Let's play "Please the Pescetarian!"
August 11, 2010 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Mrs Supercres just switched from vegetarian to pescetarian (which she already asked about). And I'm a fish-cooking neophyte. Now that the initial shock / honeymoon is over, help us integrate fish and shellfish into our weekday dinners cheaply and conveniently.

Basically, we're looking for something with the convenience of frozen supermarket fish "portions" but the tastiness of fresh filets. I realize that's a tall order and we're going to end up compromising on one of those, but here are some thoughts we had (with questions following):
  • I enjoy cooking, but I haven't cooked fish or shellfish much in the past. When I do, it's a fresh filet of something mild and white with some butter, dill, and lemon. Put simply, I don't know that many techniques for integrating fish (especially shellfish) into recipes.
  • We try to grocery shop once a week, so we decided that would be our opportunity to buy a few fresh filets of whatever looks good (and possibly is pre-seasoned). It's tough to go out again on a weeknight to get something fresh, otherwise we'd just do that.
  • I've considered trying something "classic" like tuna casserole, but, you know, not the stereotypical mush. (If you have a recipe, I'd love a link. But that highlights that the fish doesn't need to be central-- I love making risotto (especially when it's cooler outside), so that's an easy way to add in some fishy protein.
  • We are keeping an eye to sustainability, for what that's worth. We have all the links to websites, iPhone apps, etc., so while that is appreciated, having them again would be redundant.
  • Mrs S enjoys mostly lighter white fish, as well as things like mussels and clams. No shrimp or smoked salmon/lox yet. Fresh salmon and tuna probably okay. I know describing desired fish as "non-fishy tasting" is ubiquitous and annoying, but yeah... that.
And now, some questions:
  • Is there a middle ground between fresh filets and frozen fingers? Are the frozen bags of tilapia filets at, say, Whole Foods worth it? And can we cook them the same way that we would a fresh filet, i.e., under the broiler, sauteed, or in a foil pouch? Does the taste/texture suffer in an obvious manner?
  • How well do other seafood products fare in the fridge/freezer? I'm thinking specifically of bivalves like mussels and clams, or more prepared products like lump crab and out-of-shell mussels. (And here I'm thinking about the non-canned kind that you might find in a refrigerated case next to the seafood dept at WF.) Is that something we could buy on Sunday and eat on Thursday? How about the canned lump crab or mussels? Again, do taste/texture suffer?
  • Other than the already-mentioned tuna casserole, do you have creative/tasty ways of serving up "cheap" seafood like canned (or vac-sealed packets of) tuna and salmon?
  • Just in case she changes her mind, how do you like to prepare smoked salmon and/or lox? I personally think it's heaven on an onion bagel with cream cheese and a slice of red onion, but I miiiight be willing to take a few other ideas.
I've seen these previous questions already: one, two, three. Those focus more on "If I have fresh fish..." though, so I'm set for that on the days that I do. But if you can find any that I missed, I'd appreciate it.

Thanks in advance!
posted by supercres to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, I forgot about scallops. I like them (bay and sea), and Mrs S is amenable. On Top Chef, however, I hear all too often about the evils of frozen scallops. But there must be some things that frozen scallops are good for, right? And will fresh scallops turn bad as quickly as fresh fish will?
posted by supercres at 12:15 PM on August 11, 2010

One preparation you don't mention is sushi. You want really fresh fish for that, or I've done it with cooked shrimp, but it stretches the supply of fish out and I find it fun to make.

Do you like mustard? I like to simply take a can of high-quality tuna - the sort that comes out of the can in a cake almost like a solid steak of it - simply spread a bunch of brown mustard on the top of the cake, microwave it all, and eat it with a fork.

As far as affordability I used to get these giant boxes of ice-glazed tilapia fillets at Walmart, like the bags from Whole Foods that you mention, which I liked and were cheap. Not sure how that is on the sustainability and other fronts, though. I'm having an aneurysm or something and I can't remember at all how I prepared them, though. Probably with mustard.
posted by XMLicious at 12:20 PM on August 11, 2010

I love fish and shellfish, but shop only once a week.

Look for fresh fish cuts and freeze them until a day before cooking, unthaw in the fridge. I recommend broiling. You can always broil with something tasty spread on top like a quality barbecue sauce or a yogurt/herb combo. There are some good fish stir fry recipes on the net, too.

Re seafood, I recommend buying it frozen and in bulk, and using the fridge defrost method a day or two before using. Actually, Costco and Sam's Club are a pretty good source.

I tend to pay more for locally caught seafood, but it isn't required. I would steer very clear of farm raised fish, for multiple reasons. And of course avoid fish which is being harvested unsustainably like sea bass.
posted by bearwife at 12:20 PM on August 11, 2010

Re preparing shellfish, unless I am doing the heat and crack and dip in a homemade seafood sauce approach that I take with crab, I use scallops or shrimp and make stir fries. Fantastic with good rice, a salad, and maybe some steamed veggies.
posted by bearwife at 12:23 PM on August 11, 2010

Oh, one time I did this thing with the tilapia fillets where I got this eggplant snack dip I had, mixed it with a bunch of breadcrumbs, spooned little mounds of the eggplant mixture on a cookie sheet, and then sliced each tilapia fillet in half and wrapped them around the mounds of eggplant mixture held in place with a toothpick to make little roulettes and baked them. That came out surprisingly tasty.

As bearwife says stir fries are good. If you can get ahold of some South-East Asian fish sauce or oyster sauce that's good to use. These sauces seem to come in zillions of different varieties and to differ by country.
posted by XMLicious at 12:31 PM on August 11, 2010

Canned salmon is good and easy (just make sure to get wild, Alaskan caught, boneless and skinless salmon. If you're a member of Costco, you can get their Kirkland brand cans at a reasonable price). Here are some good recipes for it:

Salmon Salad Sandwich (make this right now while tomatoes are in season!)
Black Bean and Salmon Tostada (much better than it sounds!)
Salmon Rosti
posted by amarynth at 12:46 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Frozen scallops (and fish in general) are fine if you're not expecting to serve $40-per-plate meals. Fresh ones are better, yes, but for everyday non-snobby eating, frozen scallops are quite good.
posted by Jon_Evil at 1:25 PM on August 11, 2010

We get fish frozen in individual packets all the time (at Costco). They are fine and great for having handy for individual meals while the rest can stay frozen. Typically from the freezer to the microwave to the gas grill and bingo dinner is ready.

Get a set of skewers (Wal-Mart has 'em cheap) for shrimp and scallops and stuff on the grill.
posted by Doohickie at 3:08 PM on August 11, 2010

I heard somewhere that shrimp is flash frozen aboard ship (at least in the US) so that there is no such thing as "fresh" shrimp. The point being that the shrimp in the bags of frozen shrimp were the same quality as the "fresh" unfrozen shrimp at the seafood counter; only the price is different.

Frozen shrimp defrosts quickly. I just take the number of shrimp that I need, place them in a colander, and run them under some warm water. Wait a bit and saute them in olive oil and garlic for a few minutes. They are great tossed with some sauted veggies over some pasta. You can also have them over soba noodles with snow peas and whatever else that you'd like, with some soy sauce and sesame oil. I had a recipe that escapes me, but I think that I got it from one of my friend's copies of the magazine Real Simple, which while overpriced has in the past been a good source for healthy, easy to prepare meals. I know that the recipe involved shrimp and snow peas over bow tie pasta in a light cream sauce (I think that it called for cream cheese).
posted by kaybdc at 3:55 PM on August 11, 2010

Saba, previously
posted by hortense at 4:30 PM on August 11, 2010

We eat a seafood Thai green curry pretty often, using frozen fish fillets and prawns. We buy bags of both at the supermarket and they last for ages. It's a really, really quick and easy dish if you use one of those green curry sachets. Just add it, a can of coconut milk, some chopped vegetables and the still frozen seafood and simmer til cooked.
posted by Wantok at 5:11 PM on August 11, 2010

It's not fresh, but when I ate fish I couldn't get enough of (canned) tuna, drained, served on rice, with a liberal sprinkling of furikake. Might sound weird, but I often chopped a boiled egg into the mix as well. So delicious.

In case you haven't heard of furikake:

I haven't had any joy finding my favourite kind anywhere on the web (was in my local supermarket, but of course YMMV), but it was heavy on the chilli, and wasn't the kind with separate small pouches in a larger pouch, it was all in one, which meant I could go completely overboard really easily. Which was highly desirable.
posted by The Monkey at 2:28 AM on August 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the helpful suggestions.

Mrs S had a Gchat conversation with a friend of hers, who works at the Whole Foods fish counter (South St Philly location). Some good info, so I figured I'd post it here. (I've rearranged it a bit so it reads better and taken out some less-relevant stuff.)
L: we wanted to know if freezing fish is ok and which fishies are best after defrosting and stuff

J: As long as it hasn't been frozen before, you can freeze any fish.
J: At my store, the already frozen stuff is really good, and a bit cheaper. And it was filleted and flash frozen on the boat, so it's crazy fresh.

L: what about [freezing] scallops/clams/mussels?

J: Scallops, yes. Mussels and clams I'd be more wary about.

L: ok, that's good to know
L: and fridge stuff? If we buy a filet on Sunday can we keep it in the fridge until Tuesday or maybe even wednesday?

J: Ask your fishmonger about whatever you're buying. My stuff is usually fine for three or four days in the fridge, but if you asked me about it I'd absolutely tell you if you should try to eat it by the next day.
J: If you're nervous about it, smell it before cooking it. There will probably be a fishy smell when you first open the package. After that, there shouldn't be a smell like ammonia. If there is, it's gone off.

L: I guess it depends on how long it's been at the counter, too?

J: Yes, or on the boat before that.

L: most of the "fresh" stuff at whole foods hasn't been frozen before, so we'd be ok to freeze it until we want to use it?

J: Some of it has. It says on the label whether it's fresh or frozen, or you can ask us.

L: and the frozen stuff you mentioned before, is that in a different section, or is that behind the counter too?
L: (sorry for the stupid questions, I've never cooked fish before!)

J: We have a big freezer to the side, in the opposite direction of the meat department.
J: No worries, these are all really common questions.

L: okay
L: thanks for helping me!
posted by supercres at 9:54 AM on August 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

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