Welcome to Djalali Cooks, it’s great you’re here today! Lovely reader, Mari requested an Ingredient Spotlight on Fish, and I thought, no time like the present. It’s not always easy to find good fish at the supermarket. Some of us live in cities with great fish counters, but a lot of us do not. A lot of us don’t live in coastal places, either. So for today’s Ingredient Spotlight on Fish we will look at a few kinds of fish; recommendations for buying fish, and a few fish recipes.
White-fleshed fish are typically mild in flavor and flaky in texture. Because of their mild flavor, a lot of folks who aren’t big fish fans often do like white fish. White fish can be dredged and fried, cooked in a stew or soup, steamed in a parchment pouch, and grilled or baked for a satisfyingly moist, tender and healthy alternative to red meat. White-flesh fish exist in two varieties: round-bodied fish and flat-bodied fish.
Round White Fish
Cod is a white fish that is very mild in flavor. When looking for cod at the supermarket, look for moist-looking flesh that is completely white, with no dark spots. Try to buy wild-caught Pacific cod from Alaska (often called grey cod), or farmed Atlantic cod.
Pacific Cod and Summer Vegetables was cooked in a foil packet in the oven. Foil packet cooking is great for thick cuts of fish; it steams and braises the fish with the vegetables, their juices keeping the fish moist and tender. It’s a fool proof way to get perfectly tender, well-cooked fish.
Haddock is very similar in flavor and texture to cod, so it’s a good substitute if you can’t find a good piece of cod. It is often used in fish and chips recipes. And it’s great in a seafood soup or stew. Look for haddock from the Northeastern waters of Russia, Canada, Norway or Iceland.
For this Cioppino, I used cod, but any flaky white fish works beautifully. Try Haddock, Halibut, or Bass.
I think pollock is often overlooked at the supermarket; we tend to see pollock in fish sticks and masquerading as “imitation crab”. But it’s very high in protein and vitamin B12; it’s also very low in fat; and it has the highest amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids of most white-flesh fish. Try to buy Alaskan pollock, it comes from one of the largest sustainably-certified fisheries in the world.
Flat White Fish
Personally, halibut is my favorite white-flesh fish. For years, I lived in Homer, Alaska which is known as the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World. So I ate a lot of halibut. Lol. But halibut is versatile and mild, it works in all kinds of recipes from beer battered fish and chips, to seafood stews. Steamed, grilled, fried, or baked; halibut is the king of white-flesh fish, in my book. Buying sustainably farmed or line-caught halibut is recommended to avoid harmful by-catch practices by some commercial fisheries. I always go with wild, line-caught Alaska Halibut.
Halibut is incredibly versatile. I have two recipes with two very different preparations, to show you the range of a good piece of halibut. Mediterranean Poached Halibut is similar to the foil packet cooking method, but we are using a lot more liquid to poach, rather than braise the fish. It’s a healthy, flavorful recipe along the lines of the Mediterranean diet.
The other preparation is Halibut Ceviche, a South American method for “cooking” the fish with the acid from lime juice. The lime juice denatures the protein in the fish, thereby turning it opaque and firm – essentially cooking it. This is a very fresh-tasting dish, it’s clean and light. Perfect as an appetizer with a big basket of tortilla chips.
Flounder is a flat fish, like halibut. It’s often labelled as “Sole” at the grocery store. But true sole is not found in North American waters. Sometimes you can find Dover Sole, which is from European waters, and therefore a bit more expensive. Look for Arrowtooth flounder or Butter Sole.
Who doesn’t love a good old fish fry? For this Fish Fry, I found Dover Sole, but butter sole, or flounder works great. Also, you can use catfish or tilapia. Really, any thin fillet of white fish will work for a fish fry.
Salmon’s health benefits like omega-3 fatty acids make it one of the most popular fishes at the supermarket. But did you know that farmed salmon has higher ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, making it higher in calories and fat than wild salmon? Plus, the use of antibiotics in farmed salmon is unclear. Another issue is the pollution created by farming salmon in unsustainable ways. So, I only buy wild-caught Alaska Salmon. You can buy the good stuff online and support sustainable, local Alaska fishermen, check out Salmon Sisters. At the grocery store, look for wild-caught Coho, Sockeye and Chinook.
In this White Wine Poached Salmon recipe we employ yet another method of poaching, using a cartouche, which is a piece of parchment with a steam hole cut in the center. The parchment paper sits directly on the fish and the poaching liquid, the parchment evens out and slows the rate of evaporation. Because the parchment does not conduct heat like a pot lid, the steam retains more of its heat and energy, resulting in a more even and quicker cook.
Trout looks similar to salmon, but it is a freshwater fish, while salmon is a saltwater fish (for most of its life). There are many types of trout. Rainbow trout is what I see most often at the grocery store, but it can also be labelled as Arctic Char. Again, look for moist flesh without any dry-looking spots.
Tuna is an incredibly popular fish, so popular that the global tuna market is valued at around $40 billion. This demand for tuna has resulted in overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices. In fact, the population of Pacific Bluefin Tuna has declined by over 95% since commercial fishing of this ocean predator kicked into full swing in the 1950’s.
I rarely buy tuna at the fish counter, preferring instead to buy sustainably harvested oil-packed canned tuna. If you can’t be sure of its origin, buying tuna steaks at the fish counter means that you cannot be sure of whether it was caught sustainably. Whole Foods does a great job of providing this information at the fish counter, but if you don’t have access to a store like Whole Foods, don’t be afraid to ask the fishmonger questions about where the tuna came from. And get the Seafood Watch app by The Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a great resource for knowing which type of fish you should buy and where it came from.
So, as I mentioned above, if I am hungry for tuna, I reach for a can of sustainably caught yellow fin or albacore tuna packed in olive oil. Mediterranean Tuna Salad is a fantastic recipe for canned tuna. Basically a tuna noodle salad, it takes everything up a notch with Mediterranean flavors and ingredients, like cool cucumber, feta and olives.
Perhaps one of the most elegant toasts I have ever made, Niçoise Toast puts the flavors of a classic Niçoise salad on thick toasted slices of crusty bread. Another unexpected and fantastic way to take advantage of oil packed tuna. If you have memories or dry canned tuna, needing a ton a mayo to make it less dry, reach for oil-packed tuna. Oil-packed tuna is moist and luxurious, a whole different can of tuna from water-packed.
A Few Fish Tips
- Don’t be afraid to try a new-to-you fish.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the fishmonger questions about the fish behind the counter.
- Always look for moist flesh, without dry spots.
- Fresh fish should not smell fishy, if it does, it’s not fresh.
- If you go for a whole fish, look at the eyes – they are the window to freshness; bright, bulging eyes mean fresh.
- Try to buy locally-caught fish.
- Use the Seafood Watch app and website to make good fish choices and to learn more about sustainable seafood.
Thank you for joining me today for this Ingredient Spotlight on Fish. I hope you found it helpful and informative. Catch up on other installments of my Ingredient Spotlight series. See you tomorrow, take care and be well. xo Kelly