Fish is one of the important protein foods that can be cooked in a great variety of ways. It is a highly
perishable food, so buy wisely to make certain it is fresh and store in the refrigerator or a cool place as soon as you bring it home. Most fish freezes well, the column on the right gives advice on home freezing of fish.
To tell if fish is fresh
Check that the shop or store from where the fish is purchased is careful about cleanliness and keeps fish on ice or a cold slab. Fresh fish has a pleasant smell; if it is gives off a strong odour of ammonia it is stale. Fresh fish looks firm, if it is limp it could be stale; the eyes should look bright and clear and the scales bright and shiny.
Shellfish can be judged in the same way as other fish, i.e. the color should be bright and the fish firm. Another way to tell when lobster is fresh is to pull the tail out firmly, if it springs back then the lobster is fresh. Mussels, and similar shellfish, should be bought alive it is essential to check this. Tap the shells sharply; if they do not close then discard those, for the fish inside the shell could have been dead for some time. Shellfish is particularly perishable.
Types of fish
Fish is generally described under four groups: The first is white fish, which covers many well-known types, ideal for most forms of cooking, here in this section you will find shellfish dishes, oily fish dishes, which provide natural oils in the diet, range from inexpensive herring to luxurious fresh salmon, freshwater fish dishes, caught in river and lakes and smoked fish dishes. Many fish are frozen and canned.
To freeze fish
Never try to freeze fish that is not 100% fresh. Prepare ready for cooking, wrap firmly in foil or freezer polythene. Divide large quantities of fish into convenient sized portions. You can coat suitable fish with seasoned flour and beaten egg and crumbs, ready for frying. Freeze the coated fish on flat trays, then wrap; this stops the coating sticking on the wrapping. Fish is spoiled by over cooking; if you want to freeze dishes either prepare then freeze and cook later, or, if cooked and frozen, do not overcook when reheating. Use raw frozen fish within 4 months (shellfish and smoked fish 2 months), cooked fish within 2 months, cooked shell fish 1 month. Wrap fish for freezing very thoroughly.
Ways to prepare fish
Fish can be cooked whole or cut into slices, generally called ‘steaks’ or ‘cutlets’, or many fish can be filleted. The fishmonger will generally bone whole fish (such as herrings), or fillet white fish, i.e. plaice and sole for you, but it may be that you have to do this yourself. The instructions are given below. None of these processes is really difficult.
To fillet fish
Chose a sharp and pliable knife, Flat fish (such as sole and plaice) can be cut into 4 fillets; other fish into 2 fillets. To fillet flat fish remove the head first, make a sharp cut down the center of the fish. Insert the knife under the flesh; ease the flesh slowly and carefully away from the backbone. This gives the first fillet. Repeat the process with the other 3 fillets. A little salt on both the knife and your fingertips helps to do this easily.
To skin fish
Hold the tail of the fish or the tail end of fillet of fish firmly. Make a small cut across the fillet at the tail end. Insert the tip of the knife under the cut and ease the flesh away slowly and carefully from the skin.
To bone whole fish
Many fish are difficult to eat because of the large number of bones. Herrings are a typical fish, where it is better to bone them before cooking. Slit the whole fish under the stomach, remove the roes (these can be used in cooking), then discard the rest of until you can ‘open out’ the fish. Turn the fish, with the skin side uppermost on to a board. Run your finger very firmly down the centre of the fish, this loosens the backbone. Now turn the fish over again and you will find you can not only lift away the backbone, but most of the tiny bones as well. “The boned fish may now be cut into 2 fillets if wished.”