Thursday, October 20, 2005

Seafood is confusing

I've decided I should like fish. It's never appealed to me, but now, all of a sudden, it does. Blame it on the slowing, middle-aged metabolism (I am 22, after all, no spring chicken. Not that I've ever been much of a fan of chicken...) or simply getting tired of pasta, cheese, and vegetables every night. So, brilliant readers, some of whom might even be Ashkenazi Jews and thus blessed with those extra levels of intelligence beyond comprehension, I have some questions:

1) What types of fish are tasty? Striped bass looks intriguing but expensive. Salmon and tuna are so last season. "Chilean sea bass" is really a euphemism for "East River Scum," or something like that, right? Trout sounds appealing, but I've only ever had smoked trout, and am not sure what I'd do with a whole fish if I had it before me. Help!

2) Do you really have to go food-shopping every day if you eat fish for dinner? This would pose a problem. I enjoy a weekly trip to a farmers' market, the occasional search for mini-diet-Cokes, but beyond that, not so much. Does fish keep? Do I need to tell my roommates, forget the shower and bathtub, this is now an organic, free-trade fish farm? This may be hippie Brooklyn, but that would not go over well.

3) If I spend the rest of my life consuming only muffins, cappuccinos, apples, pasta, mozzarella, and arugula, will anything bad happen? Will I become nutritionally deficient, or will I end up the author of the formative text on the diet of the new millenium, that millennium being the one beginning either in 5000 or 5001, depending how you look at things?


Anonymous said...

ok phoebe...
You live with Katherine. She know Tess and Tess knows meat. I am absolutely sure that you can figure this out.

Anonymous said...

My supermarket sells fish that is frozen in vacuum sealed bags. This can be "fresher" than supposedly fresh fish. A good solution for those who wish to eat fish at home and can't shop daily. I order grilled salmon in restaurants though I haven't questioned (yet) whether it is wild or farmed salmon. -- JM

Anonymous said...

Phoebe, is there a Trader Joe's near you? They have flash-frozen fish that you can keep in the freezer until you want to eat it. I recommend tilapia to start. Pretty light and easy. Good luck in your new fish ventures, and I hope all else is well.

By the way, been reading your blog and loving it. Send me a note and let me know where you're working and anything else I haven't gathered from sporadic WWPD reading.

Anonymous said...

Trader Joe's has a delicious panko-crusted tilapia, but it's absolutely awful for you (something like 17 fat grams per serving). I think that orange roughy and halibut can be good ways to go that are not too pricey. "Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home" has some great fast and easy fish recipes -- esp. the "fish with saffron and garlic." However, the Moosewood cookbook is a bit older, so I always cut way back on butter/oil in the recipes. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I thought "seafood" meant crustacean. Anyway, I would be very wary of frozen fish, shrimp, etc.
Better to buy fresh and cook it the same day. Make sure it smells ok, eyes on whole fish are clear. Leftovers are fine to eat the next day. Then, back to pasta. Any kind of fish is easy to prepare. Get a whole but not giant fish (cleaned, head and tail left on), put whatever you like onto/into it--olive oil, lemon juice, herbs--wrap in foil and roast at high heat for twelve minutes or a little more, depending on size of fish. Porgies are good and cheap. You can prepare thick fillets (salmon, halibut) the same way, but with a mix of Chinese chili/garlic sauce, soy and shredded ginger instead of olive oil/herbs. Make sure foil packet is really closed, otherwise you'll have a mess in the oven.
Trout can be broiled but it's from rivers, isn't it? I think it's not the most fascinating fish.

Amy said...

Salmon and tilapia are good beginning choices because they're cheap and widely available.

Flounder, fluke, sole, and tilapia are all essentially interchangable in recipes. Also essentially interchangable are salmon and arctic char. And really, any whitefish can substitute for pretty much any other whitefish of similar thickness and flakiness.

As a beginning fish cook, you may want to avoid monkfish and bluefish, which are both fussy, and keep in mind that catfish, mahi-mahi, and skate all have distinctive flavors that make them less versatile in sauces.

Otherwise, buy fresh fish from high-volume stores that will have lots of turnover in their products, and use it as soon as possible. Frozen fish can be very good, but it can also be terrible. Look for vacuum-packed, flash-frozen filets or steaks--Trader Joe's (when it finally arrives in New York) is a good bet, but sometimes Whole Foods has good frozen fish as well.

So far as cooking fish goes, the two easiest methods are in a skillet with a bit of butter or olive oil over medium heat until it's just barely opaque in the center or in the oven on high heat (450-500 degrees) for about ten minutes per inch of thickness.

But yes, the single most important factor in cooking good fish is starting with fresh fish. So if you want to eat fish every day, you should shop every day or buy it frozen.

gabbiana said...

Mmmm, fish.

- Re: buying, you don't need to go food shopping every day, no. Just buy the frozen fish at Trader Joe's; it's cheap, and there's a great selection (tilapia, mahi-mahi, orange roughy for baking or steaming; tuna/halibut/swordfish if you're into steakier, grillworthy cuts; and I cannot praise the frozen calamari rings highly enough for stir-fry). All the fish you buy that appears not to be frozen has actually been frozen first (or so I've been told), so you're not really losing out.

- Re: cooking, I like to pull out a piece or two out of the freezer the night before I'm cooking and leave them in the fridge to thaw.

- Re: leftovers, I'm braver than anonymous #4 in that I'll eat fish I've cooked maybe three days before, so long as it's been consistently refrigerated, no one has been poking at it with dirty fingers/utensils, and I'm gonna nuke the hell out of it anyway. 'course, I also utilize a personal ten-second rule, so do what makes you comfortable.

Anonymous said...

Good NYM article on the basics of fish.

Stay away from tuna and swordfish because of the mercury problem. Here's a handy mercury calculator.

"If I spend the rest of my life consuming only muffins, cappuccinos, apples, pasta, mozzarella, and arugula, will anything bad happen?"

Yes. You will become logy.

Fish is good for you. And don't knock the old standby salmon. It may seem passe, but it's a handy staple.

And if you lived in an urban area instead of the suburbs, I'd tell you to order delivery from Win49 on a regular basis. Kickass fish bento boxes for $7. The yellowtail is yummy.

Anonymous said...


"I order grilled salmon in restaurants though I haven't questioned (yet) whether it is wild or farmed salmon."

It's farmed. Even if they tell you it's wild, it's still farmed.

"What types of fish are tasty?"

Catfish is cheap and fun to play with.

Anonymous said...

Oops -- I posted earlier, and I recommended orange roughy. It's not a great choice after all. Due to an increased demand for it from Asia, it has been overfished, and the numbers have diminished dramatically.

BTW, fresh fish is really only good if you're near the source. Frozen's a better option for most fish when you live in, say, Chicago, or if you want good salmon (unless you're in Alaska).

Anonymous said...

As a fellow relatively recent convert to fish eating, my advice is to start with white-fleshed fish, salmon and red trout. Hard to get too specific as I now live in the UK, and have noticed that the varieties of fish commonly available are quite different.

In terms of how to cook the whole trout, I like to buy a smallish fish, stuff the cavity with fresh parsley, dill and/or tarragon and slices of unwaxed lemon (wax tastes nasty - bitter voice of experience) and steam it for 10 mins or so. Steaming makes the fish very tender, and means you don't need any oil. If you don't have a steamer, you can wrap the fish in foil. To get fancy, make a foil 'baking bag' and splash in some dry white wine and a bit of olive oil along with your herbs and lemon. Make sure you oil the bag as well.

As for freshness, I would only ever buy one day in advance when it comes to fish. Nothing nastier than off fish, both in terms of taste and what it does to your stomach. Not worth it.

Anonymous said...

"BTW, fresh fish is really only good if you're near the source. Frozen's a better option for most fish when you live in, say, Chicago, or if you want good salmon (unless you're in Alaska)."

Almost all fish you buy has been frozen, even if you live on the coasts. The fish gets flash frozen out on the boat.

Fisherman said...

In my opinion any kind of seafood is good and tasty.