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Out of the Water, Onto Your Plate

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Looking for the Perfect Fish Taste Testing Six Fishes
  How to Cook & Eat Fish   Telling Good Fish from Bad  

Part One: When to Eat What
Overnight-delivery service makes it possible for nearly all species of fish to be fresh and available year-round, but there’s nothing fresher than what swims in our very own Eastern Seaboard waters. With help from Rod Mitchell, owner of Browne Trading Company in Portland, Maine (which sells to Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert, among other discerning chefs), and his trusty sidekick, Lucas Myers, we’ve compiled a list of when you can expect to find your favorite East Coast sea fare.

Halibut
This deliciously firm whitefish with its tiny hint of sweetness is available April through November. It spawns in spring—according to Myers, about one in twenty fish he sees during the spring is in its spawning period, which means that the flesh will be creamy in texture instead of translucent, and somewhat less tasty.

Flounder
For deep-fried fish-shack purposes. Available year-round, but more plentiful from April through November.

Striped Bass
Theoretically available June through August, but supertight quotas can make it very hard to find—boats on Long Island are only permitted to catch 160 per season. So if you see a great big striper at your market, buy it. You won’t find a fresher, better-tasting local fish, though it will probably cost you a bundle.

Sea Bass
Can be found at markets year-round, but high demand and state quotas can send prices skyrocketing.

Swordfish
Available pretty much all the time, but prices during peak grilling months tend to climb as hurricane season cuts into the catch. In the fall, when swordfish is fatty and flavorful, the waters off Maine and eastern Canada are well stocked.

Tuna
Bluefin tuna trek to our local market from June through September. Early in the season, the flesh is leaner and less fatty from all that swimming. So local bluefin is usually tastiest in August and September, when the flesh is fattier.

Bluefish
These oily fish are at their most abundant from July to August, but typically you can find them year-round.

Monkfish
This hearty, thick-fleshed fish is found in North Atlantic waters and is available year-round, but the federal government asks that each state allow only a limited number of days per month for fishing it to avoid depleting supply.

Weakfish
Keeps a summer-romance calendar; generally available from June through August.

Cod
A dependable year-rounder, with occasional state-by- state blackouts when there’s risk of overfishing.

Red Snapper
This fish, from the waters in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast of Florida, can only be caught during the first ten days of each month. So by the end of the second week of the month, get something else.


Part Two: The Rules on Keeping Fish
When you shop at a good fish store, it’s safe to assume the local fare has been out of the water about a day and a half (stuff that comes from really far away is often flash frozen on the boat). The general rule is to buy fish on the day you plan to eat it. If that’s not possible, you can keep it for up to two days; chef Rick Moonen recommends filling a colander with ice (with a plate under it), putting the fish in a Ziploc bag, and nestling it in the ice in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it. Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin says that tuna and halibut, if stored well, can be kept up to three days. Oily fish like fresh mackerel, weakfish, bluefish, snapper, blues, sardines, and anchovies must be consumed the day you buy them. For fish that’s on the verge, make a stew with garlic, saffron, tomatoes, and onion.


Part Three: How to Cook a Fresh Fish
A can’t-screw-it-up recipe, provided here by chef Rick Moonen. This is for a striped bass, but it can also be used for other thick-fleshed fillets, like salmon and arctic char (just cut the cooking time by 2 minutes for those).

1 1-inch-thick piece, skin on. The good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids are found between the skin and the flesh, so not only is this tasty but it’s very healthful.
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter, plus a little more for brushing

Use a cast-iron pan. Heat pan over medium-high heat.
(1) Season entire fish with salt and pepper, and brush skin side with butter.
(2) Place the fish skin-side down in a dry pan, lightly pressing with a spatula as if you’re making a grilled-cheese sandwich. Leave it for a minute and a half, then add the 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan.
(3) Using a large spoon, tilt the pan and baste the non-skin side of the fish with the melting butter. Continue basting. When the fish has been in the pan approximately 4 minutes and the skin has crisped, flip it over and cook for 30 more seconds, which will produce a medium-rare fillet. Eat and be happy.


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