When I grew up “fish” for dinner was Gordons Battered Fish filets. I actually enjoyed those and its partner in fish abomination, the “Filet of Fish” sandwich at Mc.D’s. Of course, I covered them in tarter sauce and cheese so I didn’t really notice I was eating fish. In my home, fish sticks was the easy dinner when Mom was too tired or too busy to cook something from scratch. And hey, everyone needs a break right?
The spouse grew up in a traditional Italian household that did the Thirteen Fish Dishes for Christmas, including one sad jar of gefilte fish that would get trotted out every year, unopened.. and put back in the pantry to stay until the next Christmas. But hey! Thirteen fish dishes! So, yeah, she is also not a huge fan of fish.
Back in the 90’s, I tried to cook catfish.
Bad things happened.
We do not speak of it.
Catfish is my nemesis.
A few years ago, I tried again. Tilapia, they said.. tilapia is easy and tastes “non-fishy”. So I bought frozen pre-breaded tilapia and baked it in the oven. It was good! Ok.. it was reminiscent of the battered fish filets of my youth. But I ate it and it was fine.
Tilapia is my safe word.
It’s 2013. It’s time to suck it up. It’s time to cook fish… for real.
I decided to get some help in my culinary adventure. I had heard that fin- your Fishmonger was opening up a brick and mortar shop so I asked Dora, one of the owners, if I could pop over for a little interview and some help. (Also, I heard they had tilapia, so I was safe!)
At the time of my visit, they were still working on getting the permit to change the sign on the building, but their window sign was up.
Me: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about bringing more fish into my kitchen… but first, I have to ask.. what exactly is a fishmonger and what do you offer here at Fin?
Dora: The short answer to “what exactly is a fishmonger” is this: A fishmonger sells fish, often in their own shop, much like a butcher sells meat. Back in the 13th century, fishmongers were a common sight, peddling their fresh fish throughout British villages on carts, calling out what they had for the day. Most fish-selling these days has been through supermarkets, particularly in the US.
Pete and I are interested in bringing back into our community the shop that one can go to buy their fresh fish. We like the idea of being able to go into a locally-owned shop for fresh fish and other seafood, where the proprietors and staff know what they are talking about. We also like the idea of developing “community” around the product and relationship-building with our customer base.
We offer sustainable seafood, fresh from the Boston Pier. Sustainable seafood is seafood that is caught or farmed responsibly, with consideration for the long-tern health of the environment and the livelihoods of the people that depend on that environment.
Our seafood comes from the Pier to us. Not from the Pier to a regional distribution center, then to a local distribution center, then to a store, then to the seafood cooler. Not much time has passed, and not many hands have touched the seafood in our coolers.
Me: As a fishmonger, what is one of the most common misconceptions you hear about cooking fish?
Dora: The misconception we hear about cooking fish is that people think it’s hard. It CAN be, if you want it to be. But, usually, it takes only a couple of additions and 10 minutes or less of your cooking time. Sometimes, not even that! A little citrus, red onion, avocado and spices on sliced Grade A tuna makes for some super ceviche that you make yourself without cooking, but would require your having to learn how to curtsy after you feed it to your friends and they applaud.
Wrap some of last night’s leftover vegetables, seasoning, wine and a piece of fresh fish into some parchment paper (fold, fold, fold, fold, into a circle) and you have yourself one special looking dinner in 18 minutes.
Saute a piece of tilapia for 3 minutes each side.
Salt, pepper, garlic and a squeeze of lemon onto your haddock. Slide it into the 350 oven for 12 minutes. Done.
That’s it. Cinchy. See?
Me: I’m a bit timid when it comes to trying to cook fish at home because my knowledge is so limited. What type of fish would you suggest I start with as a total noob who is a bit leery of “fishy fish”?
Dora: Full disclosure: I’m not one for “fishy” fish either. Pete eats everything. I think it’s important for people to know that there’s someone behind the counter who can point them in the right direction if they are mild fish lovers or “anything” fish lovers. We have a number of items that might suit your fancy. Pecan-encrusted tilapia is always a safe start. If you’d like less of a safe start (hello, Ms. Adventurous!) but, want to remain on the mild flavor end of the spectrum, you might want to try cobia. Safe stand-bys also include cod, haddock and my personal fave, halibut. We pay close attention to what our customers are saying about their experiences with our seafood and we share them with other customers.
Me: Once I get my fish home how long can I keep it in my fridge before I cook it and how should I store it?
Dora: We’ll tell you when it came in and for how long it will taste exceptional, usually up to four days after we get it. After that point, it’s still edible, but may taste more like seafood from sources other than us. For people like you and me, who prefer less fishy fish, the sooner we eat it, the better we’ll like it. You can keep it in the bag it came in, in your fridge. Clams, mussels and oysters come from us in a bag with holes poked in it because that shellfish is still living. And, you want it to be. You can put them in a bowl in your fridge for a few days before cooking. No water or ice needed. Lobster and crab should stay in a paper bag in your fridge (unless you like to play hide and seek) and should be cooked soon after you purchase
Me: Do different types of fish lend themselves better to different cooking methods?
Dora: Fish that are super flaky (cod) don’t hold up well on the grill unless there’s a piece of aluminum foil or some other thin cooking surface for it to rest on. It will flake apart and fall through the grates. It’s great sautéed, breaded or pan/oven-fried. Clams and oysters are awesome on the grill, as well as steamed. Grouper is great grilled, baked, or placed into marinara sauce to poach. The general guideline is that flaky fish don’t do well on the grill. Should you choose to bake fish (most everything does well in the oven) remember that you should cook for 10 minutes for each inch of thickness of fish in a 350 degree oven. If you add toppings (salsa, citrus, other sauces) add time for the additional thickness. Worse comes to worse, poke your fork in to see if it flakes right for you.
Me: As a newbie, which method do you think I should try?
Dora:You should try one of my take-home suppers, or course. Every day there is a single serving of seafood for you to take home after we’ve prepped it up for you. Then, you take it home to cook. Easy peasy. You might be a good candidate for Idaho rainbow trout piccata the next time we have it. OR, there’s the ever-popular pecan-encrusted tilapia.
TILAPIA! She said it! Ah.. I’m safe here! I can bring home tilapia!
I look in the case. No tilapia.. I’m too late! It’s sold out for the day! I start to hyperventilate … ok, not really. But I was close! I looked at Dora. She looked at me. I think she saw me starting to panic.
She suggested cod. According to Dora, I could dredge it in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Then let it set in a dish of melted butter and olive oil for a minute on each side and pop in the oven for 10 minutes. Oven fried, she said. Wow, that sounded easy.
So I bought a nice big filet of cod and brought it home. I did exactly what Dora said.
Thanks so much to Dora and Pete for encouraging me to cook fish at home. I’m a convert!