The distinguished gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once said: “In the hands of an able cook, fish can become an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight.” Indeed—timing is everything when it comes to fish. Leave it to overcook and it tastes terrible, but take it out too fast and undercook it, and it leaves nothing to be desired.
Fish is versatile food—you can poach it, grill it, bake it, steam, saute or even deep fry it—and each time it will give you scrumptious results. Fish is also one of the healthiest proteins out there—the presence of Omega 3 in its meat makes it good for the heart.
Out of the ocean and into the fire
That being said, different types of fish call for different styles of cooking. Some are too delicate to fry, and some might be too thick to broil. The key to preparing a delicious fish dish is to consider the cut and size of the meat—are you eating the whole body, or do you prefer fillets or steaks, for example. Are you leaving the skin on or off, is another thing to consider. The same goes for its level of fat and natural taste.
Poaching, a wet cooking method, works well with light fish like snapper or trout. It is an elegant way to produce tender meat that packs a lot of flavor, especially if seasoned with herbs and lemon. Meanwhile, baking is ideal for thicker fish like halibut—the meat can retain its juiciness and will be less likely to dry out. You can also wrap the fish in parchment paper, which seals the heat and moisture in—this is great for fragile meats like cod, haddock, or tilapia.
For a dry cooking method, nothing is more delicious than grilling tuna steak. Not only does it make for a terrific presentation, but the smoke also adds an intense punch to the fish that elevates your meal.
Other methods like broiling involve very high heat. Salmon is sturdy so it is perfect for this. If you have prepared a marinade, even better, as it will keep the flavors in. Pan-frying, on the other hand, is recommended for fish with flaky skin, such as flounders or soles—you’re guaranteed tender flesh on the inside and a crispy crust on the outside.
Bring out the glasses
Of course, a meal wouldn’t be complete without a glass of wine in your hand. The universal rule is to go for white wine when it comes to fish and seafood—white meat in general. However, there are different white wines—from dry to fruity to sparkling—and you must employ certain care in pairing it the way you would cook your fish.
1. Riesling with smoked fish and sushi
A lot of wine lovers consider Riesling as very food-friendly. It is highly aromatic, with citrus and mineral notes. It can be smooth and sweet, and it can also be dry and refreshing. Not usually oaked, it has high acidity and alcohol content. It can be pale or deep yellow in color, and is better served chilled.
Riesling grapes originated in Germany, but it is also widely planted in France, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, and the United States. It is considered to be one of the top white wines, after Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
We recommend the very versatile 2017 Domaine Mittnacht Les Fossiles Riesling ($23) from Alsace, France. It is very crisp and aromatic, and goes well with smoked fish. You can also try it with tuna or salmon sushi.
2. Coda di Volpe with baked monkfish
A white grape grown in Sannio, in the Campania region in Italy, this wine is medium- to full-bodied. It can be fruity and spicy-sweet, and has a golden hue and low acidity. Coda di Volpe traces back its history to ancient Rome, and is believed to be a grape variety used to make the finest wines, with very high alcohol content since it comes from late harvests.
The vibrant yet elegant Fattoria La Ravolta, Coda Di Volpe, Sannio, Campania, Italy, 2016, ($29) is our choice and a superb companion to baked monkfish, with sauteed porcini mushrooms, garlic, parsley and olive oil as a marinade.
You can also enjoy it as an aperitif. This grape variety is often hard-to-find in the U.S. and grows almost exclusively in Naples only.
3. Lugana with grilled catfish
Having gained traction in the last 20 years, Lugana is made from Turbiana grapes and has actually been around for centuries. Grown in the shores of Lake Garda, where the famous poet Cattulus once lived, this wine can stand to age in your cellar for around four to five years. It has floral notes, with hints of almond and citrus, as well as a yellow to a slight green color. It is a dry wine, and very fresh on the palate.
If you are grilling catfish, then pour a glass of the 2016 Ottella La Creete Trebbiano ($29) from Lugana. You won’t be disappointed.
There’s a Polish proverb that says, “Fish, to taste right, must swim three times: in water, in butter and in wine.” We couldn’t agree more—though we’d just as soon drink the wine once the cork comes off.