Plunge into the Art of Seafood Cooking for Lent

By Karen Kane Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT), March 7, 2017 | Go to article overview

Plunge into the Art of Seafood Cooking for Lent


Karen Kane Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)


Take a breath: We're jumping with both feet into the deep waters of seafood cooking.

For many, the preparation of fish and other treasures from the sea is akin to swimming in uncharted waters. But, it is Lent, which means that many will abstain from meat on Fridays until Easter. So it's an especially good time to take the plunge.

Henry Dewey and John McNally, two of the Pittsburgh's most experienced fishmongers, will hold our hands. They understand.

"I'd say that at least 50 percent of the people who come to our counter are nervous. They're actually afraid. And they're the ones (who had the courage) to come to the counter," said McNally, the seafood manager for the ever-bustling Wholey's fish market in Pittsburgh.

Dewey, the proprietor of Penn Avenue Fish Co., which has multiple locations in Pittsburgh, agreed. "A lot of our customers say right out that they're afraid they're going to screw it up," he said.

The men echo each other in their advice to those who feel like fish out of water when it comes to cooking seafood:

1. Relax.

2. Reach out to your fishmonger.

3. Keep it simple -- be it shellfish or fillets.

Perhaps the first obstacle to overcome is the sticker-shock. The price-per-pound of many types of seafood can be off-putting, especially if you're reaching for Dewey's $50-a-pound in-season salmon or Wholey's $24-a-pound fresh Chilean sea bass. "No one wants to sink that kind of money into dinner then be afraid they're going to screw it up," Dewey acknowledged.

So the purchase must be made with a sense of confidence that the meal will turn out well, no matter the cost, but especially if the cost is comparatively high.

There are simple strategies for success.

Often the main impediment to serving a delicious seafood dinner is overcooking, and so, seek the advice of the experts. "We'll actually write it on the paper we wrap the fish in. We know the thickness of the fillet we're selling and we'll indicate very precisely how long to cook it," Dewey said. McNally said he and his team behind the counter follow suit.

Another way to take the guesswork out of the equation is to use an inexpensive cooking thermometer. The FDA recommends an internal temperature for seafood of 145 degrees. The experienced cook eventually will recognize doneness by sight (the opague appearance of a scallop, for example) and feel (the ease of using a fork to flake the center of a cod fillet, for instance).

Then comes the matter of cost.

Some items simply might be cost-prohibitive, depending on an individual's budget. But, there is more than one fish in the sea. If one type is too expensive, pick another. McNally points to the scores of varieties behind his expansive counter and the price point runs the gamut. Dewey offers fish "ends" -- a mix of pieces from some of the most expensive fillets in the store -- at $6.99 a pound, perfect for fish tacos.

Staples at Wholey's are what McNally refers to as "value products" such as whiting at $2.50 a pound, a special on a recent week, and frozen tilapia filets at $3.98 a pound, a regular feature.

A consideration when it comes to cost is the lack of waste in products sold, said Dewey, who points out that the majority of seafood being sold at his counter is going at an "already-prepped" price per pound. "It's 100 percent utilization. No trimming or cleaning. There's absolutely no waste (for the buyer,)" Dewey said.

He emphasized that little is needed in the way of accoutrements to raise the seafood to its highest form: a splash of dry white wine, a pat of butter, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, some salt and pepper -- perhaps a bit of minced garlic or shallot or some soft or toasted breadcrumbs.

"I know people think it's hard. But, really, cooking fish is one of the easiest things to do in the kitchen," Dewey said. "Once you buy the fish, you're in the home stretch."

A suggestion for some tasty, economical compromises

Wholey's seafood manager, John McNally, offers the following tips for economizing, beyond shopping for specials. …

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