Spring is upon us here in the Pacific Northwest in typical fashion: rain. It is said that the rainy spring months keep the riff raff out and cause many folks contemplating a move to the Northwest to reconsider. These long rainy days, which seem perpetually of the five o’clock hour, can wear on the spirit, but we Northwesterners know sunny boating days are just around the corner. We are taking more frequent trips down to our boats, organizing projects for sunny weather, planning trips, and preparing for what we love most; being out on our waters. Spring means the long-awaited salmon and halibut season is starting, and we cannot resist a taste of fresh salmon, even at that hefty price at the local fish market. Northwest inland and coastal waters are starting to settle down from storms, so commercial fisheries are opening with more frequency.
When cooking fish for dinner, think about some other options, like rockfish, cod, or sole. There are many delicious “other” fish of the Pacific Northwest that you can find in the markets, and they are inexpensive compared to the big price tags of salmon and halibut. It is important to be conscious of what you buy and try to use your purchasing power in a sustainable way. There is a great guide put out by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium to help you select fish to buy on the West Coast (seafoodwatch.org), and the price at the market helps with that decision making.
As I look into what fish are available, I use some great websites. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is a great online source for fish identification (wdfw.wa.gov) and helps explain all the different fish varietals. We, the shoppers, dictate what the grocery stores carry by our purchasing power, and some of the more popular grocery stores and fish markets have great selections. Ethnic stores tend to have a larger selection of “other” fish. “Other” fish types include rockfish (over 20 species listed!), greenling, flatfish, codfish, and perch to name a few.
My favorite of the “other” fish is the smaller Pacific sole that the markets call “Dover sole.” It is light, delicate, and cooks very quickly. The flavor is not at all fishy and is lovely for a quick dinner. Petrale sole and Rex sole are also great fish at this time of year. The snapper you see in the markets are usually some type of rockfish and not a true snapper, which is found in warmer waters, though the texture is similar. Snapper is great broiled or roasted in the oven, or used for a quick sauté. Snapper tends to break apart like sole, so you need to handle it a bit less. The cod we see in the market is usually Pacific cod that are also called true cod, lingcod (that is a greenling variety), or black cod out of Alaska. Cod is usually from a commercial fishery, and is a thicker fillet and a bit easier to work with than sole or rockfish. The local firm fish would be halibut, but albacore is a great option for late summer/fall. Albacore is a local tuna variety and is firm and great for grilling or pan searing.
For the more delicate fish, I like to quickly fry and add a light butter sauce, or I broil with butter and lemon and add a sauce on top just before serving. If I am having a few guests for dinner, it is easy to set portions of cod or rockfish up on a cookie sheet, top with a flavorful component, and heat in a hot oven right before sitting down. If I have large, thick pieces of cod, I cut them into chunks and add to a light green curry or seafood stew. Any of these “other” fish are great coated in breadcrumbs and pan fried, or batter coated and deep fried (what isn’t?!).
Fish can be intimidating to cook, but if you understand how the fish will react when cooking, you will get a better understanding of the best way to proceed. All these “other” fish are light and delicious in flavor, certainly not the lovely thick halibut or salmon, but tasty just the same. Start to experiment and broaden your Pacific Northwest fish knowledge so when you are out boating and decide to cast a line overboard, you will know just what to do if you pull up a bottom fish!
Green Curry and Fish
Heat a 10-inch deep sauté pan and add the oil, onions, and salt. Allow to cook on medium until the onions start to soften, then add the Anaheim slices, ginger, and garlic. Sauté for five minutes on medium. Add the curry to the pan along with the coconut milk, lime, and water. Simmer for five minutes and add the spinach and herbs. Cook on low for 5-10 minutes. Add the fish pieces to the curry and simmer for an additional five minutes or until the fish pieces are firm and flake slightly. Turn off the heat, adjust the seasoning with lime and salt, and serve alongside steamed jasmine rice.
Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper and evenly slather some of the soft butter onto the fish. For the asparagus, snap off the ends, and cut the asparagus into three-inch pieces for inside the fish. Cook the asparagus in rapidly boiling water for two minutes, then cool down before laying on fish filets. Place two to three pieces of the asparagus on the center of the fillet and gently fold the left side of the fillet onto the asparagus and the right over on top to make a nice folded packet. In a small sauté pan over very low heat, gently warm a half-inch of fish stock or court bouillon. Place the fish into the pan and cover with a piece of parchment, and poach on low heat until the fish is firm but still slightly opaque. Gently remove fish from the pan and serve with herb cream sauce.
Herb Cream Sauce
In a small saucepan, sweat the shallot and season with a small amount of salt. As the shallot starts to turn pale, add the white wine and allow to reduce by half. Then add the cream and fresh herbs, simmer for five minutes, adjust seasoning, and serve warm.
Fresh Cod Brandade style
Sweat the onions with the olive oil, add the garlic, and allow to color lightly; add the cod pieces and cook until the cod starts to set. Add the potatoes and the juice of the lemon, season to taste, and add to the bowl of a food processor. Mix the cod/potato mixture to smooth (quickly), pulse in the cream. Do not over mix! Adjust the seasoning and serve warm with a fresh baguette. If serving later, put into a ramekin or baking dish and warm in the oven before serving.
Pan fried Sole
Set up a breading station; arrange three shallow pans side-by-side and place seasoned flour in the first. The second pan is for the beaten eggs, and in the final pan place the panko crumbs. Dredge the fish in the flour, knocking off any excess, and immediately plunge into the egg wash. Finally, coat the fish entirely with the bread crumbs. Place a small amount of oil in a sauté pan and fry until crispy and golden brown. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.