During the 40 days of Lent, Christians often turn to fish and seafood as alternatives to meat. Even if you feel most comfortable cooking with canned and pouched seafood, don't shy away from cooking fresh and frozen fish and shellfish.
Fish that doesn't taste fishy may be easier to prepare than you think.
Many consumers rely on canned and pouched seafood to make tuna casseroles or sauteed salmon patties or elegant nicoise salads.
The latter is made with salad greens, cooked and halved redskin potatoes, nicoise olives, premium canned tuna, and haricot vertes (green string beans) garnished with a few slivers of hard-cooked egg and tomato. Now with pouched tuna, gourmet-restaurant-quality tuna can land on your salads. It's drier and flakier than the standard canned variety.
(The packaging of pouched tuna and salmon makes premium, no-drain products in vacuum-packed foil pouches available for home and on-the-go consumption.)
Fortunate is the shopper who finds a seafood case filled with fresh salmon, tuna, halibut, shrimp, scallops, and assorted coastal varieties such as grouper, flounder, mahi mahi, cod, or swordfish. Many of these items can be found in freezer cases.
Fresh fillets are a treat most often reserved for restaurant dining. They are more pricey than canned seafood, but if you watch the specials, you may find a good catch.
Recently I saw fresh flounder rolled and stuffed with seafood, and fresh salmon rolled and stuffed with shrimp. Either would have been an inviting purchase for a weekday meal, but I had miles to go before I could adequately refrigerate and store such a package.
I knew I could make this at home, given the right recipe and the needed ingredients. If you don't see the variety of fish or seafood you want, place a special order with the seafood manager at your favorite market. Usually a one to two-day notice is needed.
Equally delicious are the fresh fish that local ice fisherman caught over the winter. Walleye season will begin soon on the Maumee River.
Armed with all of these options, consider preparing a seafood entree during Lent.
When buying fresh fish, “get the highest quality good fresh fish. Ask to smell it. There should be no smell,” says Chef Mike Rosendaul of Real Seafood. “Then, the secret is not to overcook it.”
Mr. Rosendaul will teach three seafood cooking classes at Creative Cooking School at Gourmet Curiosities in its new location on the Monroe Street side of the Starlite Plaza in Sylvania, nearest Farmer Jack.
Last Wednesday at the first class, he showed how to roast a whole red snapper; prepare seared arctic char, which he describes as similar to salmon, but very delicate and buttery, and how to broil wild stripe Nantucket sea bass, which goes well with sauces, glazes, and relishes. “Even a red wine sauce with an onion confit goes well with these,” he says. The next two classes are April 23 and May 22. Cost of each class is $25.
Mr. Rosendaul also plans a cooking class at Real Seafood from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on April 12. He expects to prepare sea scallops, oysters, tuna sashimi, and salmon plus dessert; a buffet lunch and wine is part of the cost of $43.95. For reservations, call 888-456-DINE.
A general rule for cooking fish is 10 minutes per inch of thickness at 400 to 450 degrees, turning the fish halfway through the cooking time, according to the Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture for the state of Florida. This rule does not apply to frying or microwave cooking. Other recommendations:
w Fish less than 1/2–inch thick do not have to be turned.
w If fish is cooked in a sauce or foil, add five minutes to the cooking time.
w Cooking time for frozen fish should be doubled. Thaw fish before cooking.
w Fish is done when the flesh becomes opaque and flakes easily at the thickest part.
To defrost frozen seafood, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute recommends the slow-thaw method to ensure maximum moisture. Simply place the fish in the refrigerator, covered, and allow it to thaw 8 to 10 hours or overnight.
For the novice cook, those canned and pouched products are a good beginning. Among tuna options are albacore, water-packed, and oil-packed. Canned or pouched salmon makes wonderful salads. There's also canned crab and shrimp.
Consider combining one of these products with fresh fish fillets such as Salmon-stuffed Flounder fillets: fresh flounder wrapped around boneless pink salmon that was packaged in a pouch.
Make a one-dish meal such as Cioppino, a delicious fresh tomato-based fish stew that was created in San Francisco by California's Italian immigrants. It's a must-have dish at Fisherman's Wharf. This hearty combination of seafood favorites can include little neck clams, shrimp, swordfish, or any other seafood. If walleye is in your freezer, try chunks of walleye in place of the swordfish.
Halibut and salmon are among the more common fillets or steaks that you'll find locally in seafood cases. Both are wonderful for broiling and grilling. Salmon can be pan poached. Whitefish can be baked. Microwaving is even an option with the proper blend of seasoning.
Recently I've had grouper twice at dining rooms in Toledo and Columbus. The first was fried and served with a stuffing; the second was blackened and grilled and served in a sandwich.
Grouper is a large family of fish from the coastal waters that resembles red snapper and can be sauteed, grilled, broiled, or baked. It can be ordered through the seafood market.
Best of all, have a good basic recipe for frying walleye, Lake Erie perch, or whitefish.