Here fishy fishy
So last night I did something I’ve never done before. I took a cooking class! Here’s where the sarcastic folks in the crowd chime in with “it’s about time.” And so go the curmudgeon voices in my head.
Anyway, my friend Jackie, who we call Queen of Roncy, because she knows everything about our awesome West Toronto neighbourhood first,
put me onto the class that was being held at The Cookery, which is a fairly new cooking supply store that holds classes at night and on weekends. All of their lessons look attractive to me — there are some about knife skills, global recipes, French desserts, kid cooking… but how could I resist a dangerous class about how to salt-bake a whole fish? As I mentioned, Jackie knows everything, including that I wouldn’t be able to refuse taking on the whole-Branzino-fish challenge.
Here’s Jackie’s fish’s kissy-face
The class was taught by not one, but two experts from our neighbourhood who normally hang out a few doors down from each other. Jessica from the Cookery was joined by David from De La Mer — you might remember from when I cooked fish heads that De La Mer is my official local fishmonger. What I didn’t know before last night, though, was that David is also a trained chef, which totally makes sense because every staff member in that place is eager to chat recipes and share what they know about how to deal up everything that swims. They’ll also manhandle all of it for you, so that although I’ll explain what they taught me about how to prep a whole fish, if you go to a good place you don’t even need to know because it will have been taken care of. Woot woot! But just in case you’re feeling dangerous…
- 1 – 1lb Branzino fish per person — this recipe should serve 4
- 2 lemons, zested and sliced (use about 1/2 zest per fish)
- 1 lb salt (coarse sea salt for purists, but other salts will work)
- 1 1/4C water
- 1 tsp chopped basil per fish
- 1 tsp fennel seeds per fish
Preheat your oven to 450.
Step 1 – Scale your fish
So grab yourself a descaler (or the un-sharp edge of a big knife) and rub down that fish so that the scales fly off the fish and all over the place. Did I mention having an apron on and covering your work surface with newspaper might be good idea?
Step 2 – Snip off the fins
This is when I learned that my home kitchen snips were dull and I needed new ones, because proper snips should make this an easy task. Go against the direction of the fin (start from the underside of it rather than the top).
Step 3 – Gut that puppy
Take a sharp knife, and start at the little excretion hole at the bottom of the tummy (look at me, so polite with its name). Draw your knife along the tummy, not too deep in, up to the jaw of the fish. Open your little guy up and take everything out from inside there.
Step 4 – Take out the gills
This is where you need a hint of muscle, but just grip yourself those pink gills and yank ’em out. The gills are a little bitey, but not crazy-sharp. They should be anything from light pink to dark red in a fresh fish, but not brown.
Step 5 – Stuff ‘er
Stuff the cavity with whatever your recipe calls for. We went for lemon, lemon zest, basil, fennel seeds, and salt.
Step 6 – Tuck ‘er in
Prepare a bowl of snowball salt. What do I mean by that? You’re going to add enough water (about 1 1/4C for 1 lb of salt) so that your salt has snowball consistency.
Then make a salt bed for your fish on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pack it on and around the top of the fish, good and thick. Pop it into the oven and let it go 30-40 minutes. The fish are done when they reach 140F with a thermometer, or when you stick a knife in and touch it to your lip and it burns you. See what you learn by going to a cooking class with real chefs? VERY dangerous.
Step 7 – Dig in
Peel away the crusted salt which will now have become hard after the oven, and you’re good to go. Now. If you’re that person who gets kind of freaked out about where to start with eating a whole fish, don’t you worry. Start near the tail at the top, lift back the skin, and gently peel away the meat before you get to the bones underneath. When you’ve made it through to the bones you can just lift them away to get to the other half of the meat hiding underneath.
Easy peasy. Delicious, fresh, and tender. This may be my new favourite way to eat fish. You need to try it! Quite the way to impress guests by slapping a cooked whole fish in front of them.
And hey, I didn’t even mention how we did the sides — warm fingerling potato, bacon, and green bean salad with dill, with blueberry tart with almond-oat crumble for dessert — because I didn’t want to reveal all of Jessica and David’s secrets. But they were delicious, too.
If you live in Toronto, I haven’t even scratched the surface about what I came away with after spending two hours with two chefs — you should take this class or another that interests you. I learned that I still have so much to learn. My knife skills suck. My french cooking vocab leaves a lot to be desired. I never pick through for “perfect blueberries” when I bake with them (my family has such a burden to bear).
But now I can clean and cook a whole fish.
- Spot prawns that are real jerks | Cooking Dangerously - […] the second foodie thing I was excited about. Remember how I recently took a class about how to salt-bake…