Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fishing for inspiration

I have to admit I’m not a great fan of fish, although you can tempt me out of any diet with other kind of seafood, from crabs to shrimp and shellfish. I find fish rather bland, with a mushy texture that reminds me too much of soft infant or invalid food. If I have to eat fish (and I know it’s good for me) I’d rather have it fried or grilled instead of steamed or poached, and slathered with a spicy sauce or accompanied by a piquant dip.

You will never find me ordering fish at a restaurant. I would much rather have a hunk of meat that I can really sink my teeth into. Aficionados will tell you you that the best way to enjoy fish (in a Chinese restaurant) is to have it steamed. There s a real technique to it apparently,  and chefs spend ages mastering it. Again, I don't understand why these people ooh and aah over steamed fish, and are willing to pay a fortune for a rare species of fish caught in the jungles of wherever. Not only do I find it rather annoying that these people are depleting the rivers of these fish, but I don't see the need to pay so much for fish that, to me, tastes pretty much the same as any other much cheaper member of the piscine family.

In the interests of health, I know I should be eating more fish. It's lean and packed with protein, and also has no fat or at least good fat (no I don't want to think about the mercury levels and what other toxins there are in the ocean). 

If I have to have fish, I'd much rather it be fried to a crisp and slathered with a spicy sauce or accompanied by a piquant sambal. The only downside to pan frying is that oil spatters all over the stove, and it’s a pain to clean the whole stove area. Just the other day when my son, B, was back for the weekend, he asked whether I knew how to fry fish. I indignantly answered that of course I did, but I knew what he meant. I have hardly fried fish in my tiny apartment kitchen because not only is it troublesome to clean up the stove but the smell of fried fish also lingers forever. So I’d rather we eat our fried fish dinners elsewhere.

While no fan of fish, I do appreciate it when it’s fresh and tastes of the ocean. Again, I’m no great fan of freshwater or river fish  that can taste not only bland but sometimes muddy. I love teeny, tiny fish like anchovies and whitebait that you can deep fry in batches and just crunch down whole, bones and all. When it comes to any other kind of fish, I can take them or leave them.

I did have an awesome experience with the freshest salmon once when in Vancouver. Apparently only the native Canadians have licences to fish for salmon in the rivers there. It’s meant for their own consumption but do sell them occasionally on the quiet to those in the know. Luckily for me, I knew those in the know and they grilled up two whole salmon for me to enjoy. The meat was moist and tender, the freshest I had ever tasted.

I’ve been experimenting with salmon lately, and come up with a couple of variations that answer my need for robust taste and texture. I try to recreate that delicious Canadian culinary experience with whatever salmon I can find in the supermarket. Usually it’s salmon steaks or filets as I really can’t be bothered to deal with the bones. I try to get pieces with skin on them so that when cooked, the skin crisps up nicely and provides a crunchy juxtaposition to the soft fish.

I’ve been cooking salmon for myself quite a bit because it’s affordable and really quick to cook. What usually excites me more than the salmon itself are my sides. When the weather is hot, I just make a simple green salad. But when I want something cooked, I’ll either roast some potatoes and mushrooms, or make a heap of green vegetables like beans or asparagus. After lightly blanching them, I’ll sauté them in olive oil, salt and pepper. I might roast some corn if I have some on hand.

The salmon itself I just pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Then I pan fry it on really high heat, only for a couple of minutes on each side. I usually finish with the skin side down, and throw in a knob of butter at the end. That really crisps up the skin. The it’s just a big squeeze of lemon and some some mustard before I tuck into everything. So I can whip up a salmon dinner in less than 30 minutes, at a fraction of what I have to pay for it in a restaurant.

I picked up some smoked salmon last week when the weather was unusually hot, and had some of it with salad and a creamy mustard dressing. I had some leftover, and the next day, I lay some slices on a toasted bagel slathered with cream cheese. I was missing the capers, but it tasted really good. Okay, so I’m not a big fan of fish, but if I can whip up some taste salmon, or have my way with smoked salmon, I guess I can meet my quota of healthy fish meals quite easily!


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