AUSTIN, Texas — The warm-weather months are the perfect time to try something new with fish and seafood.
Maybe its a new technique such as poaching in a foil packet on the grill or making homemade ceviche or maybe its asking a fish monger for a variety youve never tried.
Carol Huntsberger, who has owned Quality Seafood Market on Austins Airport Boulevard for more than a decade, says her favorite summertime fish is grilled halibut, but shes just as likely to skewer swordfish or scallops.
Remember, when it comes to seafood, its always good to pay extra attention to the place of origin and harvesting methods, for both health and environmental reasons. Seafoodwatch.org keeps a detailed list of species that the Monterey Bay Aquarium recommends and does not recommend eating.
Huntsberger offered nine tips for making better fish this summer.
1 Dont fear the grill basket. Grilling large fish on a plank can make for a nice presentation, but if youre only cooking for a few people, a smaller grill basket might be a better approach. Certain kinds of fish, such as the super-flaky halibut, need a little extra support so they dont break apart when handled. The baskets come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and if you grill more than once a month, you wont just use it for fish.
2 Get the good salmon. Wild salmon run in the summer, and they taste infinitely better than the light-pink farmed fillets.
3 Keep the skin on. If you are working on a grill, the fish skin can help hold the fillet together, much like a plank or basket. Start cooking the fish skin-side-down over direct heat, with the thickest part of the fish over the hottest part of the grill. Flip the fish at the end to get grill marks on the other side. If youre sauteeing, poaching or baking, it doesnt make as much sense to keep the skin on, unless you prefer, Huntsberger says, and if you do want the skin removed, your fishmonger should be happy to do it for you.
4 When in doubt, saute. No one wants to mess up a $22-per-pound fillet of fish, so if youre unsure how it would fare on the grill or flash-seared in a pan, gently saute it in butter or a little olive oil. Sauteeing is a great get-to-know-you technique for fish youve never prepared before. You can learn a little bit about fish, and you cant overcook it because youre sauteing it in olive oil or butter, which will keep it moist, Huntsberger says.
5 30-minute marinade. Fish dont need more than half an hour in a marinade, if youre using one at all. Huntsberger will use something as simple as Italian dressing, letting the fish soak up some of the flavors in the fridge for a short time before cooking.
6 Let freshness be your guide. Even if you walk into the store with a plan for what youd like to cook, talk to the fishmonger about whats freshest off the boat, especially if youre making something delicate like ceviche.
7 Steak, without the beef. You wont fool anyone into thinking that a seared, dense fish, such as swordfish, tuna and blue marlin, is a rib-eye, but steak-like fish brushed or served with a light sauce like salmoriglio is ideal for summertime grilling.
8 Freshwater, for less. With shrimp prices so high due to increased demand and decreased imports, shoppers are looking for another affordable way to put seafood on the table. Freshwater fish, such as trout, catfish or tilapia, tend to be less expensive than some of the previously mentioned fish, and you might even be catching some yourself this summer. Huntsberger recommends sauteeing or grilling these kinds of fish after marinating or rubbing them with a spice mixture, such as lemon pepper or Cajun seasoning.
9 Know when its time to splurge. Theres nothing like digging into a mess of crab legs or lobster tails, which really shine when prepared on a grill. These crustaceans are almost always already cooked when sold at market, so youre just reheating them at home. Serve with ample melted butter on the side and extra napkins for your hands. Whats summer if you cant get a little messy while youre eating?
Sea Bass Ceviche
Sea bass or any firm-textured white fish would work; keep it refrigerated until just before using. Don’t wait until you get to the end of the recipe to realize that you need a baked (and cooled) sweet potato. Amarillo chile paste (aji amarillo) can be found at Latin grocery stores, such as El Mandando Supermarket on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh. If you cannot find an limo chile, use a habanero instead. And finally, don’t skimp on the salt; high quality fine sea salt will give you the best results. From “Ceviche: Peruvian Kitchen: Authentic Recipes for Lomo Saltado, Anticuchos, Tiraditos, Alfajores, and Pisco Cocktails,” by Martin Morales (Ten Speed Press, 2014).
1/4-inch piece of fresh ginger, cut in half
1 small clove garlic, cut in half
4 roughly chopped cilantro sprigs, divided
Juice of 8 limes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons amarillo chile paste
1 large red onion, very thinly sliced
1 1/3 pounds sea bass fillet (or other white fish), skinned and trimmed
Fine sea salt
A few cilantro sprigs, leaves finely chopped
1 limo chile, seeded and finely chopped (or try an habanero)
1 sweet potato, cooked and cut into small cubes
PUT ginger, garlic, cilantro and lime juice in a bowl. Stir and then leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain mixture through a sieve into another bowl. Add salt and amarillo chile paste and mix well. This will keep for 4 hours in the fridge.
RINSE onion and then leave it to soak in iced water for 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly, spread out on a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel to remove any excess water and then place in the fridge until needed. This will reduce the onion’s strength and help keep the slices crisp.
CUT fish into uniform strips of about 1 1/4-by-3/4-inch. Place in a large bowl, add a good pinch of salt and mix together gently with a metal spoon. The salt will help open the fish’s pores. Leave this for 2 minutes and then pour over the sauce and combine gently with the spoon. Leave fish to “cook” in this marinade for 2 minutes.
ADD onion, cilantro, chile and sweet potato to the fish. Mix together gently with the spoon and taste to check that the balance of salt, sour and chile is to your liking. Divide among serving bowls and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings.
Pesce Spada in Salmoriglio (Swordfish with Salmoriglio Sauce)
Swordfish has long been caught off the coasts of Sicily, where it is often served with this herb garlic sauce. Its firm, meaty texture makes it perfect for grilling and broiling, but you also can use tuna steak or salmon. From “Mediterranean Cookbook,” by Marie-Pierre Moine, Elisabeth Luard and Ghillie Basan (DK, 2014).
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 to 2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon chile pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoon olive oil
2 swordfish steaks, at least 1-inch thick, about 1 1/2 pounds total weight
1 tablespoon chopped herbs, such as parsley, oregano or mint, to finish
MAKE sauce: Place lemon zest and juice, parsley, garlic, oregano and chile pepper in a bowl, mix well, and season with salt and pepper. Whisk in oil and 2 tablespoons of cold water.
BRUSH the steaks with half the sauce and let marinate for 5 minutes.
PREHEAT broiler to high, or preheat a griddle pan. Broil or grill the steaks for 3-4 minutes only on each side, or until just cooked through but still moist in the center, as swordfish tends to get dry quickly.
CUT each steak in half and spoon over the remaining sauce. Season with a little extra pepper, scatter with the snipped herbs, and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings.
Pistachio-Crusted Sea Bass with Tomato Curry Broth
Adapted from “Tupelo Honey Cafe: New Southern Flavors from the Blue Ridge Mountains,” by Elizabeth Sims with Chef Brian Sonoskus (Andrews McMeel, 2014).
3/4 cup roasted, salted, shelled pistachios
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon no-salt Creole seasoning
3/4 to 1 teaspoon curry powder
4 (6-oz.) sea bass fillets, skin removed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
MAKE crust: combine pistachios, panko bread crumbs, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse for 5 pulses, or until blended. Continue to process for an additional 8 seconds, or until finely ground. Reserve.
COMBINE tomato juice, vegetable broth, coconut milk, Creole seasoning and curry powder. Stir well and set aside.
PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees. Place sea bass fillets on a plate. Sprinkle top sides with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Whisk egg with 1 tablespoon water in a shallow dish. Place pistachio crust in a pie plate. Working with 1 fillet at a time, dip bottom side of the fish into the egg mixture and place on pistachio crust mixture, egg-wash side down. Set aside and heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add butter to the pan and let it melt. Lift fillets from the pistachio crust mixture and place them in the skillet, pistachio side down. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
CAREFULLY flip fillets with a spatula and place in the oven for 10 minutes. While fish is finishing, gently heat the curry broth in a small saucepan. Serve fish in a shallow serving bowl, ladling the warm tomato curry broth around the fish. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings.
Parmesan-Crusted Tilapia with Cucumber, Tomato and Fennel Relish
Reprinted with permission from “ Gale Gand’s Lunch!” By Gale Gand. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).
1 large egg
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tilapia fillets
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 seedless (English) cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 heirloom or vine-ripened tomato, seeded and chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 medium bulb fennel, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 scallion, sliced
1 orange, peeled and sectioned
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch sugar
6 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
CRACK egg into a wide, shallow bowl, then beat it with a fork with 1 teaspoon water. In another wide, shallow bowl, combine panko bread crumbs, Parmesan, parsley, and pepper.
DIP fish fillets, one at a time, into egg, coating both sides. Then place them one at a time into crumb mixture to coat, gently turning them to coat both sides and pressing down a bit to help the crumbs stick to fish. Place fish on a platter.
HEAT canola oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Add fish and cook until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes, then carefully flip them and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 5 minutes more.
MAKE relish: In a medium bowl, combine the cucumber, tomato, fennel, scallion, orange sections, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar and basil and toss to mix.
PLACE fish on plates and spoon relish over them. (The relish and the fish can be stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)
Yield: 4 servings.