Seafood For Beginners...or...The ABC's of Seafood
The thought of cooking fish quite commonly strikes fear into hearts of the uninitiated. No other food seems to provoke this reaction. Give someone a steak and even the most inept cook has no hesitation to throw it on the BBQ or put it in a frying pan. Give that same person a nice fish fillet or god forbid a creature complete with head and fins and they run for the hills.

The truth is buying, storing, preparing and cooking fish is dead easy. A good quality fish requires very little preparation. A good quality fish needs almost nothing to let the flavour shine. A little butter or oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and voila - heaven on a plate.
Don't let childhood memories put you off. You needn't endlessly pick through fish looking for little bones - buy a boneless fillet. Another complaint is that fish are 'fishy'. In many cases fishy fish has been mishandled. It's already started to turn hence the gamey flavour. Even fresh fish that have robust and fuller flavours don't have to taste fishy. Many mild tasting fish such as Flounder, Turbot, Blue Cod and Orange Roughy have subtle shellfish type flavours.
The Healthy Alternative
So why eat fish?
Seafood is high in protein and low in energy making it ideal for health conscious people. Seafood contains valuable minerals and essential vitamins which are the building blocks of good health. It is easily digested and the consumption of seafood has been linked to reduced heart disease, improved development of brain and nervous system development in children.
Species such as Tuna and Mackeral are high in oil. Generally speaking whiter fleshed fish have lower oil levels but there are some exceptions. Tarakihi and Orange Roughy have white flesh and relatively high in oil content. The oils are mainly unsaturated and some are highly polyunsaturated.
There has been considerable research into the properties and formation of fatty acids present in seafood and some of this research reveals that fish oil lowers cholesterol levels and prevents hardening of the arteries
Omega 3 oils produce a series of eicosanoids that have been shown to decrease the risk for heart disease, inflammatory processes and certain cancers. Omega 3 provide additional heart-healthy benefits by:
-Decreasing blood lipids (cholesterol, LDL's, and triglycerides)
-Decreasing blood clotting factors
-Increasing beneficial relaxation in larger arteries and blood vessels
-Decreasing inflammatory processes in blood vessels
The Omega 3 oils found in certain types of seafood, especially Salmon, have also been linked to improvements in or prevention of certain kinds of cancer, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, arthritis, asthma, certain kinds of mental illness, depression and lupus erythematosus.
Children who eat fish more than once a week have a third the risk of AHR [airway hyper-responsiveness or asthma] of children who do not eat fish regularly. ...These data suggest that the consumption of oily fish may protect against asthma in childhood.
Purdue University researchers have found that boys with low blood levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids, have a greater tendency to have problems with behaviour, learning and health consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or (ADHD).
Some previous studies by other researchers have indicated that symptoms associated with a deficiency in fatty acids are exhibited to a greater extent in children with ADHD. Those symptoms include thirst, frequent urination and dry skin and hair. The Purdue researchers, however, were able to pinpoint omega-3s as the fatty acids that may be associated with the unique behaviour problems in children with ADHD.
So now that we know why we should eat fish what should we do with it. Here are some tips.
Storing Fish
Some shellfish such as greenshell mussels, cockles, pipis and- sometimes oysters are purchased live in the shell. Others such as scallops, most oysters and paua are generally available out of their shell and sometimes frozen. Rock lobsters and crabs are generally purchased live, cooked or frozen.
ROCK LOBSTERS should be purchased live or freshly cooked. When buying them live, choose energetic ones which flap vigorously when picked up don't choose lethargic ones. When buying cooked lobsters look at the tail- it should be tucked firmly up against the underside of the body and if you straighten it out the taiI should snap back into place when it's released. If the tail is hanging limp, it's a fair indication the lobster has been handled incorrectly or has died too long before cooking.
If rock lobsters are purchased live they are best killed as soon as possible because enzymic action causes great change in the flavour and texture of the flesh. Rock lobsters may be killed by:
- Drowning - place in fresh cold water for about 20 minutes. Once it's dead cook the lobster as soon as possible.
- Chilling - place in a freezer for about 30 minutes. This slows down the lobster making it easy to handle and it can then be cooked (in boiling water or stock) or killed by knifing.
- Knifing - hold lobster underside down on a bench or board and quickly pierce between the eyes with a sharp knife or cleaver. Continue the cut down through the full length of the body and tail. Alternatively, remove the tail by cutting through the soft part where the tail joins the body.
Do not kill lobsters by plunging the live creature into boiling water - it causes the legs to drop off and the flesh to toughen.
CRABS should be purchased live or freshly cooked. !f buying them live, make sure their legs and claws are moving vigorously. When buying cooked crabs check that the legs or claws spring back when unfolded and released. If they hang limp they have been handled incorrectly. Live crabs are best killed by:
- Placing in warm water and being brought to the boil.
- Drowning - by placing in fresh cold water for about 20 minutes - if you want to use the raw meat.
Fresh or frozen meat may be purchased but it has to be cooked before being eaten. The fresh crab meat should be used as soon as possible but the frozen meat can be stored frozen for up to 4 months.
For the best quality and shelf life, live mussels and other bivalves should be stored between + 2°C and + 4°C under a cover of melting ice. It is important that the ice does not make direct contact with the shellfish. Place the shellfish in a container (preferably one with drainage holes) cover with a towel or sacking, and then cover with ice. The container should be kept in a cool spot but not in the refrigerator. The melting ice keeps the shellfish at the correct temperature but the water must be drained off and the ice replenished. The shellfish may be kept for a short time in the warmer part of the refrigerator but their quality is not maintained when they are stored like this.
Shellfish die if they are stored at temperatures that are either too high or too low. If they are covered with fresh water for a long period of time they wiII drown . To test if mussels, cockles or pipis are alive before cooking, leave them at room temperature for 20 minutes then tap lightly or hold under fresh running water until they close. If the shell remains open about one centimeter, the mussel is dead - discard it. Mussel flesh or meat should be stored in the coolest part of the refrigerator.
Scallops and oysters are generally purchased out of the shell. They should be stored in the refrigerator and used as soon as possible. If purchased live they should be handled in the same manner as mussels.
Fish cooks very quickly and will lose its natural succulence if overcooked. Many recipes state a certain cooking time for a given weight but this doesn't account for how the weight is distributed. A more accurate method of gauging the length of cooking time is to measure the depth of the fish flesh at its thickest part and use the times listed below.
This method of cooking suits all types of fish. It may be baked in the oven either whole, filleted or as steaks - baking is an excellent way to cook whole fish. The fish can be baked either 'dry' or in liquid.
Baking 'Dry'
Score the surface of the fish with a sharp knife and place in a well-oiled dish. If the fish is an oily variety, brush with lemon juice. Always baste the fish throughout cooking, until the fish is browned and tender. Bake at 180°C-190°C, using the times listed below as a guide.
1 cm depth8 minutes17 minutes
2 cm depth11 minutes22 minutes
3 cm depth15 minutes35 minutes
4 cm depth20 minutes39 minutes
Baking in Liquid
Place fish in an ovenproof dish. Cover with liquid such as a tomato, milk or stock-based mixture. Cook at 190°C for approximately the times listed below.
1 cm depth8 minutes17 minutes
2 cm depth11 minutes22 minutes
3 cm depth15 minutes35 minutes
4 cm depth20 minutes39 minutes
Foil Baking or 'En Papillotte'
This method of cooking is suitable for all species. Cut the foil or greaseproof paper large enough to wrap individual fillets, steaks or whole fish. (If you wish, sautë the fish briefly before placing it on the paper or foil). Season the fish with salt and pepper, fresh herbs onion, tomato, lemon, orange or mushrooms. Grease the foil and bring the edges of the foil or paper together and fold tightly to form a seal. You can also brush the paper with lightly beaten egg white to make sure the seal is air tight. Bake at 220°C using times as below.
1 cm depth8 minutes17 minutes
2 cm depth11 minutes22 minutes
3 cm depth15 minutes35 minutes
4 cm depth20 minutes39 minutes
Suitable for all species except some of the more oily fish.
Shallow Frying
Dry the fish then coat with seasoned flour - do not allow the floured fish to become damp or sticky as this makes it stick to the bottom of the pan. Seafood may be floured only, or it can be battered or crumbed. It must always first be floured to make sure an extra coating sticks. If using breadcrumbs, allow the coating to set before cooking.
The best side of the fish should be cooked first as it will appear uppermost on the plate. Place the fish in fat, oil or butter hot enough to seal the surface of the fish, otherwise it'll absorb the cooking oil and lose its juices.
1 cm depth4 minutes7 minutes
2 cm depth7 minutes11 minutes
3 cm depth10 minutes15 minutes
4 cm depth13 minutes18 minutes
Deep Frying
Dry the fish then coat with either seasoned flour, batter, egg or egg and breadcrumbs before frying. The fat must be hot enough to seal the surface of the fish and prevent the fish losing flavour and absorbing the cooking fat.
1 cm depth3 minutes4 minutes
2 cm depth4 minutes6 minutes
3 cm depth6 minutes10 minutes
4 cm depth8 minutes14 minutes
Suitable for most cuts and types of fish. If using whole fish cut gashes through the skin to allow the heat to penetrate. Brush with oil, butter or marinade to keep the fish moist during cooking. For a crisper coating, dust the fish with seasoned flour before cooking. Place over a preheated grill or barbecue, or under a salamander. Place 5-10cm from the source of heat.
1 cm depth5 minutes (in total)12 minutes
2 cm depth6 minutes15 minutes
3 cm depth9 minutes24 minutes
4 cm depth11 minutes28 minutes
Suitable for all species - although take care with delicate textured species. Poached fish is cooked in a seasoned liquid held at just below boiling point (i.e. simmering). The simmering temperature for water is usually 93-95°C - the boiling point is 100°C.
Whole fish should be poached by placing the fish in cold liquid, bringing it to just below boiling point and simmering it until cooked. If the fish is to be served cold, bring the fish to boiling point then remove the pan from the heat and allow the fish to cool in the poaching liquid.
Cuts of fish should be placed in a simmering liquid. This effectively 'seals' the fish and stops the juices from escaping and coagulating into a white coating on the cut surface of the fish.
Fish may be shallow or deep poached. When fish is shallow poached the cooking liquid barely covers the fish and it is usually used to make a sauce. Times given below are for cuts of fish placed in hot poaching liquid.
1 cm depth8 minutes (in total)10 minutes
2 cm depth10 minutes15 minutes
3 cm depth12 minutes22 minutes
4 cm depth13 minutes28 minutes
Suitable for all types of fish. Place the seasoned fish in a perforated steamer or on a heatproof plate over a saucepan of gently boiling water. The fish must be covered tightly during cooking.
1 cm depth3 minutes (in total)5 minutes
2 cm depth7 minutes11 minutes
3 cm depth11 minutes13 minutes
4 cm depth14 minutes16 minutes
Suitable for all types of fish.
Arrange fish in shallow serving dish with the thickest parts to the outside edges of the dish. If you wish, brush the fish with butter or lemon juice or cover it with sauce. Don't add salt or pepper before cooking - this often overpowers the natural seafood flavour.
Cover the dish with a damp paper towel or plastic wrapping with holes for ventilation to keep the fish moist while cooking. If cooking from frozen use the low or defrost power range to start, then cook at normal power. Fish that contains a high percentage of water should be cooked at a lower power and pierced several times with a fork to allow the steam to escape. It's advisable to test the fish by gently cooking it. Lower the power and pierce it if the fish starts to explode or spit while cooking
Don't use the microwave to shallow or deep fry or to reheat fried foods as the coating doesn't turn crisp and using fat in a microwave is too dangerous.
Calculating cooking time for a microwave is more complicated than for conventional cooking methods. This is because cooking time in a microwave depends on both the thickness of the fish and the overall quantity of fish being cooked. For instance, 500g offish 2cm thick will take longer to cook than 200g of fish the same thickness.
As well, the temperature of food cooked in a microwave actually rises when the food is taken out of the microwave, and it continues to cook on standing. For this reason - and because a microwave cooks extremely quickly anyway - it's better to underestimate the cooking time for fish, rather than over estimating and running the risk of overcooking the fish. Cooking times for 1 fillet (150g) offish:
1 cm depth1 minutes (in total)1 minute defrost1.5 minute cook
2 cm depth1.5 minutes (in total)1 minute defrost1.5 minute cook
3 cm depth2.5 minutes (in total)2 minutes defrost1.5 minute cook
4 cm depth3 minutes (in total)2 minutes defrost1.5 minute cook
Suitable for all medium to firm textured species. It is an ideal method of cooking fish to be served cold with salads. Soused fish may be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Make a sousing liquid of vinegar or wine, herbs or spices, bring it to the boil and simmer 10 minutes. Place the fish in a non-aluminum pan and add the liquid. Cook either in the oven or on top of the stove. Cool the fish in the liquid, store covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 day before using to allow flavours to penetrate. Drain before serving.
Suitable for medium to firm textured fish.
The principle of marinating is that the acidic marinade used will alter the structure 01 the seafood protein and its colour in a similar manner to heat and therefore no cooking is required.
Marinating works best with skinned and boned fish, or fillets. Cut the fish into cubes of about l.5cm or larger if you wish. Place the cubes in a -non-aluminum bowl or strong plastic bag with fresh herbs or thick slices of onion. Add the juice of oranges, lemons or other citrus fruit or wine or vinegar. Cover and place in the refrigerator. Marinate 4-6 hours for 1.5cm cubes and 6-8 hours or overnight for larger cubes.
Drain marinade and serve the fish with seafood sauce or coconut cream. The marinade may be re-used immediately as long as it's been under refrigeration but it should not be held for a total of more than 2 days in the refrigerator.
Frozen fish need not be thawed before placing in marinade. Leave the frozen fish at room temperature only long enough to make it easy to cut. Add 1-2 hours on to the marinating time to allow the fish to thaw.
The following sauces may be served with poached fish.
. Bercy - white wine, fish stock and veloute sauce*
. Bonne Femme - cooked with thinly sliced mushrooms
. Hollandaise - wine or white vinegar, pepper, egg yolk, butter
. Duglere - tomato, fish veloute * , shallots, lemon juice, butter
. Mornay - bëchamel-based sauce, cheese
. Veronique - veloute sauce * , grapes
. Dieppoise - white wine sauce, reduced stock, garnished with shrimps, mussels and mushrooms.
* Veloute Sauce is used as a basis for many sauces and is made by blending stock (fish stock) into a roux, which is then cooked slowly for half an hour to one and a half hours to reduce the quantity by half.
The following sauces may be served with shallow fried fish.
. Belle Meuniere - add grilled mushroom, a slice of tomato, and a lightly fried soft herring roe.
. Doria - add a sprinkling of cooked cucumber pieces. . Grenoblaise - add lemon segments (peeled) and capers.
The following sauces may be served with deep fried fish.
. Tomato
. Tartare - mayonnaise, capers and gherkins . Remoulade - mayonnaise, mustard, gherkins, capers ,.parsley. chervil.
The following sauces may be served with grilled fish.
. Bëarnaise Sauce - white vinegar or white wine, egg yolk, butter and tarragon.
. Herb Butter - butter, mixture of fresh dried herbs.
. Shrimp Butter - equal quantities of butter and shrimps blended.
. Maitre d'Hotel Butter - butter, parsley pepper, lemon juice.
. Anchovy Butter - anchovies blended into butter.
. Robert Sauce - onion, white wine, stock and mustard.
. Devilled Sauce - hotly spiced tomato sauce.