The summer before I started my undergraduate, I worked in a seafood deli. I felt pretty good about it before my first shift, because I was making $8.50/hr, which was $1 above minimum wage. It wasn’t until I got a few weeks into the job that I realized exactly how much fun it was to gut fish and turn them into beautiful cuts. Not to mention the enjoyment that comes from putting on finger puppet shows with sardines.
On the downside, I worked until 10:30 pm most evenings, and when I went over to my boyfriend’s house immediately afterward his father would often comment on how bad I smelled. Granted, I did stink, but it wasn’t as though I could do much about it if I wanted to get there in time for the Daily Show. And that was really my priority, since my parents didn’t have cable.
Ever since that summer I’ve loved to get my hands all up in a fish. Now that I’m back in Oregon, I’ve finally got access to some of the best salmon there is, which means that the first thing I made brought me to a fishy euphoria (its a testament to my mother that I haven’t eaten out in the past four days, and yet also haven’t cooked. Possibly a testament to her fear of what I might do to her kitchen).
Roasting salmon, or almost any other easily obtainable whole fish, is about as simple as it gets, but always makes for a nice meal. If possible you want a fish with the head still on (unfortunately I went too late in the day, so all I could manage was the tail-end… get it? TAIL-END?!). If you feel comfortable gutting a fish, go right ahead with that, but just about anywhere you buy a fish should be able to get those innards out for you. The best way to judge if a fish is fresh is by the eyes. If there’s even a hint of cloudiness, you don’t want to eat it. You can also get a good feel from the heft of the fish itself- is it firm? Lastly, if the smell is overpowering, its no good.
Scaling the fish is also a necessity. Scaling is incredibly easy, but it can take a while, especially your first time. Make sure you get them all- while scales look small and harmless, they feel enormous and aggressive if you accidentally get one with a bite of fish. Take a dull paring knife and use the back edge to scrape from the tail upwards. This should be done either outside or in a huge bowl of water in the sink. Otherwise you end up with an apartment filled with scales.
You don’t need much else with this- some bread to soak up the juices, maybe a spinach salad, and the obligatory white wine.
tin foil, baking pan
A fish (salmon, halibut, or sole are all good options)- a good rule of thumb is .75lbs/person
1 lemon, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tbs. butter
thyme, fennel, or another similar herb (optional)
about 1 glass of white wine (I firmly believe this is a real measurement)
1. preheat your oven to 375
2. Lay out 1-2 pieces of tin foil to create a packet. rub down the insides with a small amount of butter
3. Arrange your scaled, gutted fish in the center of the packet.
4. Put the garlic, 2 slices of lemon, 2 bay leaves, and any herbs that you prefer in the cavity. Be generous with the herbs.
5. Fold up the sides on the packet, but don’t close it yet.
6. Put dollops of butter, the rest of the lemon, 3 more bay leaves, and more herbs on top of your fish. Then, pour your glass of wine on top.
7. Close him/her up, and toss in the oven. A smaller fish will take about 20-25 minutes, a larger one somewhere between 30-35, to cook. If you’re uncertain, feel free to open the packet up and cut through the thickest part of the body, on the spine side. If the fish is translucent, its still too early to eat.
8. Don’t forget to salvage all the leftovers- you can use the frame (head, tail, fins, spine) for making stock, and I like to save the skin whenever possible. Its great fried up in a little bit of whatever oil you have lying around.