Keep your catch cold to make the most of your piscatorial platter
Some fishermen catch fish for fun, enjoy admiring their catch, then release them back into the water to fight another day. Other fishermen catch fish for fun, but like to keep them and take them home to release them into hot grease at a fish fry.
Conservation is important, but so is proper nourishment.
And there’s nothing better to eat than fresh fish, especially this time of year. When the fish are fat and healthy from the winter and the water’s good and cold, it’s the best time to catch fish to eat. If you do keep fish to eat, pay attention to three stages of the process that are important to making the most of your piscatorial platter. It applies to any species of fish you catch.
Many decades ago, a famous French chef said, “In the hands of an able cook, fish can become an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight.” I think that means it’s hard to beat a good fish fry, especially if proper care has been taken with the prime ingredient.
Cold is key
The first step to a good fish fry (or whatever preparation you choose) comes when you first catch the fish. Keep your fish alive in cool, fresh water or ice them down. Keeping them cold is the key. Two dollars worth of ice is a good investment to preserve the flavor of your catch.
Second, take time to have a proper cleaning station and handle your fish with the same respect you give a $30 cut of filet mignon. Keep it clean and keep it cold during and after cleaning. This isn’t just an old wives’ tale. Keeping fish cold keeps the blood inside their organs. In warmer conditions, the blood spreads throughout their body. The blood in the fish flesh gives them a strong, fishy taste.
Getting fish cold has an added benefit. A really cold fish is much easier to clean than one that is still flouncing.
If you are eating the fish in the next 24-48 hours, you can keep the cleaned fish in the refrigerator in a covered stainless steel bowl or a sealed plastic freezer bag. For later use, there are several ways to freeze fish. Many people like to freeze them in water, but when you do that, make sure you dry the fish completely after thawing and before cooking.
Today, a popular way to keep fish tasting fresh is by using a vacuum sealer unit to secure them in an air-tight heavy duty plastic bag. Two tips here: make sure the fish is dry and also it doesn’t hurt to double seal the bag, just to ensure you prevent frost burn.
For species with a more “fishy” flavor like catfish, it doesn’t hurt to soak them overnight in a bowl of cold water with the juice of one fresh lemon stirred in. The lemon flavor isn’t strong and helps cleanse the meat of some of the wild flavor.
There are just about as many favorite ways to fry fish as their are lures to catch them. The basic fish fry only requires that you season the fish, cover it well with cornmeal or a commercial fish fry mix and cook it in hot oil. Here in Louisiana, we have lots of great seasonings to choose from. Peanut oil is the prime choice for frying. Frying fish at 350 – 375 degrees for 3-4 minutes for quarter pound filets is a good baseline. Thicker fish require a bit longer, but it’s easy to overcook fish, so timing is important.
For crispier fish or fish with a thicker coating, dip fish into an egg/milk mixture and then the coating. Some cooks repeat that process for a thick crispy batter. Another way to make fish extra crispy is to coat the fillets with plain mustard, then cover with meal or fish fry. The mustard holds the coating and only gives a faint taste of mustard to the finished fish.
Nothing beats fresh caught fish. Develop your own favorite method and stick with it for consistent results. And remember, the preparation for a good fish fry starts long before you fire up the cooker.
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