Monday, December 6, 2010

Searing Fish in a Cast Iron Skillet

People often ask for recipes when I post a picture of a dish.  When I cook fish on any given week night, more often than not, I first stop on the way home at the local fish monger's and select a quality product, I then store it properly on a bed of ice (even on the short ride home), then portion and trim the fish to my liking, and season it just before cooking.  The secret ingredients for seasoning are...wait for it...fine grain sea salt and fresh ground, that's it.  Sorry if that was melodramatic for you.

See, when cooking most things, technique is the key differentiator.  For fish, I usually choose one of two fast cooking methods - searing or broiling.  The choice between the two is usually determined by on how I intend to season the fish.  If I am adding any "wet" ingredience to season before cooking then I broil.  If the ingredients are dry or have been dried intentionally from the surface, then I sear.  You can always add a sauce or glaze after employing either method.

The best thing about broiling or searing is either of these methods take only about 8-10 minutes per inch of thickness for perfectly cooked fish.  You then test by feel, or if you're not used to this, the most reliable way to test for doneness is to insert a small metal skewer from the side through the center of the fillet, remove and place the skewer on your wrist quickly.  If it is cold then the fish is not done.  If it is warm, the fish is perfect and should be served immediately.  If it is hot or burns - you've overcooked (ruined) the fish.  And you've also got a burn to remind you not to do it again.

I can't stress enough that the technique is the key.  Fish especially can go from undercooked to overcooked in a very small window of time (sometimes less than a minute or even seconds for thin fillets).  To sear fish the way I've done this nice Salmon, grab an old cast iron skillet and place it over medium heat.  Once the pan is warm when you hover it briefly with your hand, add a small amount of olive oil to the pan and lift and quickly rotate the pan to coat the bottom.  The oil should shimer and just give off a small amount of smoke if it is at the right temperature.  If it gives off a lot of smoke, you've over-heated the pan and you should remove it from the heat and reduce.  Once the pan is at the right temperature, add the seasoned fish being sure the surface of the fish is dried all around with a paper towel.  Now place the presentation side of fish down in the pan and be careful not to over crowd.  DO NOT move the fish once placed in the pan.  Patience is also key.  Once the fish begins to turn a solid color around the edges white or lighter pink, as with salmon, lift one side to check for a golden brown color.  Once golden (2-3 minutes) flip and repeat.  If the fillet is thin, it will be done quickly and searing on a higher heat and fipping quickly so as not to overcook the inside will be important, but for thicker pieces you should simply place the fish on a greased pan and place in a broiler on 450 degrees for about 3-5 minutes to finish.

The salmon above was finished in the oven after giving it a squeeze of lemon and some fresh lemon zest over the top.  For the sauce, I used sour cream (substituted for crème fraîche) with a dash of salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, and a splash of heavy cream.  Whisk, plate, and serve immediately.  Better than any restaurant you and I are likely to be able to afford to dine at on a regular basis.

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