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I’m batting .500 on cooking fish

Cooked fish a second time today. Miserable failure. Unappetizing and (almost) inedible, but there is a silver lining, if you buy into my twisty logic!

Background: A few posts ago, on the day Senator Kennedy died, I talked both about him and about my first time cooking fish (not counting childhood trout cooked on an open fire or a bad experience with tempura that shall, henceforth, be completely ignored!) Loved the salmon I cooked. Resolved to include fish on my self cook menu and experiment going forward.

Fast forward to this past Saturday (2 days ago): I bought a fillet of butterfish, locally caught the same day at my local farmer’s market. Seller said it would be OK for up to 3 days in fridge, which was OK by me as I had a LOT of leftovers that I really should have eaten first (and did) – so I planned to cook the butterfish Sunday (yesterday) with the leftovers for lunch today. However, I ended up eating out with family, so I didn’t get around to cooking the fish until today.

Fish was still good. Dry to the touch, no smell. I’d done some web surfing for recipes, but hadn’t found any that leaped out at me the way the successful salmon recipe did (and don’t ask for the recipe, go back 2 posts and read it – it’s got a link to the recipe). Then my breakdown happened – I decided to try cooking it off the cuff!

I seasoned both sides with salt and pepper and lightly oiled the fish, let things lie a few minutes while I made a bit of compound butter with lime zest, parsley and the greens only from a bunch of green onions. Then I heated the pan, applied a light coating of EVOO and applied the fish, skin side down.

The first hint of something wrong was immediate: I think the skin SHRANK, pulling the fish with it, thus making the previously flat non-skin side bulge in the middle alarmingly. I persevered, turning the fillet when I thought was right. Easy to turn, but the skin fell apart, but that wasn’t the worst: now the bulge on the non-skin side was preventing most of the fish from contacting the pan. Still I kept on, bravely attempting to flatten the fish without breaking up the fillet. I very quickly felt the fish was done and removed it to a plate, applying my herbed butter to allow it to melt while I zapped the remainder of my dinner (leftover bulghur pilaf and roasted root vegetables).

Finally, I sat down to eat. First bite – Flavorless. Chewing slowly to try to extract ANY taste, I then ran across a little bone that I didn’t realize was there. Exploring further, I discover a lot more of them. As I found out after dinner, these were Pin bones. The fish was actually well cooked, not overcooked and not raw. It just had no taste. I managed to finish about a third of it before I gave up, at my side dishes and called it a meal.

There is no way, however, that I will use the half I cooked but didn’t serve, which I intended for my bag lunch tomorrow, which brought up a quandry – What am I going to pack for lunch? Then I remembered the silver lining – one of the warehouse guys is going to barbecue tomorrow for lunch, with supplies purchased by the “donut” fund!

Lesson learned: Don’t worry, I haven’t given up on fish! I’m taking away the following:

Don’t try to create your own recipe if you don’t know the ingredient(s)! If you’re trying a new star ingredient, stick with somebody else’s tried and true recipe. Not just once, but enough times to get familiar enough with the ingredient to have at least some chance of knowing how to apply heat to it before you experiment!

That’s all folks!

OK – One thing more thing: I’m going to call this “Steve’s first rule of Cooking.” Hopefully, I won’t have to add too many more!

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