Crispy skin barramundi. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
When Peter Kuruvita heads to the fish market with a cooking class he challenges them to prepare and cook the three things that scare them the most.
Commonly these are mud crab, whole snapper (including the gutting and cleaning) and fillets of ocean trout or salmon.
Seafood can be expensive and is easy to overcook, so you want to get it right.
Kuruvita is the co-owner of the chef’s-hatted Flying Fish restaurant in Sydney. He says the first step when cooking fish, or any kind of seafood, is to make sure it is fresh. With fish, the flesh should be firm and smell like the sea, or as Kuruvita describes it, like mineral water.
“When you pick up a fillet, sometimes it breaks and shards off, you then know it is old or it has been treated badly,” he says.
“The skin should be bright, it will be scaled, but the skin should be nice and bright. A fillet more than a whole fish should have that beautiful fresh smell.”
As for the cooking, he shared these step-by-step instructions for three different methods of cooking fish fillets:
A very ‘cheffy’ way to cook fish is to pan fry with the skin on, blasting the skin until it is nice and crispy then finishing the cooking process off in the oven. Here’s how Kuruvita does it.
To prepare the skin … Wipe this down with a paper towel and then run a knife across the skin to scrape off the last bits of water. If you know what direction the scales went, scrape the knife in the opposite direction to this.
“Wipe it off on a cloth and keep doing that three or four times,” he says. “And then with a sharp knife, very finely score it because when skin hits oil it curls up.”
To cook it …
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Pour some olive oil into a pan, add some salt to this, and heat until just before it reaches smoking point.
2. Add the fish, skin side down. Place a clean pot gently on top of the fish fillet to flatten it down (it will start to curl up once the heat hits the connective tissue), lifting this off after about 30 seconds.
3. Let the fish cook at the high temperature, skin side down, until the colour of the flesh changes. Resist the temptation to poke and prod it. This is how Kuruvita describes the colour change: “When you see the white band [in the case of white flesh fish] where the flesh changes colour and goes white [as it cooks], when it reaches about 1cm to 2cm into the top of the fish, it’s ready.”
4. At this point pop the fish into a moderate oven for four to five minutes. When you take it out of the oven, flip it so the flesh side gets a minute on the direct heat of the pan to get some colour, then serve it, skin side up.
- Because the temperature gets quite high, Kuruvita says a stainless steel or black pan would be best – you risk the coating peeling off a non-stick pan.
- A thick piece of barramundi might need to be oven baked for 6 minutes. Alternatively a big piece of ocean trout might only need 3 minutes. Cook your fish according to taste.
A good poaching liquid … is half fish stock and half verjuice and then lots of herbs, although nothing too strong. “A little bit of dill, some parley stalks, a few slices of onion, like I’m talking a few slices of onion, maybe a clove of garlic that’s just broken but not exuding too much flavour,” he says.
Bring this to the boil and let it simmer for a bit. Taste it to make sure the flavours are as you want them.
To cook … preheat the oven to 180C. Remove the skin from the fish. Place the fillets into a baking dish and pour over the poaching liquid (that has been simmering) so it’s half an inch above the fish. Cover this with a piece of greaseproof paper. Cook it for four minutes (or to taste).
“It will be pink in the middle and that is when you say to people, experiment,” he says. “It’s up to you, if you want it cooked more, just leave it in longer.”
So how much pinkness is OK? The texture of the fish changes as it cooks. If the flesh is hard to cut through, chances are it’s still too raw in the centre.
Eat it … cold on a warm summer’s day with a pea and fennel salad and tomatoes with balsamic and fresh herbs, peppery rocket and lemony mayonnaise. Eat it warm on a winter’s evening with some baby vegetables. Take the broth, strain it and add a little bit of crème freche to it for a sauce.
To prepare… get a piece of greaseproof paper and cut out a big circle. As a guide, for a 200g fillet of snapper “you’d cut the circle the size of a medium frying pan”.
Lightly grease it, then put your fish in, add some flavourings (some capers, onion etc), add a knob of butter and a tablespoon of stock. Then fold the paper into a half moon. A good tip from Kuruvita: use egg white as a glue to seal the paper ‘bag’.
To cook … preheat the oven to 180C to 200C. Place the fish parcel on a baking tray and pop into the oven. Cook it for about 8 to 10 minutes, or to taste. The butter and stock will combine and produce steam, which will cook the fish in the ‘bag’ – assuming there are no holes for it to escape.
“…if you really want to get fancy you put the fish on the plate, you put the liquid in a pan, season it, finish it off with a little bit of butter to bring it all back together, a dab of crème freche then serve the sauce,” he says.
Note: a thick piece of blue eye might take 12 to 15 minutes.
Source: This piece was originally published as a Tried & Tasted blog entry on October 21, 2011.