Food writer and cooking instructor Christine Rudalevige is a mother of two who recently navigated a family move from agriculturally rich central Pennsylvania to coastal Maine. Eating locally now means more fish on the dinner table. In this biweekly column, Fish on Fridays, she explores family-friendly ways to enjoy sustainable seafood.
This week, Christine outlines the tools that are necessary vs. nice to have when trying to master the basics of fish cookery.
Photo by James Ransom
A Gift Guide for the Budding Fish Cook
Holiday greetings mean more to me than most people because on top of Christmas and New Years, I also celebrate my birthday (34 this year as once I hit 40 in 2007 I began counting backwards) as well as my wedding anniversary (just one year shy of two decades on that front) in that same week. And people tend to give me gifts, but first they ask me for suggestions.
Every year I grapple with suggesting what I want (diamond earrings) versus what I need (new snow tires). So most years that middle ground puts me in the kitchen having an argument with myself about which tools are necessary, and which ones are just nice to have.
This year, I’ve homed in on gift worthy gadgets that help me (and hopefully you) get more fish on your family table, week in, and week out.
In the necessary category there is the fish spatula, an ever-present seasoned cast iron skillet, parchment paper, a short sided baking sheet, and fish tweezers.
Sometimes you just need the right tool for the job. The fish spatula, a long, perforated tool, with a slightly upturned, razor sharp edge, is just the thing for turning a delicate fillet or transferring an entire fish from pan to plate.
A cast iron skillet – long lauded for its versatility – lives up to its reputation in fish cookery as it serves as a sauté pan for fillets, a seafood pasta sauce vessel, a sear and sauce vehicle and a pan with enough room for a one-dish seafood bake.
Photo by James Ransom
Cooking fish in parchment parcel is fast, easy and versatile. Lining a baking tray with parchment saves on cleanup. Using a round to keep the fumes in the fume is a key step to a flavorful fish stock.
Oily fish – salmon, mackerel, trout – like to be baked. But your oven floor will not appreciate the long-lingering fish oil that will run off the sides of a flat cookie sheet if you aren’t careful.
Fillets don’t always come to you boneless. And the pin bones that remain are slippery little devils. You could use clean needle nose pliers in a pinch, but study fish tweezers are cheap and make the job much easier.
The nice to have category comprises a silicon pastry brush (brushing fish with a glaze requires a good scrub and these do well in a hot dishwasher), an oyster shucker, a fish-shaped grill basket (keeps everything in the right place for table presentation), a fillet knife (should you pass on the pre-filleted fish at the counter) and a spice grinder (delicate flesh requires really finely ground spices).
I also have two job-specific items on the top shelf of my pantry closet that come in handy a few times a year: my oblong fish kettle and my stove top smoker. Poaching a whole fish in the former and hot smoking salmon, scallops, oysters or clams in the latter.
The good news for both budding fish cooks and the people who buy gifts for them, none of these items(safe the fish kettle, the stove top smoker and maybe the fillet knife) will set you back more than $25.
Happy shopping and happier holidays!
Post-Shopping Seared Scallops with Fennel and Spaghetti
1/3 pound spaghetti
10 sea scallops (dry packed)
2 ounces Spanish chorizo, diced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup well chopped fresh fennel
1/4 cup well chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 cups of canned fire-roasted tomatoes
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped parsley, celery leaves or fennel fronds
Like this post? See Christine's previous topic: Adaptable Poached Fish.
Christine Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, culinary instructor at Stonewall Kitchen, and mother of two who always fits in three square meals a day -- which occasionally means making up for a skipped breakfast with a late-night refrigerator raid.