seafood

Ocean Perch Tacos

BY BILL ST. JOHN

For certain foods — wings, dogs, spicy eats, or, as here, fish tacos — the default beverage is beer, by wide acclaim. What beer does is refresh and cleanse the palate. Wine can do that too, especially if it carries bracing acidity.

You'll need:
2 skinned ocean perch fillets (6 ounces each)
1 bag (16 ounces) shredded cabbage and carrots
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Olive oil
1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin and chili powder
1/4 teaspoon each dried oregano and salt
6 (or more, if small) flour tortillas

Makes 6 servings

Make a coleslaw: Stir together in a bowl the shredded cabbage and carrots, the onion, mayonnaise, cider vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside. Place perch fillets on a lightly greased broiler pan; brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with the cumin and chili powder, the dried oregano and salt; rest 15 minutes. Broil fish until lightly browned. Flake with a fork in a bowl. Fill 6 heated tortillas with shredded fish; top with coleslaw.

POACHED MAHI MAHI

BY BILL ST. JOHN

Mahi-mahi — like swordfish, shark, and tuna — is actually a cow that swims. These fish are meat: chewy, textured, and amenable to various ways with cooking heat. My mother used to poach, at a super low simmer, large filets of salmon in what I considered to be an unholy amount of dry white wine. But no one ever has equaled how tender the result. It was like pudding with gills. With its sweet taste and firm flesh, mahi-mahi also lends itself well to poaching.

Poached Mahi-mahi
6 servings

Ingredients
6 5-ounce skinless mahi-mahi fillets (each about 1 and 1/2 inches thick)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups bottled clam juice
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1/2 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
Fresh fennel fronds

Directions
Pat dry the mahi-mahi fillets; salt and pepper them. In large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook 3 filets only on one side only until brown; transfer to plate. Repeat with other 3 fillets.

Combine the clam juice and white wine with 4-5 lemon slices, the garlic cloves, and the red pepper flakes in heavy large skillet. Cover, simmer for 10 minutes. Add all the fish, browned side up, and any juices, and cover and simmer until fish is opaque in center (about 10 minutes).

Transfer fish with slotted spoon to platter. Add the shrimp to cooking liquid; simmer until shrimp are just cooked through. Transfer shrimp to fish platter; Keep warm with foil tent.

Remove garlic and lemon slices from cooking liquid; boil until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Serve garnished with the fennel fronds and drizzled with the sauce.

Swordfish Poached in Olive Oil

Serves 4

Ingredients
4 swordfish steaks or other suitable cuts, each 1-inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4-6 cups good quality but modestly priced olive oil (see note)
Straight-sided pan large enough to hold all fish in 1 layer

Directions
Bring fish up to room temperature if removing from refrigerator, at least 1 hour ahead. Heat oven to 225F. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Pour oil into pan and heat over stovetop burner until oil is 120-130F (use instant-read thermometer). Slip pieces of fish into pan and immediately place in oven. Let poach for 25 minutes. To serve: remove fish with slotted spatula or spoon.

Note: It's not necessary, of course, to use your expensive drizzling oil for this recipe. Also, you may filter the oil, once used, for another fish poaching; it will remain OK in the frig for a couple of weeks, in the freezer for a couple months.

Tips on buying, storing and cooking fish:

— When buying fresh, stretch out your thumb and first finger. Fresh fish must feel like the pad of flesh in between them, never mushy like the same pad when relaxed. 

— If the fish seller allows you to sniff, it should smell neutral, at most like a sea breeze and, of course, never “fishy.” If the seller won't let your nose near the fish, see if she will fan its aroma toward your schnoz. 

— A whole fish makes for cool cooking, so don't shy away from buying such. Taut skin and scales; bright red, moist gills; shiny clear eyes - all are good signs. 

— It’s risky to refrigerate fish for more than a day after you buy it. After the trip to the store, keep it in a closed plastic bag set atop a bowl of smashed ice. Use the back of the lowest shelf above the bottom bins, the coldest place in the icebox.

— Keep on the skin of more delicate types of fresh fish (sole, flounder, halibut) and also salmon. The skin not only helps hold the fish together when eventually cooking it, but also adds flavor. (Score skin lightly with a very sharp knife or razor blade when cooking to prevent curling under the heat.)

— With certain sorts of fish (for example, salmon), when preparing to cook, run your fingertip over the filet to feel for "pin" bones, little pesky pains that run perpendicular to the backbone or rib cage and that lie hidden in the flesh. Remove them with tweezers, pulling "along and away" more than up and out.

— Patting fish dry before cooking ensures crispness of both skin and flesh.

— When cooking fish, many cooks adhere to the "10 minutes per inch" injunction; that is, whatever the method, they cook fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness of the flesh. 

— But that adherence rules out considerations such as the firmness or fat content of the fish (or, looked at another way, the delicacy or leanness), or whether, in some methods of cooking over direct heat, the left-on skin provides, in effect, a heat shield.

— It's better to tailor the cooking method - sautéing or frying in a pan; deep-fat frying; roasting or baking; poaching; or grilling - to the type of fish.

— For example, the more tender chicks of the sea such as flounder, sole or halibut are well suited to sautéing, ill-suited for grilling (unless they are the whole kahuna, nose to tail and both sides now). Grilling is great for “the cows that swim” that are tuna, swordfish, mahi-mahi or, often, salmon. Their firm, sometimes-fatty flesh is like fish beefsteak. 

— Packets of fish, in crimped parchment paper (“en papillote”) in the oven, are ideal for fish such as cod, pollock, sole, haddock, snapper, halibut, trout, char — in short, many a white fish and any that are delicately fleshed. 

— Slowly poaching in the oven - submerged in a court bouillon, or white wine, or good quality olive oil - filets of firm-fleshed fish such as salmon, tuna or swordfish, turns out such diaphanously delicate fish flesh that it's like pudding with gills.

— If you bake or broil fish, be sure the flesh is dense, firm and well-fatted. The latter character will baste the fish as it cooks.

Basic Sear-Roasted Salmon

Basic Sear-Roasted Salmon

My friends, Marv and Renée Rockford, prepare salmon this way nearly every Friday night. Needless to say, they get their filets from Marczyk’s; “always,” says Marv. “[Their] salmon is so good and adapts to this recipe so well.”

You’ll need a spatula to slide each filet onto a plate, but from then on, no need for utensils (well, unless you want to carry the morsels to your mouth with something other than your fingers …). I like to squish each bite against the roof of my mouth - they’re that pillowy - and look forward to the (inevitable) day when my yapper is free of teeth and all that I have to chew with is my tongue.

Walleye Poached in White Wine

Makes 6 servings

This is a novel way to poach filets of fish. The recipe’s keys are two: a super-low simmer and an unholy amount of dry white wine. Unlike other poaching methods that use slightly more boisterous heat, the result is an excruciatingly tender filet. It’s like pudding with gills.

Because most white wine is high in acidity, it’s wise to avoid using cast iron for this preparation. Also, many other types of fish lend themselves to this poach: salmon especially; halibut, snapper, mahi-mahi; and coho.

Bring a bottle (or more, depending on how much fish you will cook) of dry white wine to a soft boil in a large flat pan or skillet; lower heat to a bare simmer and add a good pinch of salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Add 6 walleye filets, about 1/2 pound apiece, at room temperature; cook through, until the fish is opaque, never allowing the liquid to boil above a very low, bare simmer, about 15-20 minutes. Gently lift the filets with a slotted spatula and serve.

An exotic take: Before adding the wine, in the dry pan, toast until fragrant 2 teaspoons coriander seeds and a short length of cinnamon stick; remove and set aside. Sauté a tablespoon of garlic-ginger paste (available at Indian markets) in a tablespoon of oil or ghee, add back the toasted spices and proceed as above.

Put to bed: Place the finished filets on a bed of mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed cauliflower or sautéed green leafy vegetables. Reduce 1/2 cup of the poaching liquid to 1/4 cup and spoon a bit of the sauce on each filet and its bed.

Note: If you’d rather not use up your white wine stores - or if you shun alcohol for personal or religious reasons - the walleye also may be poached in exactly the same manner in a medium of slowly simmering olive oil. No need to use flavorful extra virgin olive oil here; any good quality “pure” olive oil will do nicely.

~ Bill St. John