How to Cook Fish - the Legal Sea Foods Way

Fish cooked simply remains the number one choice of our customers. They realize, as we do, that when fish is truly fresh, its flavor stands alone. Fresh fish that's grilled -- or baked -- and served with a touch of butter or lemon juice is gourmet food in the best sense of the word. At Legal Sea Foods restaurants you can buy fish wood-grilled, broiled, steamed, baked, deep-fried, or sautéed. We use several cooking methods because the way the fish is prepared is often a matter of personal preference. Many fish as so versatile that you can cook them several ways, while a few fish taste best when prepared with a specific technique. If you master the cooking techniques below, you'll be able to cook any fish or shellfish in the ocean.

However, poorly cooked, even the best fish in the world will be ruined. Cod that's baked in an oven at just the right temperature for just the right time will be moist and flavorful. The same cod, placed in the same oven and baked ten minutes too long, will come out dry and tasteless. The most important aspect of cooking fish is the care with which you treat it, not the method you use. There's no reason why you can't prepare fish that's the equal to that found at our restaurants. All you need is a source for quality fresh fish and attention to detail while it's cooking.

The most common mistake people make in cooking fish is to treat it like meat. Meat flesh is formed with long bundles of muscle and connective tissue that often need to be pounded or cooked for a long time with moist heat to become tender. Fish, on the other hand, is naturally tender because its connective tissue and muscles are shaped in short fibers. Fish also contains considerably less connective tissue than meat. As fish's flesh is tender before it's cooked and remains tender when it is properly prepared, it's unnecessary to cook fish for a long time to tenderize it. Cook fish only to the point when it's done. Past this critical moment, the tissue in the fish dries out. You can never make fish more tender by overcooking it, but you can make it dry and tasteless. Similar to meat, fish continues to cook after it is removed from the heat.

Regardless of the method, you should cook fish just until it has lost its translucency and turned opaque -- no longer. Novice cooks often test for doneness by waiting until the flesh flakes when tested with a fork. Fish cooked to this point is overcooked. (If you tend to overcook fish, buy a thicker piece of fish, such as a salmon steak, rather than salmon fillets -- or a piece of cod, rather than a fillet of sole, which cooks almost immediately. Also a fish with high fat content, such as arctic char or bluefish, will stay moist even when slightly overcooked.) The easiest, and most accurate way to check for doneness is to use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature. It should read 140°F. When you test the fish, be sure that the thermometer does not touch either the bone (if the fish isn't filleted) or the baking dish.

Overcooked fish is a disaster. When people tell me they dislike fish, I suspect they have spent a lifetime eating overcooked fish and really don't know how delicious properly prepared fish tastes. Fish should be served the minute it is cooked. At our restaurants, the fish is rushed to the table rather than sitting under a heat lamp, losing flavor and drying up buy the minute. When you're putting together a meal at home, coordinate your vegetables and other accompaniments so that they are ready to serve slightly before the fish is done.

From the "Legal Sea Foods Cookbook" by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer, Illustrated by Edward Koren