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Simple Cooking Methods

Fish is the original "fast food." It cooks quickly-within minutes-because it lacks the connective tissue of red meats and poultry.

Baking
Whole fish, whole stuffed fish, fillets, stuffed fillets, steaks and chunks of fish may be baked. Use pieces of similar size for even cooking. It's best to bake fish in a preheated, 450 degrees F oven following the 10-minute rule; bake uncovered, basting if desired.

For a quick and delicious dinner, bake fish on a bed of chopped vegetables. Try a mixture of onion, celery and carrots or a combination of mushrooms, onions and peppers.

Broiling
Steaks, whole fish, split whole fish and fillets lend themselves well to broiling. Place fish, one-inch thick or less, two to four inches from the heat source. Place thicker pieces five to six inches away. Baste frequently with an oil-based marinade. Using the 10-minute rule, cook on one side for half the total cooking time, basting once or twice, then turn the fish over to continue broiling and basting.

Grilling
This technique works well for meatier or steak fish such as mackerel, bluefish, swordfish, tuna and whole fish. Preheat an outdoor gas or electric grill. If using a barbecue grill, start the fire about 30 minutes before cooking. Let it burn until white hot then spread coals out in a single layer. Adjust the grill height to 4 to 6 inches above the heat.

To grill fish, a moderately hot fire is best for cooking seafood. Always start with a well-oiled grid to prevent the delicate skin of the fish from sticking. Support more delicate pieces of fish in a hinged, wire basket for easier turning or handling. Frequently baste steaks and fillets while grilling to prevent them from drying out. Marinating fish an hour before grilling also helps keep it moist. Apply the 10-minute rule when grilling.

Use indirect heat for whole fish by banking hot coals on either side of the barbecue or preheat gas or electric grill. Oil fish well and place in an oiled fish basket. Cook, covered, 10 to 12 minutes per inch of thickness, turning halfway through cooking time.

Microwaving
Use a shallow dish to allow maximum exposure to the microwaves. Arrange fillets with the thicker parts pointing outward and the thinner parts, separated by pieces of plastic wrap, overlapping in the center of the dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap and vent by turning back one corner.

Allow 3 minutes per pound of boneless fish, cooked on high, as a guide. Rotate the dish halfway through the cooking time. Rolled fillets microwave more evenly and are less likely to overcook than flat fillets, which may have thin edges.

Poaching
Poach fish in simmering liquid such as fish stock, water with aromatic herbs/vegetables, or a mixture of wine and water. In a large skillet, sauté pan or fish poacher, bring the liquid to a boil. Add the fish and return to boiling. Quickly reduce to a simmer-the liquid should barely bubble. Cover and begin timing the fish according to the 10-minute rule. The remaining liquid can be used to make a sauce for the fish, if desired.

Sauteing or Pan-Frying
An excellent method for fillets and pan-dressed fish like trout, spot, croaker and catfish.

Tip: Dip the fish into seasoned flour, cornmeal or bread crumbs just before sautéing. Heat a small amount of olive oil or butter in a skillet large enough to hold the fish. When the pan is very hot, place the fish into the skillet. Sauté for half the total time as determined by the 10-minute rule, turn over and complete cooking.

Steaming
Whole fish, chunks, steaks and stuffed fillets steam well. To steam, fill a large sauce pan with one inch of water. Place the fish on a steamer rack and put the rack in the pan. The water should not exceed the height of the rack. Cover tightly and bring the water to a boil. Using the 10-minute rule, steam until thoroughly cooked.

Stir-Frying
This cooking method is a very fast technique, so it's important to have all ingredients in uniform size and ready for cooking. Using a wok or large skillet, coat the bottom and sides with vegetable oil. Add the fish and stir-fry, tossing gently to coat on all sides, until about three quarters cooked, approximately 2 to 4 minutes. Remove to a warm platter.

Stir-fry a selection of sliced vegetables (i.e. carrots, onion, bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms) in addition to a light sauce if desired. Return the fish to the wok or skillet and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve immediately.