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Cooking Fish and Shellfish

Cooking Fish and Shellfish
Fish is one of the most versatile foods you can prepare. Its mild flavor and firm texture can be matched with a wide variety of flavors and cooking methods. Most fish and shellfish take a relatively short time to cook, so it is crucial to get it right. (The best fish for different cooking methods follow.)

Best Fish to Grill
Firm-fleshed fillets, steaks, split fish and whole fish, such as tuna, salmon, shark, halibut, monkfish, striped bass, bluefish, black sea bass, mahimahi and swordfish, are all good choices for grilling. Mackerel will also do well on the grill. Delicate flounder or sole fillets placed directly on a grill are likely to fall apart. Shellfish, such as scallops, shrimp, squid and lobster, are superb cooked on the grill. For more information on grilling fish, please click on the link at right.

Best Fish to Broil
Fish fillets, such as those from shad, arctic char, whitefish and red snapper, or fish steaks, such as those from salmon, cod, swordfish and tuna, may be easily broiled in the oven. Whole fish can be difficult to broil because of their girth. Be sure to pour 1/8 inch of dry white wine or water into the pan before broiling, and place the fish fillets as close as possible to the heat source.

Best Fish to Bake
Any filleted fish may be baked. Use a shallow baking pan and be sure to pour 1/8 inch of dry white wine or water into the pan before baking to prevent the fillets from sticking.

Best Fish to Oven-Poach
Whole fish, such as salmon, bluefish, snapper and grouper, or fillets of bass, snapper, salmon and grouper may be oven-poached.

Best Fish to Roast
Whole fish of all sizes, such as red snapper, salmon, bluefish, sardines, pompano and whitefish, may be roasted.

Best Fish to Deep-Fry (with Batter)
Fillets of cod, sole, fluke and catfish, as well as shrimp and steamer clams, are good choices for deep-frying.

Best Fish to Sauté
All fillets, such as those from sole, tilefish, swordfish and Pacific rockfish, are good for sautéing.

Best Fish to Bake in Parchment
Any fillets or steaks, such as those from halibut, trout, baby coho salmon, salmon, red snapper and bass, may be baked in parchment.

Best Fish for Using in Soups, Stews and Pasta Sauces
Whiting, trout, monkfish and salmon, as well as mussels, clams and squid, are all excellent in soups, stews and pasta sauces.

Judging Doneness
A key to preparing fish is to recognize when it has just finished cooking. Fish that is undercooked or overcooked is not usually palatable. Following are three ways to determine when fish is cooked to the correct degree of doneness.

1. Touch the fish with your finger. It should be as firm as the tip of your nose. The more experience you have cooking fish, the easier it is to judge doneness by touch.

2. The flesh, which is translucent before cooking, must be opaque all the way through. (The exceptions are tuna and salmon, which are often eaten rare to medium-rare.) To check, make a small incision in the flesh with a knife in an inconspicuous place. The fish should also be easy to flake.

For shrimp, cut off a slice from the head end to see if it is opaque. For lobster, the cooking time is calculated according to weight, since the flesh, trapped in the shell, cannot be checked. Follow the recipe directions for timing. Mussels and clams are ready as soon as they open. When cooking en papillote (in a parchment paper package), the timing is calculated according to the thickness of the fillet. Plan on 10 minutes per inch at the thickest part, then open a packet to check for doneness.

3. The foolproof method of testing for doneness is to use an instant-read thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the fish, away from the backbone, which conducts heat. The fish is cooked when it reaches 140°F.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Fish, by Shirley King (Simon & Schuster, 2002).