- Fish should come straight from the fridge
- Better tasting and easier with brine
- Make your own stock
- Roast shellfish for your stock
- No need to freeze first
If you choose to clean and fillet your fish yourself, it takes practice and some really good tools. If you eat fish often, get yourself a fish scaler and a good pair of tweezers for fish bones. Keep them within reach in the kitchen. (But there’s no need to feel ashamed if you ask your fishmonger to do the groundwork for you.)
Preparing whole fish:
• Scale in a bag or under water.
• Gut the fish by opening it up from the anus to the gills.
• Try not to split the green gallbladder.
• Cut off any flesh that has been colored green by the bitter bile.
• Rinse off any blood and superficial aromas in cold water.
- Pull out large bones with sharp tweezers.
- Cut and portion the fish before cooking, cooked fish doesn’t cut into attractive pieces.
- Slice same-sized pieces for the pan or the grill. Use uneven pieces for mince, soups and stews.
From the fridge to the pan
The best way to store fish is on ice. In the fridge you need to store it so that any liquid is drawn or sucked away. The fish should go straight from the fridge and into the pan (and here it’s particularly important that the pan is hot and the amount of – cold – fish is not too high).
“Fresh fish should come from the cold.”
– Peppe Elmqvist, fourth generation fishmonger
Fry fish perfectly with brine
If you are going to fry or grill lean, white fish, the flesh will be whiter and firmer if it is soaked for half an hour in a 10% salt solution (brine). The salt penetrates in better and the fish gains a firmer, more satisfying consistency. The flesh tastes better and is easier to handle. Fish that has been soaked in brine can be cooked at lower temperatures, an internal temperature around or just under 50°C can work.
Calculate the proportions for your brine on the basis of 100 ml salt to 1 liter of water. Place each piece of fish, weighing 150–180g, in this 10% brine for about 30 minutes before frying. A whole side of fish should soak in the brine for an hour.
One extra trick is to replace a small amount of the salt with sugar. Wipe the brine off before frying.
Prawns are also juicier after a short period in brine.
Make your own stock
One big step towards success with fish is knowing your sauces. One big step towards success with your sauces is to know your fish stock. Make your own. Or buy good quality fish stock. (Stock cubes that you can buy in the supermarket almost only contain salt and are manufactured in a way that has very little to do with cooking)
How to make fish stock
• Ideally use flatfish and remove the gills, which can add a bitter flavor. Avoid fatty fish to get cleaner flavors.
• Use root vegetables and herbs to taste. A common base is carrot, onion and celery. White peppercorns are a safe bet.
• Rinse the fish properly. Remove all the bloody bits. The colder and cleaner the water, the clearer and better looking the stock.
• If the stock boils, it will release flavors you don’t want. It should just simmer slowly, for a maximum of 30 minutes.
• Leave to cool. This part can take quite a while. Keep the lid on.
• Strain and reduce. Pour away the last centimeter at the bottom of the pan.
• Only salt the stock once you have reduced it.
Freezing stock in advance
If you make your own stock, freeze it in cubes or other portion-sized amounts. Stock can be made far in advance.
Better wine makes for better sauces
Achieving good results with fish – as with all cooking – comes down to the basics. It’s worth using a proper fish stock from a reliable source or from your own kitchen. It’s also worth using quality wine in your fish sauce.
“Bad liquid in a sauce makes the sauce bad.”
Stefan Eckert at Lisa Elmqvist defends his Chablis sauce
• Remove the black/dark intestines from large prawns, langoustines and lobsters.
• Make it easier for your diners by breaking hard shells.
• Keep cold shellfish cold and warm shellfish warm.
Roast shellfish shells
Shellfish stock can boil – but not too much. To give your shellfish stock an extra deep flavor, brown or roast the crushed shells in the oven for a few minutes before boiling. Use a roasting dish. Onions, root vegetables and herbs and spices can be roasted in the same tray.
Speedy shellfish sauce
If time is short, you can bash the shells, fry them quickly and bring to the boil in cream. Add some acidity in the form of a splash of white wine, onion, chives, etc. Strain the sauce. Round off with a knob of butter. Done!
Cleaning sandy mollusks
Mussels, clams and cockles can contain fine sand. Put them in cold (ideally iced), salted (1.5 tbsp salt/liter water) water for about an hour before cooking and if they’re live and fresh, they will empty themselves.
Freeze before curing?
It is sometimes recommended that salmon should be frozen before curing. However, the risk of salmon containing parasites is minimal. Supplier to the Swedish Royal Court Lisa Elmqvist, a restaurant that has been serving and selling salmon to the people of Stockholm for four generations, has this to say: “We don’t freeze our salmon and no-one has fallen ill in 88 years.”
Keep an eye on waste
How much flesh there is left once you have cleaned, scaled and filleted a fish differs wildly from one fish to another. For example, you should discount about 60% of a turbot, but about 40% of a witch or sole. If you are cooking turbot, this means you need to reckon on up to 500g per person, but slightly less for other flatfish. On the other hand, your fishmonger will know this…
If fish has gone bad, you will be able to tell from the smell – and from the flavor, if you get as far as eating it, that is. Bin it.
Sauces for fish
• Taste your sauce all the time.
• Clarify hot sauces by adding a knob of butter just before serving.
• Remember that sauces get thicker when they cool.
• The finer the stock, the better the sauce.
• The better the color, the more attractive it is on the plate.
Professional fish chefs consulted by Professional Secrets all agree – succeeding with fish is all about getting the freshest ingredients, cooking them with care and not over-complicating things. For the sake of variety, this means it’s important to master the sauces on this page – and ideally even more.
We might have said this before, but... Be aware that the quality of your fish stock has a major impact on the end result.
The simplest basic sauce
Melt butter. Salt if required and pour over the fish. Serve. One important detail is that the plate must be warm so that the butter doesn’t solidify.
The second simplest basic sauce
If nothing has burned, it’s good to use the pan in which you fried the fish. Stir in some white wine, a splash of cream and perhaps a little fish stock, and reduce. Round off with some knobs of butter.
Basic French sauce
The most classic fish sauce is a flavored beurre blanc (“white butter”): Bring to the boil chopped shallot, parsley and white peppercorns in a good quality fish stock, white wine and a little white wine vinegar. Reduce the liquid and strain.
You can bring it back to the boil with a splash of cream to reduce the risk of the emulsion splitting in the next stage: Add the butter bit by bit beating all the time – without letting the sauce boil. This basic sauce can then be flavored with chives, dill, horseradish, whitefish roe, calvados...
A light wine sauce
Melt butter and add flour as if making a béchamel sauce. Dilute with fish stock and wine and boil to reduce. Whip egg yolks with cream and mix into the sauce, stirring all the time. Balance the flavors with salt and lemon juice. For a lighter version, whip half the amount of the cream and stir it in last.
A mussel sauce
As above but replace the stock with a larger amount of the liquid from cooking mussels. Mix in and heat the mussels but don’t let them cook twice.
Fry the shells, onion and garlic in oil. If they come from larger shellfish like crab and lobster you could crack them and roast them in the oven first. Add white wine, stock and tomato purée and reduce. Strain out the shells and pour in the cream. Then reduce again. Season with salt, pepper and lobster stock.
A filling mushroom sauce
Fry the mushrooms until almost all the liquid has steamed away. Add chopped onion and fry. Pour in the cream, stirring all the time, and cook on a medium heat until the right thickness is attained. Season with pepper and salt and add color with a few drops of soy sauce. The sauce can be processed smooth with a hand-held blender.
Hollandaise, mayonnaise, aioli, etc.
You’ll find excellent recipes for these popular emulsions in books and on the internet. They’re not as hard as people think – as with everything else, it just takes a bit of practice. They can be flavored with saffron, chili, pepper and other good things.
To reduce the risk of the sauce splitting, the ingredients need to be at the same temperature. One trick if it does split: Beat one egg yolk in a bowl. While beating, drip the split sauce into the egg yolk – very slowly to begin with. It will work.
The base of a cold fish sauce can be yoghurt, sour cream or crème fraîche. Often with a dollop of mayonnaise for a little saltiness and umami. Common flavors are lemon, lime, roe/caviar, dill, parsley, chives, mint, pepper, chili, garlic, capers, pickled vegetables, etc. Sauce Verte with chopped spinach and fresh green herbs adds a good splash of color on the plate.
“Salsa” is actually the Spanish word for sauce, but in international cuisine it has come to mean a fresh – often cold – sauce made from a base of tomato, onion, garlic and chili. It goes well with anything grilled, including fish.