More delicate than meat, fish can dry out easily. To keep moisture in, cook fish quickly over high heat (grilling, broiling, or sauteing) or gently poach it in liquid.
When you're grilling fish, keep a close watch. Fish only takes a few minutes per side to cook. If the fillets are an even thickness, sometimes they don't even require flipping--they can be cooked through by grilling on one side only.
- Brush the fish lightly with oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
- Place fish near the edge of the grill, away from the hottest part of the fire. (Don't try to lift up the fish right away; it will be stuck to the grill).
- Start checking for color and doneness after a few minutes, once the fish starts to release some of its juices.
- Flip the fish over when you see light grill marks forming.
This gentle cooking method is perfect for seafood. Poaching keeps fish moist and won't mask the delicate flavor of the fish. To poach fish, use vegetable or chicken stock, or make a court-bouillon, a homemade broth of aromatic herbs and spices.
- Use a pan big enough to lay each piece of fish down flat.
- Pour in enough liquid to just barely cover the fish.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer, and keep it there.
- If you see any bubbles coming up from the bottom of the pan, it's too hot--the liquid should "shimmer" rather than bubble. The ideal poaching temperature is between 165 and 180 degrees F (74 to 82 degrees C).
Steaming is another gentle cooking method. It produces a mild-tasting fish that is often paired with a flavorful sauce.
- Rub the fish with spices, chopped herbs, ginger, garlic, and chile peppers to infuse flavor while it cooks.
- Use a bamboo steamer or a folding steamer basket with enough room for each piece of fish to lie flat.
- Pour about 1½ inches of water into the pan.
- Place the steamer over the water, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.
- Begin checking the fish for doneness after 10 minutes.
When the weather's not right for grilling, try broiling instead. Broiling is great when you want a fast, simple, hassle-free preparation with delicious results. It gives fish a nicely browned exterior with the convenience of a temperature-controlled heat source. Just follow the basic grilling instructions above. For easy cleanup, line the broiler pan with a piece of foil.
Baking fish allows you to get the satisfying crunch of fried fish without all the fat. Just because it's baked, though, doesn't mean it's healthy: watch the amount of butter, oil, mayonnaise, or cheese called for in the recipe.