I love our neighbors. They are all so good to us. Our neighbors next door love to fish, but catch more fish than they can eat. Can you imagine? So we somehow get to be the lucky recipients of their haul. We trade for cookies… they think they get the better end of the bargain. I would argue we get the better trade. What a great deal, we both think we get the best deal.
So as a result of their generosity and sharing of their good fortune, we get to practice the art of frying whole fish (trout in this case, shown here served with creamy polenta with corn and tomatoes). I’m totally up for the practice.
(1) DON’T Eat Fishy Fish, but DO Eat Fish
I don’t know how many times I have heard people lament, “I don’t like fish. I don’t like the fishy smell.”
To me, that would be like drinking sour milk. If it smells bad throw it out – it’s bad. But don’t stop drinking milk because some went bad on you.
Eat as fresh a fish as you can get. It shouldn’t smell fishy. Living in Arizona I get it, fresh fish isn’t the easiest to find (and can be expensive), unless of course you have great neighbors who share. So frozen fish is always an option. I would suggest that you defrost frozen fish in the refrigerator overnight. Once defrosted it has been sitting in it’s juices and the melted ice. Rinse the fish thoroughly and dry completely… this will deter any ‘fishiness’ as well.
But to deprive oneself of fish is just, well… criminal. It’s a shame, because fish is heavenly. It’s flakey, fresh, and tender. It goes well with all things green and fresh: spinach, lettuce, peas, asparagus and pairs well with cream or butter sauces. It’s just delicious. Don’t impose restrictions on yourself because of past experiences… try some good well prepared fish and invite this great meat into your life.
(2) Get the skin CRISPY
There are a lot of people that don’t like the skin. OK. Don’t eat it. Better yet, only eat it when it is done right. Skin should be CRISPY. The reason people don’t like it, is because it’s often limp, rubbery, and gross. That’s because it’s cooked improperly. Dry the fish and skin very well. Salt and pepper the fish. Dredge in seasoned flour and sear, skin side down, in a hot pan with oil & butter. Allow it to cook on the skin until almost done through. Allow it to get good and crispy. You can take a spoon and baste the flesh side while the skin side is cooking.
(3) Finish whole fish in the oven
If you are cooking whole fish, it adds a lot of flavor, but hard to cook it all the way through. If it’s not cooked all the way through the fish is raw, tough, hard to bone out, and just not very good… raw fish is fine for sashimi grade sushi, but not whole trout. I find that if I dry, season, flour and fry the whole fish in a hot pan with oil on both sides, then finish in the oven for 10 minutes or so (dependent on the size of the fish), it comes out tender and crispy. This simple step will help to make your fish flakey and tender.
(4) Boning out whole fish
The next worse thing about fish is the bones. It has the be the single most reason for why fish filets are so popular. To bone out a whole fish isn’t that hard. It does have to be cooked through. As long as the fish is cooked well, the fish will filet easily.
With a sharp knife, cut along the spine of the fish. Not in the center of the back, but about a quarter inch into the skin / flesh of the filet. Trace along the back bone from the gills to the tail. Cut under the gills and across the skin / flesh. Lift the filet off from the back in one piece, making sure to leave behind the ridge bones along the back, and the rib bones along the stomach. It should come right off. Examine it for any stray bones and remove prior to plating. The other side becomes even easier. Flip over, making your same cuts under gill and along the back. Then lift the filet off. The whole tail, skeletal, and head will all fall away. Again examine for any stray bones. Do it a few times, and it becomes quite simple.
(5) Serve with sauce
I love sauce, and so does fish. So I have two easy preparations I want to share that go very well with any fish, whole or filet.
The first is a Beurre Noir, or brown butter sauce. It’s very easy, and very classic. In a small saucepan melt butter. Swirl and allow to cook until it becomes nutty brown. This will take a few minutes, be patient and watch over it carefully. It totally changes taste into something quite amazing at this point. Take your brown butter off the heat so it doesn’t burn. Add a generous squeeze of lemon (no seeds), dice of fresh parsley and some capers if you are so inclined. It’s perfect over your fried fish.
The second preparation I like is to serve my fish with fresh noodles and a green cream sauce. The cream sauce goes equally well with the noodles and the fish. Sauté onion and garlic in a pan with oil and butter until translucent. Add asparagus pieces (save the pretty tops for garnish, sauté in butter separately), sauté until just al dente, then add a bunch of chopped, washed spinach. Sauté spinach until wilted. Add a couple tablespoons of flour and mix around until incorporated. Add a cup of chicken broth, and half a cup of whipping cream and sauté until thick. Puree with immersion blender. Serve with noodles and fried fish. Garnish with asparagus tips.
Either way you cook it… DO cook it. I love fish, filleted or whole. And I’m so glad I have great neighbors who share.