Fish, which contain high-quality protein, are a valuable source of minerals and essential vitamins A, B, and D. In general, the mineral content of fish (magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, and iodine) is similar to that of beef, except that the iodine content of fish is higher. The fat content of fish varies, but pound for pound, fish have about half the calories of beef and pork.
Fish are generally classified as finfish or shellfish. Finfish are further divided into two types: lean and fat. The lean fish, which include haddock, halibut, cod, flounder, and perch, contain less than 5 percent fat. The fat fish, which include bluefish, mackerel, salmon, and shad, contain more than 5 percent fat.
The type of fish determines the method of cooking. Fat fish are best for baking and broiling, because the fat content prevents them from drying out during cooking. Lean fish may be cooked by these methods if brushed or basted with melted fat. Because of their low fat content, both types of finfish can be fried successfully. Shellfish issued to the dining facility include clams, scallops, oysters, and shrimp. In general, shellfish can be prepared by the same cooking methods used for finfish. Fish have less fat, extractives, connective tissues, and color than meats. Because of these differences, the objectives of fish cookery are to change the texture, to develop the flavor and color, and to retain the form.
Although fresh fish have little odor, they deteriorate rapidly. To prevent deterioration, frozen fish should be stored in the freezer in the original wrapper and should not be thawed until time for preparation. For the best flavor, the fish should be thawed by placing them in the refrigerator for several hours. This procedure prevents the drip that takes place when fish are thawed at room temperature, and reduces the loss of moisture and nutrients. Fish once thawed should be cooked immediately and should never be refrozen.
Fresh finfish, which are issued in the frozen state to the dining facility, include fillets, steaks, and portions (sticks). Fillets, the sides of the fish cut lengthwise away from the backbone, are practically boneless and are ready to cook. A fillet cut from the side of a fish is called a single fillet; a fillet may have the skin left on or may be skinless. Fish steaks are cross-section slices of the larger size dressed fish. A cross section of the backbone is usually the only bone in the steaks, which are ready to cook as purchased. Frozen portions are uniformly shaped fish flesh, breaded and ready to cook. Armed Forces Recipe Service contains recipes for cooking finfish by baking, oven frying, and deep-fat frying. Finfish are tender because they have little connective tissue. They require a short cooking time at a low temperature.
Thawed fish fillets or steaks are placed in a single layer on a greased pan and baked as prescribed in the recipe. Thawed fish fillets are dredged in crumbs and then baked; frozen fish portions may be baked also. To provide variety and to prevent drying, sauces may be used with the baked fish.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CONTROL OF QUALITY
To control the quality and insure the palatability of the finished product, the suggestions given below should be followed:
- When baking lean fish, baste them often with butter or margarine.
- Avoid overcooking. Fish is done when its protein is coagulated, that is, it flakes easily.
- Garnish fish with paprika, parsley, and other colorful, edible food items to improve the appearance of the dish.
- Exercise caution when serving baked fish, because it breaks and crumbles easily.
JUDGING THE QUALITY
When the flesh of the fish is cooked just enough to flake easily when tested with a fork, the end product is moist, tender, and flavorful. Properly baked fish is not dry and does not show evidence of burning. On the other hand, if the flesh is gluey, it is undercooked.
DEEP-FAT FRYING FINFISH
Lean fish such as haddock and flounder are best for frying. The frozen fish fillets are breaded to insure a crisp, golden-brown coating. Too many servings of fish should not be fried at one time, because the temperature of the fat will be reduced so low that the pieces will not cook evenly and will absorb excess fat. The flake test method is used to determine the doneness of fish.
SUGGESTIONS FOR CONTROL OF QUALITY
The following suggestions should help to control the quality of deep-fat-fried fish:
- Prepare the fish, and have them ready so as to avoid premature heating of the fat.
- Shake off excess flour, cornmeal, crumbs, or other coating material to prevent it from dropping off into the fat and burning, thereby hastening the decomposition of the fat.
- Insure that the surface of the fish is dry to avoid undue amounts of moisture in the fat.
- Heat the fat in which the fish is to be cooked to the temperature specified in the recipe. Low temperatures permit the fish to absorb more fat.
- Add small amounts of fish at a time so the temperature of the fat does not drop too rapidly.
- Do not overbrown the fish, or the servings will lack eye appeal.
- Drain the fish to remove excess fat.
JUDGING THE QUALITY
Deep-fat-fried fish should be golden brown and moist, and should be cooked until the flesh flakes easily when tested with a fork. Overcooked fish are hard and dry.
PAN FRYING FISH
Thawed fish fillets or steaks may be pan fried or cooked on a well-greased 350° F. griddle. The fat should be hot before the fish are placed in the pan, to prevent the flesh from sticking to the pan. If the skin is left on the fish, the fish should be placed skin side up in the pan. The fat should remain at a moderate temperature during the cooking process.
PREPARING CANNED FINFISH
Canned salmon is included on the menu for Army dining facilities in the form of salmon cakes, loaf, and salad and as scalloped salmon. Canned tuna is used to prepare baked tuna and noodles, tuna salad, and scalloped tuna and peas. Canned finfish are prepared by the same cooking methods as fresh fish; for example, salmon cakes are deep-fat fried, and tuna and noodles are baked. The same precautions are taken to control the quality of cooked, canned finfish as are used for fresh finfish. The canned fish should produce a palatable, appetizing dish.
Because shellfish, like finfish, deteriorate very rapidly, they must be cooked as soon as they are thawed. Once thawed, they should not be refrozen. Usually, frozen oysters, shrimp, scallops, and clams are issued to dining facilities. However, canned shrimp and clams and dehydrated shrimp may be substituted in the same recipes. Shellfish, a tender meat, are often cooked by moist heat, but become tough quickly at temperatures above simmering. For example, only 5 minutes is required to cook shrimp for use in salads and curries.
All varieties of shrimp have tender, white meat and have a distinctive flavor that is very popular. When they are cooked, they turn an attractive pink color. Simmering (actually the finished product is called "boiled" shrimp) is the basic method of cooking shrimp, although they may be peeled and then cooked by the same methods used for fresh finfish. Also Armed Forces Recipe Service gives a recipe for shrimp gumbo, a soup. If shrimp are not issued deveined, the dark sand vein down the back must be removed. The following are some general guidelines:
- Cooked shrimp should be immediately removed from the water, or they will shrink and toughen.
- Deep-fat frying of shrimp requires the same control of quality as deep-fat frying finfish.
- Overcooking reduces the flavor and causes toughness.
Oyster information from Armed Forces Recipe Service is shown in figure 18. Frozen, shucked oysters are issued to dining facilities for the preparation of fried and scalloped oysters, and of oyster stew. Regardless of the cooking method, just enough heat should be applied to heat the oyster through and to leave them plump and tender. All oyster dishes should be served piping hot. For deep-fat frying oysters, the coating should be pressed firmly on each oyster so it will not fall off while frying. The same precautions should be taken for frying oysters as for frying of other foods. The following information should help in controlling the quality of the finished product:
- Overhandling of oysters bruises or breaks the membranes.
- Using a fork for handling oysters is not recommended.
- Stewing of oysters should continue only until the edges of the oysters begin to curl.
- Overcooking produces tough oysters.
A scallop is actually the round, meaty muscle which opens and closes the scallop shell. It is a solid piece of cream-colored, very lean, juicy flesh which has a sweet, delicate flavor. Scallops are issued in the frozen state. They may be deep-fat fried, baked with a sauce or made into stew. Scallops are deep-fat fried in the same manner as finfish.
Clams are bivalves which have darker flesh than that of oysters. The most popular clam dish is chowder or soup. Some clams can also be deep-fat fried or steamed, and others can be served raw as cocktails. If clams are overheated, they become tough. When canned clams are Issued for the preparation of a clam dish, they are substituted as indicated in the standard recipe.