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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Let's Talk Fish

Frugal Kitchens 101

I've mentioned several times that we enjoy eating locally caught fresh water fish (eg. bass, perch, pickerel, whitefish).  In addition to what I catch and the generosity of some of our friends who also like to fish, I end up buying a considerable amount of fish.  Fish is generally more expensive than other meats but it is a frugal choice in terms of healthier eating and vastly reduced cooking time.  Fish is one food I prefer fresh (aka still swimming) or frozen.  Fish is versatile lending itself nicely as the meat component in meals, sandwiches, salads, soups and chowders.  This week's Frugal Kitchens 101 focuses on fish.

  • fresh fish - You can catch fresh fish yourself or it can be purchased directly from fishermen, fish mongers (eg. retail from commercial fisheries), fish farms or in the fresh seafood section of your grocery store.  It is best to clean your fish catch as soon as possible then prepare what cannot be used that day for freezing (see methods below).  Fish bought fresh from other sources may have the head and scales still on so you need to descale the fish and remove the head.  The head should be used to make fish stock.  The flesh behind the operculum especially on bass is quite tender and sweet.  It is considered a delicacy.  When buying fresh fish with the head on the eyes should be clear not cloudy and it should not have a strong 'fishy' smell.  Cleaned fish is usually sold as descaled and beheaded or as fillets.  The flesh should be translucent, free of blemishes and there should be no strong 'fishy' smell.  Transport fresh fish on ice or in insulated grocery bags.  Fish that is still living can be transported in a bucket with water from the source where the fish was caught.
  • frozen fish - Frozen fish is available from fisheries and the grocery stores.  It is usually vacuum sealed as fillets or steaks.  Frozen fish is also available already coated but I do not recommend buying fish this way.  It is more expensive per unit price and many fish products like breaded fish sticks are made with chopped fish as well as having additives and preservatives.  Frozen fish should be kept frozen until ready to cook.  When buying frozen fish look for the Marine Stewardship Council's (MSC) certification indicating the fishery has met the environmental standard for a well-managed and sustainable fisher. Avoid salmon that is farm raised as dye may have been added to give the reddish flesh colour.  Instead choose 'wild' salmon.
  • canned fish - Both tuna and salmon are available canned.  I am not a big fan of either but they do have their place in a well stocked pantry.  Choose tuna that has the 'dolphin friendly' symbol indicating the fishery uses methods that don't entrap dolphins.  Tuna that has been packed in water is healthier than that packed in oil.  Always shop the sales when buying canned fish.  Smaller fish such as sardines and anchovies are also available canned.  These are usually packed in oil.
  • cooking fish - Fish can be cooked using most cooking methods although one method may be better for one type of fish than another.  Fish should be cooked until the flesh is opaque and flakes nicely.  Avoid over cooking!  Keep coatings and seasonings on the lighter side.  Citrus pairs nicely with fish to brighten the flavour.  For a crispier coating use a dry flour mixture with cornmeal but use a batter mixture for a smoother English style coating.
  • freezing fresh fish - Fresh fish is delicate so it does need to be well protected when freezing.   There are three ways to package fresh fish for freezing. 
    • freeze in water - Clean the fresh fish.  Place in freezer containers.  Pour cold water over the fish leaving ½- inch headspace.  Freeze.  Thaw before using.  This works great for perch and pickerel.
    • ice dipping - Place cleaned fish fillets in a single layer on a baking sheet then freeze.  Quickly dip in cold water then refreeze.  Repeat this process a few times to form an ice barrier on the fish fillet.  Place fillets in freezer container and freeze.
    • vacuum sealing - Place cleaned fish fillets in vacuum bag.  Vacuum seal.  For best results, use one meal's worth or one fillet per vacuum bag.
  • canning fish - Fresh caught fish can be home canned and while I have not canned fish many of my fellow home canners have.  I certainly would home can fish given the opportunity.  In general stick to tuna or salmon but in reality any fish could be canned.  
  • smoking fish - Fresh caught fish can easily be hot or cold smoked for a lovely flavour.  This is a preservation method for keeping excess fresh fish while adding flavour.  Smokers can range from simple DIY set-ups to outdoor grill add-ons (inc. foil smoke packets) to rather fancy smokers.  The average home cook will likely use an outdoor grill add-on or small specialized smoker (~$100).

1 food lovers commented:

LindaG said...

I grew up loving fish. I still do. And I freeze mine the first way - whenever there are any left over. ;-)

Thanks for all the information on fish! :-)