Once, in a cooking class, I mentioned I loved “fish salads.” Crickets. Blank faces. “You mean tuna fish?” Well, sure…but not exactly or not totally. Back up. Let’s talk how we’re always hoping to eat healthy. Ok? There’s little healthier than vegetables–right? And second on the list, if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, might be fish? Sure. When we put those two top-tier food groups together, what do we get? We get over-the-top wholesome, fit, hearty fare. I’ve always adored cooking fish IN vegetables because number 1: it’s so easy to overcook fish (and in a pan of vegetables, it’s harder); number 2: we’re back to the two top-tier food groups; and, number 3: fish is just so tasty cooked in, say, a light tomato-garlic-fennel-sweet pepper sauté.
The faster side of that fish-vegetables coin is, you guessed it, SALAD. Fish Salad! Yeah. One of my all time favorites.
All you have to do is chop the vegetables and quickly (there’s no other way) cook the fish. A lovely vinaigrette and you’re home for dinner. Still sound questionable? Think how many restaurants serve Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken. Now, I’ll eat that – especially if it’s done well and served with a California Chardonnay — but why not fish? Because it’s harder. Nope; it’s not. It’s quicker and maybe easier because you can keep fish fillets in your freezer, thaw them in under 30 minutes (put them in a gallon plastic bag to avoid botulism/listeria, please), and be cooking dinner right after. Think about it. Recipe coming up in a sec, but here are a few tips I consider worth sharing:Jump to Recipe
HOW MUCH FISH DO I NEED? The average serving is between 3 and 6 ounces per person. Keep in mind that weight comes down a tad as the fish cooks and shrinks. A few other factors: 1. Do you want leftovers? If yes, buy more. Today’s fillets become tomorrow’s taco lunch. 2. Do you have a big appetite at your table? If yes, buy more or larger fillets. 3. Are you serving a couple of big sides plus bread? If yes, buy less. If you read this blog, you’ll know I always recommend a side of salmon, for instance. Cut the two-three best fillets out of the center and use the ends for salad or spread or tacos.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THE FISH IS GOOD? The answer to this depends on whether you’re buying fresh or frozen fish. Here’s what COOKING LIGHT says about it:
Whole fresh fish
• Look for shiny skin; tightly adhering scales; bright, clear eyes; firm, taut flesh that springs back when pressed; and a moist, flat tail.
• Gills should be cherry-red, not brownish.
• Saltwater fish should smell briny; freshwater fish should smell like a clean pond.
• Look for shiny, rock-hard frozen fish with no white freezer-burn spots, frost, or ice crystals.
• Choose well-sealed packages from the bottom of freezer case that are at most three months old.
(Don’t forget to remove frozen fillets from the packages and thaw covered in a bowl overnight in fridge or in sealable bags in cold water for 20-30 min.)
IS YOUR FISH DONE? Knowing whether or not your fish is done is a stumbling block for many cooks. First you must determine how long your fish needs to cook. In other words, have some sort of a plan before you begin. The rule is 10 minutes for inch, but that could also be dependent on several factors including kind of fish (fatty or not), weight and preparation of pan, heat of burner/oven, if an oven has been properly preheated, etc. In the end, you and you alone must determine if your fish is done. Check it. Better underdone than overdone as it can always go back in the pan, on the grill, or in the oven. Still unsure about what to do? Google a similar fish recipe and see what it says. And if that doesn’t work, here is a little chart I think helps perhaps even more than googling it. The last unwritten rule is to TASTE IT and see!!
If one end of a fillet is quite thin, tuck it under the rest of the fish so it doesn’t overcook. Sometimes a toothpick is needed here. This is true for meat, too– for instance a pork tenderloin. Your other choice is to cut it off, but you’re better off cooking it with the rest of the fillet.
Never leave the stove if your fish is in the pan, on the grill, or even in the oven unless you have a side of salmon or a whole fish and even then it’s risky. This food is worth paying attention to and waiting for.
And now that you’re quite sure of yourself about cooking fish, and if not, you’ll eat your mistakes anyway, try this:
FRIDAY FISH: Southwestern Fish Salad
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 1 tablespoon chiles en adobo, chopped (can sub minced jalapeño to taste)
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons local honey
- 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
- ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cups romaine lettuce cut or torn into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped plus 4 sprigs for garnish
- Generous pinch each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup grated extra sharp Cheddar or crumbled goat cheese — plus extra for garnish
- 4 small ripe tomatoes, quartered
- 2 ripe avocados peeled and sliced
- Tortilla chips or freshly made croutons — for garnish
- 1 cup flour mixed with ¼ teaspoon each: kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, chili powder
- 2 eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon water and ¼ teaspoon each: kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, chili powder
- 1 ¼ cups fresh bread crumbs mixed with ¼ teaspoon each: kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, chili powder
- 4 (4-5 ounce) tilapia fillets (or other white fish such as cod, flounder, etc.), rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne
- PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 400 DEGREES F: Set oven rack at center.
- MAKE THE VINAIGRETTE: In a food process or blender, pulse together all of the ingredients except the olive oil until well mixed. With the machine running, add the olive oil slowly until it’s emulsified. You can also do this by hand with a whisk. Set aside.
- PREP THE SALAD: In a very large bowl, toss together the romaine, cilantro, salt and pepper, and cup of Cheddar or goat cheese. Set the tortilla chips or croutons aside for later. Put the salad in the refrigerator while you make the fish.
- PREP THE FISH: Put the flour, egg, and bread crumb mixtures into 3 separate shallow bowls. Mix the ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, and the 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne in a small cup and sprinkle both sides of the tilapia fillets with the mixture, patting the spices into the flesh of the fish. Dip each fillet on both sides into first the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, and then the bread crumb mixture, shaking them off a bit after each and patting the crumbs into both sides of the fish. Place fillets at least 2 inches apart on a rimmed sheet pan lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. If one end of a fillet is a lot thinner at the end than it is in the middle, tuck that under to avoid over cooking.
- BAKE THE FISH/MAKE SALAD: Bake for 10 minutes (no need to turn over) or until fish is firm, opaque, still juicy, and flakes when nudged with a fork. (approx. 140 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. The temperature will rise as the fish rests.) Meanwhile, divide the chilled romaine mixture between 4 bowls; add tomatoes, and avocado. Garnish with tortilla chips or croutons. Drizzle with vinaigrette.
- PLATE/SERVE: Add a hot baked fish fillet to the center of each salad, drizzle with a little vinaigrette and garnish with the reserved grated Cheddar and cilantro sprigs. Serve hot or warm.
To make your own croutons, cut a piece or two old bread into 1/2″ – 1″ cubes. Heat a small skillet with maybe 1/4 cup olive oil until quite hot. Leave one cube in there and when it really starts sizzle, the oil’s hot enough. Add the rest (don’t leave the stove!) and fry until quite crispy and brown on one side. Turn each piece and cook until it’s crispy on the other. Turn out into a paper towel lined bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. No more old bread in the garbage. Still have some? Bread crumbs!!! Soup garnish!!! Egg casserole (strata.) French toast.
If you liked this, you might also like my Oven-Roasted Dijon-White Fish with Lemon-Garlic Spring Vegetables:
MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:
LIFE GOES ON:
I don’t make corned beef and hash for St. Patrick’s Day (it’s not really an Irish dish anyway and the Irish have been known to call it, “that American S _ _ _ _.”) There’s an “e” on the end of that expletive in Ireland 😉 Still, it’s always on a great sale, so I buy one and cook it another day. This year I made it in the slow cooker with, yes, cabbage, and but lots of root vegetables, too. Leftovers were grilled corned beef and swiss sandwiches on rye and a beautiful corned beef hash with poached eggs Dave made for Sunday brunch.
Lovely to have a nice warm meal because the weather began to turn….
….and by Monday morning looked like this:
Come Monday afternoon, it was half melted and our inch-high daffodils had the good drink they needed. And that’s how we roll in Colorado.
I’m grateful for your kind presence here and pray you’re healthy and wealthy (not in cash, but in tasty food!).
Cook some fish, why don’t you?