill. Flip the fish at the end to get grill marks on the other side. If you're sautéeing, poaching or baking, it doesn't make as much sense to keep the skin on, unless you prefer, Huntsberger says, and if you do want the skin removed, your fishmonger should be happy to do it for you.
4. When in doubt, sauté. No one wants to mess up a $22-per-pound fillet of fish, so if you're unsure how it would fare on the grill or flash-seared in a pan, gently sauté it in butter or a little olive oil. Sautéeing is a great get-to-know-you technique for fish you've never prepared before.
5. 30-minute marinade. Fish don't need more than half an hour in a marinade, if you're using one at all. Huntsberger will use something as simple as Italian dressing, letting the fish soak up some of the flavors in the fridge for a short time before cooking.
6. Go Gulf when you can. Fish such as black drum, mahi mahi and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico are among the most versatile on the market, and you'll know you're supporting the local fishing economy.
7. Let freshness be your guide. Even if you walk into the store with a plan for what you'd like to cook, talk to the fishmonger about what's freshest off the boat, especially if you're making something delicate such as ceviche.
8. Steak, without the beef. You won't fool anyone into thinking that a seared, dense fish, such as swordfish, tuna and blue marlin, is a rib-eye, but steaklike fish - brushed or served with a light sauce - are ideal for summertime grilling.
9. Freshwater, for less. With shrimp prices so high, shoppers are looking for an affordable way to put seafood on the table. Freshwater fish, such as trout, catfish or tilapia, tend to be less expensive. Huntsberger recommends sautéeing or grilling these kinds of fish after marinating or rubbing them with a spice mixture, such as lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning.
10. Know when it's time to splurge. There's nothing like digging into a mess of crab legs or lobster tails, which really shine when prepared on a grill. These crustaceans are almost always already cooked when sold at market, so you're just reheating them at home. Serve with ample melted butter on the side and extra napkins for your hands.
What's summer if you can't get a little messy while you're eating?
Sea Bass Ceviche
From "Ceviche Peruvian Kitchen: Authentic Recipes for Lomo Saltado, Anticuchos, Tiraditos, Alfajores, and Pisco Cocktails," by Martin Morales
For the Amarillo Chile Tiger's Milk
¼-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut in half
1 small clove garlic, cut in half
4 roughly chopped cilantro sprigs
Juice of 8 limes
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons amarillo chile paste
For the fish
1 large red onion, very thinly sliced
1¹⁄3 pounds sea bass fillet (or other white fish), skinned and trimmed
1 portion Amarillo Chile Tiger's Milk
A few cilantro sprigs, leaves finely chopped
1 limo chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 sweet potato, cooked and cut into small cubes
Fine sea salt
Instructions: Put ginger, garlic, cilantro and lime juice in a bowl. Stir and then leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve into another bowl. Add salt and amarillo chile paste and mix well. This will keep for 4 hours in the fridge. Rinse the onion and then leave it to soak in iced water for 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly, spread out on a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel to remove any excess water and then place in the fridge until needed. This will reduce the strength of the onion and help to keep the slices crisp.
Cut the fish into uniform strips of about 1¼-inch-by-¾-inch. Place in a large bowl, add a good pinch of salt and mix together gently with a metal spoon. The salt will help open the fish's pores.
Leave this for 2 minutes and then pour over the tiger's milk and combine gently with the spoon. Leave the fish to "cook" in this marinade for 2 minutes.
Add the onion, cilantro, chile and sweet potato to the fish. Mix together gently with the spoon and taste to check that the balance of salt, sour and chile is to your liking. Divide among serving bowls and serve immediately.
From "Lodge Cast Iron Nation: Great American Cooking From Coast to Coast," compiled by Pam Hoenig
Makes 4 servings
4 (4-ounce) skin-on, boneless rainbow trout fillets
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
½ cup sliced natural almonds
2 teaspoons minced shallot
1 teaspoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1½ Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Instructions: Pat the fish dry with a paper towel, then lightly sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
Place two 8-inch cast-iron skillets over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and ½ tablespoon of the butter to each skillet. When the butter is melted, add 2 fillets, flesh side down, to each skillet and cook over high heat for about 4 minutes. (Note: After 2 minutes, carefully slide a metal spatula under the fish to ensure it is not sticking.) Turn the fillets over (the fish should be nicely browned but not dark) and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully remove the trout to warm serving plates. Remove one skillet from the heat.
Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter to the other skillet and melt over high heat. Add the almonds and swirl the pan to coat them with the butter. Cook for a minute or so. Add the shallot, parsley, thyme and salt and pepper (a nice pinch of each should do).
Toss the almonds constantly over the heat until they become uniformly light brown. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and toss. The mixture will sizzle and foam. Top each fillet with the almond mixture.