Seafood Smarts: How to Choose and Cook Perfect Fish-Every Time

By Dickerman, Sara | Sunset, July 2013 | Go to article overview

Seafood Smarts: How to Choose and Cook Perfect Fish-Every Time


Dickerman, Sara, Sunset


BEFORE "SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD" even entered our lexicon, Robert Clark was on a quest for better fish. In the late '90s, disappointed by the declining quality of Chilean seabass, he turned to sablefish, a more reliably luscious white fish--which happened to be responsibly harvested. Clark, then executive chef at C Restaurant in Vancouver, B.C., discovered that thoughtful fishing had big dividends for the cook. "The quality is almost always better," he says.

He changed his menu accordingly, and in 2005 he helped found the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Wise program to encourage other chefs to do the same. This summer, he's opening a sustainable seafood market called The Fish Counter with partner Mike McDermid, manager of the Ocean Wise program. "We need to remove barriers that keep people from cooking seafood at home," says Clark, who plans to share his techniques (including those here) with customers. "A lot of people just want to know, 'How do you get fish to taste so good?'"

Buy the best

In the West, Clark says, you can't go wrong with these three delicious, responsibly harvested picks. And don't discount frozen seafood. If it's flash-frozen at sea, says Clark, "it can often be better than fresh."

DRY-PACKED (OR "NATURAL") SEA SCALLOPS Wet-packed scallops are injected with a preservative; snow-white and wet, they steam instead of browning. Dry-packed, on the other hand, are additive-free and a pinkish coral hue, and brown beautifully. SEASON: Year-round (avoid in late spring, after they spawn).

SPOT PRAWNS Named for the white dots on their shells, spot prawns are sweeter and more delicate than other varieties. "You won't need to mask their flavor with cocktail sauce," says Clark. They're sometimes available fresh and live, but frozen headless ones are easier to find. SEASON: Late spring through summer.

SABLEFISH (BLACK COD) "It's a great 'starter' fish: rich, buttery, lovely," says Clark. "And it's hard to overcook." A small number of fish have a hard-to-detect enzyme that turns them to pudding when cooked; ask your purveyor to reimburse you if this happens. SEASON: Year-round; order ahead if your fish market doesn't stock it regularly.

SEARED SCALLOPS with TOMATO-FENNEL RELISH

SERVES 4 TO 6 AS AN APPETIZER / 1 1/2 HOURS

Clark sears these scallops quickly, so they develop a golden brown crust but stay tender and medium-rare inside. The relish is also terrific on toast, in an omelet, and with lamb.

12 large dry-packed sustainably farmed or diver-caught
scallops (see "Buy the Best," page 82)
About 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
4 large vine-ripened tomatoes or 5 whole canned tomatoes,
drained
3 tbsp. butter, divided
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 cup diced fennel bulb (about 1/2 bulb); save some
fronds for garnish
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
About 1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1. Lay scallops on a paper towel-lined plate and allow
to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Season
with 1/2 tsp. salt and let stand 5 more minutes.
"Seasoning before cooking develops the best  flavor,"
says Clark. Blot dry.

2. Meanwhile, make relish: If using fresh tomatoes,
dip them in a large pot of boiling water, 10 seconds.
Let cool, then peel. (If using canned tomatoes, don't
boil.) To seed tomatoes, simply cut them in half and
squeeze. Core and dice fine.

3. Heat 2 tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium
heat until it begins to brown. Add onion, fennel, and
a pinch of salt and cook until vegetables are soft,
about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes; add
cumin and cook 1 minute more, stirring often. Stir in
tomatoes and cook until sauce is glossy and thickened,
about 8 minutes. Stir in the remaining butter "to
emulsify the sauce a bit,"  then add parsley. Season
to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Heat a large frying pan (cast-iron is best; with
nonstick, you won't get a good crust) over medium-high
heat until hot. … 

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