Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cooking Salmon with Julia

In answer to a recent comment from one of my houseguests about "smelly" fish, this is a photo tutorial on cooking fish. Rather than e-mail a lot of photos, I've put it here for them and whoever else might want to know how to cook fish with little or no residual odor.

I saw fish cooked this way on an old Julia Child cooking show. Actually, in the show, Julia was poaching a fish. There was a french chef on the show who cooked a fish in a skillet on the stove. Since I've seen that show, I've followed his method dozens of times, with great success. Here's how I recently prepared a piece of salmon:

I use a large non-stick skillet with a lid. Size is not important, as long as the piece of fish fits into it. A glass lid is nice, but not essential. Non-stick is nice, but not essential. All that is required is a skillet with a lid.

I buy almost all my fish frozen because I think it is probably fresher than the "fresh" fish in the supermarket, which has likely been thawed by the market. The thawed fish is convenient, but I suspect that some of it might sit at the seafood counter longer than I'd like. If a fish isn't fresh, it does smell, so please be sure it is very fresh or is frozen. Frozen means it hasn't been kept too long by the store. I find it both reassuring and convenient to buy it frozen, since it doesn't take long for fish to thaw.

The package shown above represents a brand sold at our local grocery. There's a lot of different types of fish sold in this packaging. Some of them are seasoned. Those are fine--I just avoid them because I am on a low-salt diet.

To prepare the fish, I cut it out of the wrapper after it is thawed and wash it, removing any scales that might be left on the skin. Salmon is sold with the skin still on it. For this method of cooking, the skin does not have to be removed. I always put the wrapper in a small grocery bag rather than my kitchen trash can. (I'll explain why at the end of this post.)

After a little wash in cool water, I dry it with a paper towel and season it with lemon pepper. Parsley and a few red pepper flakes are nice, but optional, addition.

Meanwhile, I've put the skillet on low to medium heat and put a bit of butter and olive oil in it, about a half tablespoon of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. (I haven't measured, so I'm not sure, but I don't think the quantity matters much.)

Then I put the salmon in the skillet, skin side down, and let it cook for a few minutes. After about 5 or 10 minutes, it will look cooked, the flesh will be a lighter color and there may be drippings oozing out of it. At this point, I lift the lid and poke it with a fork. If it flakes easily and is fairly dry, I consider it done. If it is still a little soft and juicy, I leave it for a few more minutes. I like my fish well-done, but that's a matter of taste.

When it is done enough, I move the fish to a serving plate with a spatula. Then I deglaze the pan by adding a little lemon juice and stirring. The pan will be very hot and should deglaze quickly. At the altitude at which I live, the lemon juice nearly evaporates. I often have to add a little water to compensate. Altogether, though, I'm just adding a tablespoon or so of liquid.

Then I pour the liquid from the pan over the fish. No doubt this adds a good bit of fat, but that's what the french chef did. I suppose this is one serving, but K and I share this, happily pulling sections of the fish away from the skin (it separates easily) and placing it on our plates, along with our side dishes.

The side dishes at this meal were fried rice and a curry stir fry, with lots of vegetables, tofu, and spices to make them both healthy and delicious.

After dinner, be sure to put the skin and any uneaten fish parts in the small grocery bag with the fish wrapper. Then put the bag in the outside garbage bin to get it out of the kitchen. Rinse the dishes so that they are not a source of odor. That, along with keeping a lid on the pan during cooking, keeps the fish smell out of my kitchen.

I encourage you to try this cooking method with any firm type of fish. I've used it with trout and cod with good results. Tilapia, I find, is too soft for this and falls apart. Tuna does well, but I prefer it on the grill.

I hope this post encourages my "smelly fish" hating houseguests to try cooking fish again. Look for more sightseeing and knitting next.
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Laura said...

Mmmm, great post. Thank you for the step-by-step details. I live in a good region for fresh fish. Love the convenience of frozen but I haven't found the best way to thaw frozen fish (unless that involves planning the night before).

Another tip for keeping fish-smells at bay: I keep a (lightly) scented candle in my kitchen which I light when I cook fish and keep on for a few hours.

Wool Winder said...

Putting everything associated with the raw fish in the outside trashcan is the key.

Marjorie said...

I do something like that, but in the oven. I just line a baking dish with some aluminum foil, brush it with olive oil, add wine and white vermouth (and whatever else seems appropriate--herbs, tomatoes), and then I bake at about 400 for up to a half hour. I've never noticed a fishy smell from cooking it this way.

I can't use non-stick pans because of the birds, so baking is simpler for me.

I learned to cook fish from James Beard (any book will do, but there is one devoted only to fish). It is really comprehensive and has lots of simple was to make great fish dishes.