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FRESH FROM THE SEA

More people are enjoying fish than ever before. However for fish dishes to be truly pleasurable the fish needs to be pristine, have a snow-white texture and a fresh aroma. Choose your fish carefully and be adventurous. In South Africa we are paying more attention to quality and supermarkets are offering a wider choice. Often you will find the more popular the fish the more expensive it is. So, do check out lesser known varieties, you will find they can be stunning taste wise and offer excellent value.

CHOICE INGREDIENTS

Good quality olive oil, butter, cream, soft crushed sea salt, English mustard powder, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, white wine, fresh lemons, herbs such as dill, tarragon, fresh basil, bay leaves, oregano, chopped parsley and sprays of fennel. Vegetables that are a happy choice with fish; onions, leeks, tomatoes and celery leaves.

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT

A heavy-based grilling pan, a nonstick frying pan and a stainless steel oven-proof dish that is large enough to hold whole fish fillets (aluminium foil can be substituted).

VITAL HINTS

When storing fish, immediately wash under cold running water. Place on a large dish and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover with wax paper and refrigerate. Before cooking give one further rinse and pat dry on paper towels as you do not want to dilute the juices.

Rather undercook than overcook. When fish is perfectly cooked it just peels away from the bone and retains all its juices. Do remember it continues to firm as it stands.  

 

I know I go on and on about it, but it really never ceases to amaze me that we South Africans don’t eat fish at least two or three times a week. Not only do we have some of the finest eating fish along our vast coastline – but fish is extremely healthy, quick and easy to prepare and cheaper than red meat.

"Fresh fish shouldn't have a strong smell and its skin should be free of slime or mucous. When you press into the fish, the flesh should 'bounce' back,"  If the flesh retains your fingerprint, avoid at all costs. Also, "the eyes must be shiny, not dull whatsoever, and the gills must be nice and pink."

Buying fish is one thing, handling it is also very important.  "My philosophy is to keep it simple. Fish is a delicacy. You can really bugger it up. Fish must taste like fish!"

Seafood should be kept as simple as possible, its flavours clean. "A piece of fish with a wedge of lemon is still the best thing," though of course it would have to be accompanied by a few dollops of mayo.

Some helpful hints and tips to assist in selecting, storing, preparing and cooking fish

How do I Select Good Quality Frozen Fish?

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Always ensure that the product is completey frozen; never purchase any opened or damaged packaging.

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The packaging should be free from moisture; any soft packaging indicates that it has defrosted.

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Tightly-wrapped packages with little or no air space between the fish and the package.

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No signs of discoloration on the fish. Fish should smell clean and mild and not strongly "fishy" or rancid.

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There should be no evidence of drying out on the fish.

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There should be no parched white areas indicating freezer burn.

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Too many ice crystals on either the outer pack or the product show that the package has been allowed to defrost at some stage, and the fish has therefore lost its moisture and then been refrozen. The flavour and eating quality will be affected.

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When shopping purchase your frozen fish last, to ensure that it does not defrost or damage whilst shopping.

 

What different methods are used to freeze fresh fish commercially?
 

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Plate Freezing: This method of freezing can be done on the fishing vessel or in the shore based factory. The gutted, filleted, and skinned fish are packed in the final product carton either in plastic pouches or between layers of plastic and then frozen with direct contact between the carton and refrigerated iron plates.

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Blast Freezing: This method is also used both on fishing vessels and ashore. The prepared fish, wrapped in plastic, are placed in cartons. The cartons are placed within a freezing chamber in which cooled air is circulated rapidly.
Individually Quick Frozen (IQF): This method is done in the same manner as blast freezing. However each individual fish / portion / fillet is frozen separately.
Commercial freezing happens very quickly. This is done to minimize the formation of ice crystals, which will damage the texture of the fish. It also "locks in" the flavour and moisture. This is the reason why frozen fish is often "fresher" than "so-called" fresh fish.

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Home Freezing: Fish should be gutted before freezing, and wrapped well, as freezer burn will occur if any part of the fish is exposed. The cold air within a freezer will dehydrate the exposed fish and cause a taint in the flavour.  Home freezing happens far more slowly that commercial freezing, and some ice crystal formation will occur within the fish. It is always preferable to cook fish from frozen, as moisture will be lost during the defrost process, more so in home frozen product.

How do I defrost fish /shellfish?

The safest way to defrost fish in order to keep its flavour and texture is to defrost in the refrigerator for 12 - 24 hours depending on its size.
Defrosting at room temperature will deteriorate the quality of the fish and plunging in cold water will result in the further loss of moisture and flavour.
As with many defrosted food products, refreezing fish is not recommended.

How do I Know its Fresh?

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Your eyes and sense of smell are very important when selecting fresh fish.

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Fresh fish should have a mild, salty aroma; if it is 'fishy' it may very well be stale, so steer clear.

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Scaly fish should have a good covering of scales, if they have bald patches and the scales are coming loose it has past it's best before.

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The gills should be bright red and not pale in colour.

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The tail must be pliable, not dry.

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The eyes should be clear and bright not dull and sunken.

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The flesh should be firm, not soft.

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When buying pre packed and cut portions, e.g. cutlets or steaks, it is very difficult to judge it's freshness and the ' sell by' or 'best before' should be checked. Do however ensure that the fish has not discoloured, that there is very little air space between the wrapping and the fish and that there are no pools of liquid at the bottom of the package.

How do I store fresh fish and seafood?

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Once at home place the Frozen Fish products in your freezer immediately, (-18ºC is the ideal temperature for your home freezer).

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Ensure that the freezer door closes properly, and limit opening and closing thereof, as this causes temperature fluctuations.

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Never defrost and refreeze any frozen fish.

How do I select fresh shellfish?

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It is always better and advised to buy fresh shellfish while it is alive and to cook it as soon as possible, as it decomposes very quickly and in this manner you can guarantee its freshness.

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Lobster, Crayfish and Crabs should almost always be purchased alive to ensure freshness. If you do buy cooked Crab, Lobster or Crayfish purchase from a reliable source. With crayfish and lobster if you pull back the tail and it snaps back it is very likely to be freshly cooked.

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Prawns, when buying fresh all the same rules apply, refrigerate and cook as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours pass.

How do I store shellfish?

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Shellfish should be kept covered and at the bottom of your refrigerator and cooked within 24 hours.

How do I?
Trim /Scale /Gut /Skin / Fillet /Bone

Firstly it is important that you have a very sharp knife and a cutting board with a wet cloth underneath it to prevent your board from sliding around.

How do I Trim Fish?

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Cut away the fins with sharp scissors while holding the fish down tightly.

How do I Scale Fish?

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Use a fish scaler or a large knife and scrape along the fish from the tail to head (against the "grain"), gripping it tightly at the tail with a cloth for extra grip (if this is all new to you).

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This is a messy job so it is wise to do it outside or in an area that is protected by plastic bags.

How do I Gut Fish?

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Most fresh fish bought today are gutted soon after being caught. The reason for this is, that the enzymes present in the gills increase the rate of deterioration of the fish.

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Insert the knife just below the head and slit through the soft belly skin. Pull out all the innards (guts) and gently wash the fish under slow running water.

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Remove the dark bloodline in the spinal column, as this will affect the flavour of the fish.

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Did you know? The "cheek" of the fish is considered a delicacy and is commonly known as the "pearl". It is very flavoursome.

How do I Fillet a Whole Fish?

  1. Place the fish with the skin side down on a secure cutting board.
  2. Grip it firmly by its tail and pin it to the cutting board.
  3. Using your sharp knife, slice the fish down the backside of the head and begin to cut the fish in half.
  4. Place the sharp knife inside of this cut with the blade of the knife resting closely between the fish's bones and the flesh.
     
  5. Cut from the head to tail in smooth movements; do not use a sawing motion, as you will have a torn /broken fillet.
  6. Ensure that you keep the blade of the knife closely against the bones, so that a thick fillet can be separated from the bone.
     
  7. Once most of the fillet is removed from the fish, hold it tightly with one hand and finally snip it loose at the tail.
     
  8. Cut away any small bones that are present on the edge of the fillet.
     
  9. Once it is freed from the fillet, turn it over and repeat on the other side.
     
  10. Follow steps 2 - 7 to complete Filleting your whole fish.

Step 1 in Filleting a round fish

Step 2 in Filleting a round fish

Step 1 in Filleting a flat fish

Step 2 in Filleting a flat fish

How Do I Debone a Fillet?

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Cut out the rib bones, these run across the front of the fillets.

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Keep the blade tightly against the bones and slice under the bones, pulling up gently to free them and remove.

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Next rub lightly from the head to tail with your fingertips to detect sharp edged "pin bones", they run down the fillets centre section.

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Remove them by cutting on either side of the bones in a shallow V; remove the narrow strip of bones with the meat attached. THIS PROCESS IS CALLED THE V-CUT.

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Remove any stray bones with fish tweezers, grip it firmly and pull sharply to remove the entire bone and not damage the fillet.

How do I Skin a Fillet?

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Place the fish skin-side down on to a secure cutting board.

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Using your sharp knife angle it about 1 - 2 cm from the end of the tail, and cut the flesh from the skin. This should be a gentle action to ensure the flesh is not damaged in the process.

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Keep the blade as close to the skin as possible and flat.

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Grip the cut tail section tightly with your free hand.

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Move the knife blade away from you, up the entire fillet in a smooth motion and remove the skin from the meat.

 

Skinning a Fillet


How do I Skin a Whole Fillet?

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Using your sharp knife make a shallow cut at the base of the tail, without cutting through the meat.

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With the blade of the knife, scrape just enough skin away from the meat to allow you to grip it tightly in your fingers.

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With your free hand, keep the body of the fish down, with the other pull the skin toward the head of the fish and over the head of the fish.

How do I Cut Steaks/ Cutlets?

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Place the fish on a secure cutting board; lay it on its side.

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Cut 2.5 cm thick slices, starting at the head down towards the tail end of the fish. (Similar to slicing bread).

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Cutting may require you to bang on your blade with a wooden or rubber mallet to cut through the backbone of the fish.

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Whilst doing this try not to press against the fish, as this will soften the flesh.

How do I Prepare a Fish Noisette?

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After cutting your fish into steaks or cutlets, follow the steps below:

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With a sharp knife, slice the skin from the flesh of the cutlet, only cut half way round the steak or cutlet, from one side only.

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You will be left with one side of the cutlet with a flap of loosened skin.

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Tuck or fold the skinned fish flesh into the centre and wrap the rest of the cutlet round the outside.

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Fold the loose skin on the outside, to make a secure parcel.

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Tie with a string and its ready to be cooked

How do I Butterfly a Small Round Fish?

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Place the whole fish on a secure cutting board.

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With a very sharp knife slit the fish along the entire length of its belly, from head to tail.

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Clean the fish under running water.

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Place the fish, skin side up, on the cutting board.

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Using the heel of your hand, press down firmly on the backbone of the fish to loosen the flesh. Be very careful not to squash and damage the fish.

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Turn the fish over, with the skin side down on the cutting board, cut through the backbone of the fish down the entire length of the fish.

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Do not cut right through; the aim is to loosen the skin at the backbone, to remove the backbone and pin bones present as the fish has to remain whole.

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It is now ready to be braaied or made into roll mops.

How do I Prepare a Whole Small Round Fish for Stuffing?

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Place the whole ungutted fish on your secure cutting board.

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Starting at the head of the fish make a 2.5cm slit into the backbone of the fish, using a sharp knife to ensure a clean cut, continue until you reach the tail.

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Remove the innards and rinse out very well under cold running water.

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This method takes a bit of practice and with all fish processing it is important not to handle the fish excessively or grip it tightly or dig your fingers into the fish, as it will cause the flesh to be soft.

How do I Prepare Fish For Sashimi or Ceviche?

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The preparation of the fish for use in Sashimi or Ceviche is very important as the fish does not get cooked before serving and is eaten raw, sometimes in marinade, and sometimes not.

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It is vital, for health and safety reasons that the following preparation and processing guide be followed diligently:

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The fish should be left in the freezer at -18ºC for at least 24 hours before using, then transferred to the fridge.

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If it was bought fresh keep in the refrigerator until needed.

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It should be sliced thinly and kept at the coldest possible temperature in it's marinade without freezing. It must ideally be removed from the fridge and served very cold.

How do I Score Fish?

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Scoring allows whole fish to cook evenly when poached, steamed, oven baked or braaied.

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Place the fish on a secure cutting board.

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Gripping the fish by its tail, using a sharp knife, slash the fish 1.25cm deep.

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Depending on the size of the fish 3 - 4 slashes should be enough, along it's entire length.

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Repeat on the other side.

How do I Fold Fish Fillets?

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Below are a few methods to fold your skinned fish fillets, before poaching, steaming or oven baking.

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These methods of folding add an elegance and sophistication to the basic Fillet Of Fish Dish.

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With the methods below, fold the skinned side of the fillet to the inside.

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Folded fish fillets are almost always served with a simple sauce such as:
Hollandaise /Béarnaise /Champagne Sauce. The fish fillet, when accompanied by a classic sauce and presented in all its glory, ensures that the flavour of the fish is enjoyed and relished.

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Fold:

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Fold your skinned fillet in half, and tuck the tail portion of the fillet inside the fold, so that the tail portion is underneath the thicker section of the fillet.

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This not only increases its thickness, but also prevents the tail section from over cooking and drying out.

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The inside of the fold can be stuffed with fresh herbs, breadcrumbs, cheese or any other ingredient of your choice, to add interest in flavour or texture.

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Sliced lemon rings and fresh herbs are also great to add flavour and increase the visual appeal.

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Roll/Turban:

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Rolls are a great idea for entertaining purposes and look wonderfully smart and elegant and are by far the easiest way to add a difference to the normal Fillet Of Fish Dish.

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If using a small fillet, simply roll the fillet with the skin side on the inside until you have a flat dome shape.

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Rolls can also be stuffed with mashed potato or soufflé; for this method, leave a well in the centre of the roll in which to place the stuffing.

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Knot:

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For the knot shape; in one motion knot the fish fillet lightly but firmly, ensuring that you do not pull or damage the fillet.

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Fan:

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Ideal for oily /firmer fish types.
This is similar to the Fold; fold ¼ of the fish, starting at the tail end, tucking it underneath the thicker portion of the fillet.

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By doing so, the tail will be covered by the thicker portion and the Fillet portion increases in size and the shape remains natural.

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Ensure that the skinned side is on the inside, so that the flakes of the fish, which cause the fanning, will be visible when cooked.
 

How do I Prepare Fish Escalopes?

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Large fish fillets are cut into escalopes, for pan frying, oven baking or steaming.

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Place the fillet, skinned or unskinned, onto a secure cutting board.

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Using a sharp knife, cut at a 45° angle, 1cm thick slices of fish from the fillet, with the tail section facing away from you and you working towards it.

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You are therefore working back up to the head / thicker section of the fish.

Tips on preparing and cooking fish:

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Always cook all fish and fish products straight from frozen if purchased.

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Preferably do not freeze fresh fish. NEVER refreeze after defrosting.

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If product is defrosted or fresh, cook within 24 hours, but keep as cold as possible without freezing.

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Cook only until fish flakes easily, and flesh should be opaque.

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When baking/cooking/frying, use medium heat settings as fish cooks much faster than meat.

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Use a slow fire when braaing fish. Braai straight from frozen or only slightly defrosted.

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Cook skin side down first as this allows the fat in the flesh to be cooked-in when braaing.

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Most fish lend themselves to braaing/frying, baking, poaching, grilling and microwaving.

How do I FRY fish?

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Shallow (Pan) Fry - use hot oil for best results. This will ensure a crispy outside with a moist inside. Do not fry too slowly, as the fish will be pale and might fall apart. Cover base of pan with oil. Butter adds flavour, but because it can burn, add a little oil. The frying time can vary from 6 - 8 minutes depending on thickness of the portion.
To establish when oil is ready for frying, dip a cube of bread in the oil. It should turn brown in 90 seconds.

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Deep Fry - crumb or batter fish to protect the flesh and seal in the flavours and juices. Fry quickly in hot (180°), deep oil for about 4 - 6 minutes.

How do I BAKE fish?

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Dollops of flavoured butter or a little olive oil on fish portions are ideal for baking. Wrap fish portions in foil to keep moisture in - as fish forms its own juices. Open just before end of baking to allow for browning. Fish can also be placed in a suitable oven dish and covered. Baking takes around 20 minutes depending on the portion size.

How do I GRILL fish?

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Domestic grills vary so much. Always line the grill pan with foil and brush fish with oil to prevent sticking. For an outside braai, a wire fish grid is ideal. Slash skin of fish and brush well with oil. When marinating fish for grilling, leave to marinate for half an hour to give extra flavour. If marinated for too long the flesh may break up. Grilling time should be about 8 - 10 minutes.
All cooking times given are a guideline only as size and thickness of fish portions and cooking appliances vary.

How do I POACH fish?

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Pour some water (milk /fish stock can also be used) into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Place the fish, skin-side down into liquid and simmer very gently to avoid breaking up the flesh. To flavour the fish, simply use a court bouillon or add two tablespoons vinegar, a few peppercorns and some bay leaves to the cooking liquid.

How do I BRAAI fish?

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Place fish in a large piece of foil, shiny side facing inwards. Season fish very well and close foil. Place on braai grid over medium heat coals and turn over at regular intervals. Braai until fish turns opaque and flakes easily. Fennel, dill or thyme adds an aromatic flavour to braaied fish.

How does MICROWAVE cooking differ to other methods of cooking fish?
Texture:
Microwave cooking is so quick; thereby differences in texture will show up more quickly in the end result. A lighter mixture allows microwave energy to penetrate more easily than a heavier one and will cook faster.
Starting temperature:
Differences in the temperature of the food when placed into the microwave will affect the length of the cooking time required. The colder the food, the longer it will take to cook, so allowances must be made when using food straight from the refrigerator or freezer.
Quantity:
The greater the quantity of food placed in the microwave, the greater the length of cooking time required. Similarly, if you use less than the quantities given in the recipes, the cooking times should be adjusted /reduced.
Stirring and turning:
Stirring during a heating or cooking process is recommended in some dishes. All foods continue cooking to a degree when removed from the oven and some dishes will require a standing or resting period to assist with the heating or cooking process.

Salmon Cooking Methods

Baking
For each 2.5cm thickness of steak or fillet cook at high for 10 minutes from fresh or fully thawed, or 12 - 15 minutes if partially thawed, if frozen cook for 20 minutes.
· Place salmon in a baking dish (or wrap in oiled foil and place on a baking sheet).
· Brush fish with melted butter or olive oil and season with salt and pepper or any other seasoning of your choice.

Braai (Barbecuing)
· Defrost fully and marinade salmon in your preferred marinate.
· Cook Salmon over hot coals on a well-oiled grill, to prevent sticking.
· Baste frequently to ensure that the salmon remains moist and flavourful.
· Turn once halfway through the cooking period.
· Do Not Overcook

Pan Frying
· Thaw the salmon slightly and then sear on both sides in a hot pan on a high heat for 30 seconds per side.
· Turn the heat down to a medium low heat and fry gently for ± 4 minutes on each side or until cooked.


Grill
· Slightly thaw the salmon and brush with melted butter. Place on a baking tray.
· Grill under a pre-heated moderately  hot grill, ensuring that the baking tray is placed 15cm away from the grill (this ensures that the salmon does not brown before it cooks through).
· Grill for ± 8 - 10 minutes.

Poaching
· Poaching liquid can consist of the following: 1litre water flavoured with vegetable/ fish stock and the juice of one lemon or lime. Any herb of your choice can be added to the liquid (parsley/rosemary/ lemongrass/ ginger)
· Bring the poaching liquid to a gentle simmer and place the 2 frozen salmon portions in the liquid, cover with a lid and simmer over a medium heat for 8 - 10 minutes.
· Once the fish is poached, reduce the liquid to a ¼ of the original amount and add a tablespoon of cream before serving, serve warm with the poached fish.

Steaming
· Fill a large saucepan 1/3 full with water.
· Simmer gently and place a colander, which fits snugly, into the saucepan, ensure that the colander is well out of the water.
· Place some frozen vegetables at the bottom of the colander, place the 2 frozen salmon portions on top of the vegetables and scatter some fresh parsley over the contents.
· Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 10 - 12 minutes, or until cooked.

Stir Fry
· Cut frozen salmon steaks into strips or medium sized cubes.
· Heat butter or oil in a wok or frying pan.
· Stir Fry for 3 - 4 minutes on high.
· Cream can be added to the last 30 seconds of cooking for a creamy sauce, or use flavoured butter and add fresh herbs just before serving.

 

Cooking methods for Fish

 

Type of Fish

Flesh

Cooking Method

Snoek

Oily fish

fry, braise, pickle, smoke or grill

Mackerel

Oily fish

braai, pickle, smoke, poach, grill

Tuna

Oily fish

braai (baste/marinade), bake, roast, grill

Codfish

Moderately oily

fry, pickle, smoke, bake, poach, grill

Cape Salmon

Moderate fat

fry, grilled, braai, pickle/cure, bake, poach

Mullet

Moderately oily

fry, salted and smoked, bake

Sole

Low in oil

fry, grill, steam

Yellowtail

Flesh is coarse

fry, braai, pickle, smoke, grill

White Steenbras

Delicate flesh

fry, braai, bake, grill

Kingklip

Low in oil

fry, bake in a sauce, poach, grill

Trout

Moderate fat

fry, smoke, bake, poach or grill

Hake/Stockfish

Low in fat

fry, bake, poach

Yellow fish

Moderate fat

fry, braise, poach or grill