Learning to cook fish
August 3, 2011 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to learn how to cook fish well. In particular, I'd like to tackle classic fish dishes from different countries and try a variety of different preparation techniques. What are some well know regional dishes I should try?

I'm a reasonably advanced amateur cook but have never spent any time focusing on fish. Those two dimensions (region and technique) seem like a fun way of getting broad exposure to the subject, but I'm open to other ideas as well.

I live in the Pacific Northwest so I have easy access to the fresh seafood of this region. The local asian supermarket also has a huge selection of non-local frozen and fresh ingredients.
posted by stp123 to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
A favorite dish of my grandmother's -- fish moilee. This is a Syrian Christian dish that comes from the South Indian state of Kerala. It is delicious and pretty easy!
posted by peacheater at 9:08 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

The recipe is slightly different from how she used to make it though -- she always shallow-fried the fish first before adding it to the gravy. But I'm sure this is an acceptable variation.
posted by peacheater at 9:09 AM on August 3, 2011

Gefilte Fish!

(NB: It's an acquired taste.)
posted by griphus at 9:12 AM on August 3, 2011

Instead of any single recipes, I submit for your consideration James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish: The Cook's Indispensable Companion. The fish bible.
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:14 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Moules mariniere, especially when you have collected the mussels yourself, is fantastic and simple and needs only some crusty bread to make a meal. I skip the cream, it's rich enough with the mussels, wine and butter imho.
posted by Cuppatea at 9:15 AM on August 3, 2011

Check out books like Hot Sour Salty Sweet for some techniques for Thai/Lao fish stuff -- delicious with lime leaves, coconut milk and all that.
posted by Madamina at 9:18 AM on August 3, 2011

Yum Pla Dook Foo (northern Thai catfish salad). I am not sure how well known it is, but it's very tasty and unique. The end result is a fluffy pile of fish crumbs mixed into a Thai style mango salad. I got the recipe from a restaurant outside Chiang Rai. Or rather, I watched them prepare it, asked questions, and wrote it all down. The chef there started from a freshly caught catfish, but you can use equivalent fillets.

1 whole catfish (about 1 foot long, 3-4" wide)

Slice along bone to make two fillets.

Cut off head and tail, discard spine and entrails.

Smash nose once, then split head.

Make 5 incisions along fillet, then 5 more diagonally.

Deep fry in very hot sunflower oil till quite golden-brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Take out. Squash fillets with a large knife to flatten. Hack it up to nearly powder

Add 1 large handful of Panko breadcrumbs (equivalent to 2/3 of fish or even higher proportion) and mix thoroughly.

Very very high heat. Add fish mix. Fry 30-45 minutes till golden. Drain oil thoroughly.

Place head and tail on plate with fluffy catfish between.


2-3 thin small fresh fiery chillies (red or green)

1/2 (1 cup of) med green mango (8-10cm). Peel and julienne.

10-20 threads of julienned fresh carrot

1 'hom lek' - shallot (or small 2cm red onion), sliced finely

2 'tohn horm' - small spring onions, white and green sliced in fine rounds

Smash chillies and chop very finely.

Add rest in a small bowl. Pour on the dressing ingredients (below). Let rest a few minutes.


1 1/2 serving spoon Thai fish sauce (nam pla)

1 serving spoon spoon lime juice (less if mango is very sour)

1 1/2 serving spoon light watery cane sugar syrup (num chem)

Garnish fish and salad with unsalted peanuts.
posted by tavegyl at 9:19 AM on August 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Jasper White's 50 Chowders book has some great fish chowders.
posted by novalis_dt at 9:22 AM on August 3, 2011

On the offchance that you haven't thought of it already (I suspect it's as common in the Pacific Northwest as it is in the UK): fish and chips! You'll need some malt vinegar to eat it with.

Japanese cuisine is brimming with fish recipes. I don't have a fish-specific book to recommend, but Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen divides recipes up by ingredients, with one chapter devoted to fish and shellfish; and, as per the review on that Amazon link, it's a really interesting book in its own right.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:32 AM on August 3, 2011

How about Julia Child's memorable meal of Sole Meuniere, which she refers to often in My Life in France?
posted by stellaluna at 9:34 AM on August 3, 2011

I don't have any specific recipes but just wanted to add that, unlike meat, fish cooks quite well in a microwave. I wrap it in parchment paper along with whatever seasonings and vegetables I've chosen and nuke it until it's done, which varies by fish and by type of microwave.
posted by mareli at 9:35 AM on August 3, 2011

Whole steamed striped bass or flounder with scallions, cilantro, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic. Lots of recipes online for this traditional Chinese dish, here's one from Martha Stewart. One of my mom's dishes I loved most growing up. The best part is taking off the meat with your chopsticks over dinner until you've reached the bones and then lifting off the tail, all the bones, and the head in one piece for MORE FISH! that's now sitting in the deliciously fragrant sauce. You know it's done cooking when the eyes pop up (like a turkey timer).
posted by hhc5 at 9:36 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Muniere (lightly dusted with seasoned flour, then pan fried, most easily in a non-stick skillet) is a very popular preparation for any white fish.

Pappiote, where you seal your fish in a parchment packet (or even foil) with some aromatics and perhaps some wine then bake, is a very forgiving method, and worth trying out.

Ever grilled salmon on a cedar plank? You can find the planks everywhere these days, and it gives the fish an amazing flavor. I suspect trout would take that flavor as well.

For a Mexican twist, look up recipes for Campechana. It's basically a seafood cocktail, with a spicy tomato sauce and any variety of veggies or fish that you desire. Very tasty, and great during the summer.
posted by Gilbert at 9:41 AM on August 3, 2011

Just picked up a taste for a simple salmon 'cooked' in midwestern Finland.
posted by infini at 9:54 AM on August 3, 2011

Sea Bass roasted with potatoes, tomatoes and olives from Italy; and from Spain Boquerones

posted by adamvasco at 10:11 AM on August 3, 2011

Meditteranean Sea Food by Alan Davidson will be your friend.
posted by adamvasco at 10:15 AM on August 3, 2011

I came in here to suggest moilee. But Peacheater beat me. It's really good. If you can figure out how to make appam, there's some kind of incredibly alchemy that happens when they're combined.
posted by eulily at 10:16 AM on August 3, 2011

Moroccan Charmoula!!!
posted by HopperFan at 10:42 AM on August 3, 2011

For an authentic (and ridiculously delicious) Russian dish, try Smoked Herring & Potatoes. In my family we'd just boil the potatoes, but you can do whatever you want--it's a delectable combination.

(Though also an acquired taste.)
posted by litnerd at 10:55 AM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Meditteranean Sea Food by Alan Davidson will be your friend.

The rest of Alan Davidson's trilogy (North Atlantic Seafood and Seafood of Southeast Asia) are also pretty excellent -- especially if you're a relatively advanced amateur who's comfortable with going off recipe. We went into a CSF (community supported fishery) this Spring and so got weekly surprises of fish that we wouldn't normally be seeking out at the supermarket, and the Davidson books were indispensable for advice on how to make best of use of, say, a half-dozen flounders showing up all of a sudden.

I also like Mark Bittman's Fish book a lot, too. If you have How To Cook Everything you may find some duplicates, but the Bittman book is nicely comprehensive if perhaps a bit dated.
posted by bl1nk at 11:09 AM on August 3, 2011

I'd recommend mastering pan frying first.

Hot pan, a little oil. Make sure fish is totally dry and has salt/pepper on both sides. Put it in skin side down, laying it in the pan away from you.

Cook on one side until the bottom 2/3 of the fish is cooked. If you try to turn it too soon, the skin will stick. If it sticks, wait until it naturally releases. Flip and cook until done.

Wit most fish (cod, halibut, salmon) it will flake when done. You can actually see it happen. Or you can take the end of a spoon and gently insert into the fillet. If it goes right through with no hesitation, the fish is cooked.

Right before I turn it, I like to put a knob or butter and some fresh herbs in the pan. Then, using a spoon, spoon the butter over top the fish. Coontinue on both sides. This can form the basis of a sauce, but if you baste well, it doesn't need one. :-)

Good luck!
posted by guster4lovers at 11:13 AM on August 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

oh, and for hot days, I'm rather fond of kinilaw (Filipino ceviche) ... take a tuna or salmon steak and slice into 1 inch chunks, soak in vinegar for 2 to 4 hours, then drain and toss in a bowl with lime juice, scallion, grated ginger, garlic and some sliced peppers. Serve chilled over ice. It's a nice for a midday lunch or as a dinner appetizer in the middle of summer.
posted by bl1nk at 11:17 AM on August 3, 2011

Also! I recently bought Wahoo steaks (mild taste but swordfish-like texture/firmness) and the fish guy advised lightly coating them in mayonnaise and salt and pepper, then grilling them. The mayo prevents the fish from sticking to the grill, and mostly burns off but seals in the moisture and flavor of the fish. It sounded kinda weird but let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS. I bet it would work with any kind of firm fish steaks. Here's a link from epicurious that seems to be more or less what I did.
posted by stellaluna at 12:21 PM on August 3, 2011

You could take a look at "Legal Sea Foods Cookbook" by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer which I have found to be educational and has excellent recipes.
posted by sushrob at 5:26 PM on August 3, 2011

I just cooked these Calabrian style sardines tonight. They were wonderful!
posted by peacheater at 5:45 PM on August 3, 2011

Meditteranean Mediterranean *Hangs head in shame*
posted by adamvasco at 10:47 PM on August 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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