West Coast

TL;DR – This is a supplementary post of research conducted for our main post “On Inspiration Through Nature“. In this post, I try to learn as much as possible about Seafood.

I started with  Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking once again.

Problems with Seafood

  • Technology and demand for fish have lead to overfishing of many fish species. To counter this, a potential solution has been fish farms but this then has it’s own pros and cons
  • Fishing with nets usually catches unintended prey which is often discarded (read: innocent dolphins getting caught in nets)
  • Selective breeding (in fish farms) has lead to genetically uniform fish

Health

  • Living in the water, fish pick up anything else that might be in the water such as chemicals which then travel to our bodies when we eat them; even a bigger risk since we often eat seafood raw
  • Fish have protein, B vitamins, iodine, calcium and other minerals in a low caloric food
  • Especially know for their fish oil which supports our brain development and immune system (our bodies need fats and since fish live in a colder climate, their fat doesn’t coagulate like land animals at our body temperature)

Texture

  • Fish are made up of small, light bones, delicate connective tissue, and pale muscle mass due to the fact that water is denser than air; fish don’t develop the toughness of land animals as they done need to fight against gravity, fish can regulate their density to move through water (neutral buoyancy)
  • Constant movement require a layer of red fiber (more fatty) which is usually under the skin
  • Water’s resistance to movement requires high power to accelerate and therefor most of their muscle consistent of the fast-twitch muscles or white fibers
  • Some fish, like tune, have pink fibers which are white fibers modified for more continuous work (Salmon get the orange from the food they eat)
  • The amount of fat will vary from fish to fish but the belly area will usually have the most

Flavor

  • Ocean fish are sweeter and more savory due to the creation of amino acids as their bodies regulate their salty environment
  • Shellfish are especially fish in theres and other amino acids
  • Shark and skate are usually salty and bitter due to urea (which also is a cause of a fishy smell when fish die)
  • Freshwater fish don’t have to regulate so they don’t create these amino acids resulting in milder flavor when either fresh or old

Perishability

  • Fish live in a cold aquatic environment, therefore their bodies are built for the cold. This is the main reason that fish spoil faster and have to be cooked differently than land based animals. Refrigeration isn’t as effective at slowing down spoilage, enzymes, etc
  • This is also why they have more fragile bodies (explanation of how sushi works as a food, even at room temperature there is protein unfolding occurring)
  • Deepwater and cold water will spoil faster than tropical fish (and freezing will destroy bonds)
  • Fish move, have quicker life phases, and don’t sore reserves in fat therefore will vary a lot

Anatomy

  • Overly simplified, fish are sheets of muscle tissue anchored with connective tissue
  • Skin: 5-10% fat, 1/3 of the connective tissue is cologne therefore heated it makes good gelatin, moist heat turns the skin gelatinous, frying/grilling makes it crisp
  • Scales: protection of the fish, made up of the same mineral as teeth (read: scrap off, don’t eat)
  • Bones: most can come apart in one piece, but some fish have floating or pin bones that are unattached for structure, bones are small, light, less mineral-y and tough compared to land animals–many dishes will cook with bones in and allow them to soften or dissolve
  • Innards: eggs, livers, tongue/throat, heads–like the offal of land animals, can be used in interesting ways

Flavor

  • vary GREATLY by species, salinity of water, food it eats, and how it’s harvested

IMG_0108

Aroma

  • This was actually very interesting, fresh fish are actually known to smell plant-like, like fresh cut grass
  • Ocean fish will smell like the sea-coast and fresh fish will have muddiness to them
  • The “fishy” smell is actually of non-fresh fish and is caused by the TMAO compound that is used the balance salinity (discussed earlier) (that’s why many fish recipes will call for acid to combat this smell)

Fish Types (Very simple overview)

  • Herring: Anchovies, Sardines, Sprat, and Shad; strong flavors, fatty, small, spoil fast
  • Carp/Catfish: adaptable for farms, muddy flavor, keep well
  • Salmon/Trout: farmed versions are fattier, fresh ones are stronger flavored; overall fattier fish
  • Cod: mild fish
  • Perch/Tilapia: mild fresh, does have TMAO despite being mild so develops a fishy smell, but keeps well
  • Basses: varies as there are both saltwater and freshwater species
  • Tunas/Mackerel: rich, savory flavor (there are actually two types of Ahi tuna, one that is rare and another that isn’t), Bluefin/Big Eye Tune live longer and therefore have the most flavor and fat
  • Swordfish: dense, meaty texture, keeps well
  • Flat fish: bottom dwellers lead to a muddy and mild flavor

Recognizing Fresh Fish

  1. Find a good merchant
  2. Get fish cut rather than taking pre-cut filets
  3. The skin should be glossy and taut, the mucus should be transparent and glossy
  4. Eyes should be bright, black, and convex, opaque means old
  5. No brown edges
  6. Smell isn’t the best indicator, but a fish that smells like green leaves or fresh sea air is the better bet

Fish Preparations

Unheated Prep

  • Sushi/Sashimi
  • Ceviche & Kinilaw = cooked by acid (ranging form 15 min to a few hours)
  • Salty Poke & Lomi = small pieces of fish marinated in salt and other flavors

Cooking

  • Best methods involve gentle heat and close attention, cut the fish to get even thickness, and a rough estimate of 10min per inch
  • Traditional: grill, boil, bake, fry
  • Cook under wraps: crusts, envelops, clay
  • Simmer, poach, stew
  • Steaming
  • Smoking

Preserved

  • Dried (Stockfish)
  • Salted (Salt cod, anchovies, gravlax)
  • Fermented (fish sauce, narezsushi)
  • Smoked
  • All the above (kotsuobushi or bonito)

Fish Eggs

  • Caviar
  • Roe
  • Bottargo (salted, cured fish roe)

A quick discourse on Seafood

Crustaceans (Shrimp, Lobster, Crab)

  • Texture: skeletal muscle, more connective tissue, easily dried, needs to be heated fast or will become mushy from the activation of an enzyme
  • Flavor: Nutty, popcorn-like, develops more flavor in a shell

Molluscs (Clam, Mussels, Oysters, Scallops, Squid)

  • Texture
    • Clam, Mussels, Oysters: you usually eat the whole animal, when raw it is tender and crunchy, when cooked it is chewy
    • Abalone, Octapus, Squid: usually only eat certain parts, there are lots of muscle and connective tissue, chewy slightly cooked, tough medium cooked, and tender long cooke
  • Flavor
    • Clam, Mussels, Oysters: rich, mouth filling taste when raw
    • Squid and Octopus: more tasteless
    • Overall, cooking diminish flavor and increases aroma

I felt like this was a sufficient of seafood related detail so I didn’t look into any other resources for this research phase. Time to get back to “On Inspiration Through Nature“.