Fish Counter or Freezer Case?
The latter: Hear me out
We have devoted a fair amount of thought and space to buying seafood (and just about everything else) from the source, or as close to it as you can manage. Clearly, that’s not always possible. For example, my friend Doc recently called and said, “What you need is six recipes for six fish that you can buy at the supermarket.”
“Because?” I asked.
“Because that’s where people are buying it.”
I get that. Not everyone is going to order their fish from Sitka, and not everyone lives around the corner from Fish Tales or Citarella (or whatever), but even those of us who do wind up buying fish in the supermarket some of the time.
And that practice has changed: Although chains like Whole Foods and Stop & Shop do have sustainability standards (whether they live up to them is another question), the quality of the “fresh” fish sold in almost every supermarket I’ve been to recently is, if not deplorable, then sad. There is farm-raised salmon or beat-up wild salmon; there is hideous defrosted shrimp; there is gaping cod…. You know what I’m talking about. It’s worse than it was 10 or 20 or even forty years ago, which is as far back as I can remember.
What’s better, incredibly, is the frozen fish department. I’ve always said that if you’re going to buy frozen shrimp – or just about any other seafood — you’re better off buying it still frozen; buying defrosted fish is obviously a gamble.
But over the past few years we’ve begun to see a variety of finfish — let’s just stick to that for now — that’s clearly IQF’d (that’s Individually Quick Frozen) at sea. That doesn’t tell you much of anything about how it’s caught, or specifically where, or when, or by whom, or any of that; this is far from an ideal situation.
But when I was in Cortez, Colorado a couple of weeks ago, shopping at a Safeway, I was able to buy sockeye salmon from Alaska. And when I tell you that I trust that way more than I trusted the farm-raised salmon in their fish case … well, you can disagree, but that’s what I bought.
Similarly, in recent months, I’ve seen well frozen — obviously without freezer burn, but also clean-looking and shiny-bright — cod, tuna (both yellowfin and albacore), swordfish, halibut, and then a bunch of shellfish (but we’re not dealing with that here), as well as some things that weren’t so great-looking. As with any fish shopping, buyer beware.
But although you’re not going to find monkfish in this situation, or black cod, or porgy, it isn’t a bad assortment, and it makes for better, more reliable shopping.
Again: I’m not saying this is ideal; I’m saying it’s not an uncommon predicament. Yes, you could do a vegan dinner, or you could buy meat, (though you should’ve seen the meat in this Safeway!), but that’s not the mission with which I was charged here. I’m recommending that you consider the freezer case the next time you’re shopping for fish in a supermarket.
Now on to the recipes.
Black Cod Broiled with Miso
Black cod with miso is a dish that was popularized in the U.S. by Nobu Matsuhisa, the chef at Nobu in New York. His time-consuming recipe, which calls for soaking the fish in a sweet miso marinade for a couple of days, is a variation on a traditional Japanese process that uses sake lees, the sweet solids that remain after making sake, to marinate fish. If you broil black cod with nothing but salt, you already have a winning dish. If you broil it with miso – along with some mirin and quite a bit of sugar – you create something stunningly delicious (and no long marination is necessary). Any fish that is suitable for the broiler can (and should) be prepared this way.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes
½ cup sugar
1 cup miso, preferably dark
½ cup mirin, sake or white wine
1 ½ to 2 pounds black cod fillets (skin may be on or off)
Fish Baked with Leeks
This is a dish that is almost too simple to believe, one that combines wonderful textures and flavors with a minimum of ingredients, no added fat, and almost no preparation or cooking time. Like the best simple dishes, everything counts here: the fish, the leeks—which remain crisp and assertive thanks to the quick cooking time—and even the wine or stock. The Dijon mustard provides a bit of a kick. You need a tightly covered container to preserve all the liquid and flavors inherent in this dish, but that can be as simple as a pot with a good-fitting lid or a heatproof glass casserole—anything that prevents moisture from escaping.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
1 1/2 pounds leeks
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken or fish stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
About 1 1/2 pounds cod, salmon, or other fish fillet, about 1 inch thick
Fish Fillets with Avocado-Cilantro Salsa
Grilled fish and fresh salsa is one of my favorite combinations. The salsas here and in the variations are slightly offbeat, with vibrant flavors and textures that perfectly complement the mild sweetness of the fish. When fillets still have their skin on—the thin kind that’s edible—all the better. The fire will crunch it up for even more contrast. Bass and salmon are both great choices to try. These salsas also pair great with seared sea scallops.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 25 minutes
2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and diced
1 ⁄ 2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 ⁄ 4 cup chopped red onion
Juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
Salt and pepper
1 1 ⁄ 2 pounds fish fillets (preferably skin-on)
Good-quality olive oil for brushing the fish
Read on for crisp sesame fish fillets, easy fried fish tacos, and braised fillets in black bean sauce. . . .