When I first gave up meat several years ago, this included fish and seafood which overall made me vegan. It was incredibly difficult to live without fish in my diet, due to the restrictions which I already have because of intolerances...That and the fact that I was craving tuna, salmon and mackerel no end.
Cooking fish is often unstable ground for a lot of people, as good timing and an understanding of the different cooking methods are needed.
But if like me you are a pescetarian or a vegan/vegetarian who is considering re-introducing fish into your diet, there are several easy points which you can apply when cooking many different types of fish.
Three points to consider when preparing a fish dish are:
1. What form and type you are using. It could be a fillet of salmon or cod, which can often taste “fishier”, a meaty tuna steak or a whole, prepared seabass. If you are feeling a little bit more imaginative, then a bowl of mussels, or calamari rings may appeal to you.
If you are buying fresh fish, then always cook on the same day for the best results. However, frozen fish fillets are still good quality and often more affordable. If you are using mussels, you must let them soak in cold water for a while before cooking, any shells that open up at this point must be discarded and you should scrape off any barnacles or ‘beards’ before cooking.
2. The next stage to think about is flavour. There are endless possibilities when adding to the flavour of your fish with sauces, marinades, rubs and flavoured crumb toppings. My favourites include tuna steaks, lightly brushed in olive oil and then coated in spicy toasted, mixed seeds and cracked black pepper.
Ready made pots and sachets of different spice mixes from different cultures are a popular and effective method of adding heaps of colour and flavour to fish when you don’t have the time to pound away for several hours with a pestle and mortar. At the moment, the words “Cajun seabass” make me salivate. A fiery burnt orange rub, speckled with gold is rubbed all over the de-boned seabass and left to infuse before cooking. It really does make your kitchen smell amazing!
But sometimes, simplicity really does work best when cooking a more delicately flavoured fish. When cooking cod, I think a few lemon slices; lots of black pepper, a little oil and some chopped dill or parsley compliments it perfectly.
3. Finally your method of cooking. Many people think that steaming or poaching fish are the only reliable methods, but this is far from true. If you want to keep an eye on your fish to get the timing perfect and deliver a quick and tasty meal, pan frying is the best option. Tuna steaks are best cooked on a griddle pan as you can treat them the same as a beef steak and cook to order. Always brush the fish with oil, rather than heating the oil directly in the griddle pan. This will ensure even cooking and less chance of the oil spitting back.
The French introduced me to cooking fish “en papillote” which, when done right is absolutely delicious. The cod recipe above with lemon works best with this method, as you can place the fillet on a square of foil or baking paper with oiled sides, top it with your chosen flavour combination, or even sit on a bed of chopped fennel or finely sliced vegetables, before wrapping up like a parcel, leaving some space between the fish and the top of the package and placing in a hot oven. You need to do your homework with this one though and know how long it will take the fish to cook in the oven as you don’t want to be too eager and open your fish parcel to be disappointed by an under or over cooked fillet.
After a recent conversation with a vegetarian friend who has only just started eating fish again since cutting out all meat when she was young, I realised that for some, even knowing how to prepare a simple salad incorporating fish isn’t easy when you the flavours are unknown.
My favourite fish salad is one I enjoy several times a week, as it’s so quick to prepare, tastes great and is full of important protein and iron.
I love smoked mackerel, and after making a fresh summer salad, with all my favourite vegetables, I chop the fillet and place in the salad bowl, along with four crab sticks, cubed. For the dressing, I take a tumbler and place 5 or 6 tbsp balsamic vinegar, a tbsp extra virgin olive oil, a tsp of clear honey, a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a generous grind of black pepper. Whisk the dressing with a fork, pour over the entire fish salad and mix well. Leave the salad dressing to infuse into the dish for a few minutes before serving.
Glass of chilled Italian pinot grigio optional...but very tasty!