The best way to get the freshest fish available is to simply ask. Ask your local market – what’s fresh today? This will sometimes require being flexible about the kind of fish you cook that evening. Fresh fish always tastes better. The freshest fish will smell of the sea (briny), not fishy, and the meat will be firm and springy.
Fish come in three basic varieties:
White fish — cod, grouper, sole and haddock, etc. These fish have translucent skin that turns an opalescent white when cooked. This type of fish is good for sauteing and baking.
Meaty fish — salmon, trout, tuna and sardines, among others. Meaty fish are oilier and thicker than other varieties and contain good oils (omega 3 fatty acids). They are often grilled.
Shellfish — lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams, mussels and oysters. Shellfish can be cooked almost any way and served hot or cold.
When you buy fresh fish and seafood, use it the same day or freeze it immediately. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, never on the kitchen counter. Rinse fish in cold water, drain and pat dry with paper towels.
Italy is water-bound, with thousands of miles of beaches, bays and inlets. Almost everything that lives in the sea, from swordfish which the fishermen still harpoon from the bows of their boats in the Straits of Messina, to arselle or little clams that live in the sand, find their way to the table.
Each of Italy’s main regions are known for specific types of fish and the ways of preparing it. When Italians emigrated to America, they first settled along the coastal areas and brought with them their style of preparing fish. Vegetables are often used to create sauces in traditional Italian cooking. The following recipes are typical of Italian cuisine in America and in Italy. They are also a great way to enjoy delicious seafood.
Poached Fish In Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)
One 14.5-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
Pinch of saffron threads
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Four 5-6 oz. skinless cod, bass, flounder, etc. fresh fish fillets
Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook, stirring often (garlic should not brown), about 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them, wine, bay leaves, saffron and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat to medium-low; season the fish with salt and pepper and place in the skillet with the poaching liquid.
Cover and cook at a bare simmer until fish is cooked throughout, about 5–7 minutes and the fish registers 140°F on an instant read thermometer. (Thicker pieces will take longer to cook).
Gently transfer the fish to individual shallow bowls and spoon the poaching liquid over.
Italian Style Fish and Vegetables
Two 5-6 oz fresh fish fillets
5 grape tomatoes, sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian-leaf parsley
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 large shallots, finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. baby spinach
1/4 cup feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Place the fish and the tomatoes in a glass baking dish. Sprinkle garlic and parsley over the top and squeeze the lemon juice over the fish.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked and registers 140°F on an instant read thermometer.
In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, sauté shallots in oil for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium and add the spinach, cooking until wilted, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the feta cheese and heat until melted and evenly distributed.
To serve, place 3/4 cup of the spinach-feta mixture on each plate and place 1 fillet and half the tomatoes on top of each serving.