The fish you caught last year probably has been in your freezer for six months or longer. Even under ideal conditions -- if it was bled, iced down, frozen soon after being caught and kept at zero degrees or colder ever since -- it no longer has the flavor or texture it once had. That said, it remains nutritious. Making it a pleasure to eat is what this column is about.
Fish fairly begs for acid, which is why fish in restaurants usually comes with a wedge of lemon. It's why some people like malt vinegar with deep-fried fish. It's why tartar and seafood sauces are popular. It's why cole slaw with a vinegar-based dressing is a popular side-dish for fish dishes.
I use both the juice and the zest of citrus fruits on fish. Lemon and lime juices are good substitutes for salt. A little lime juice in a salsa made of chopped mango, cilantro, tomatillo, sweet onion and Fresno pepper can change fish from bland to grand. With salsa, fish can star in a taco or tostada. On a fancy dinner plate, a salsa can turn a freezer fish into a drool-inducing work of art.
Try pan-frying salmon on the stove top. Skin a fillet, and pull out any pin bones with long-nosed pliers. Dust it with Kosher salt, fresh-ground black pepper and blackening spices. Heat up a frying pan, add a little olive oil, and sear the fish on both sides. Finish it in the oven, but don't overcook it. While that's going on, stir a little fresh lime juice into some sour cream. Top the fish with a dollop of the sauce, top the sauce with lime zest and brace yourself for compliments.
Currys are another way to glorify freezer fish. I recently made a Thai halibut dish that was easy to cook and delicious to eat. The home-made curry was ground cumin, ground New Mexico chile and coriander powder. After adding it to coconut milk and chicken stock in a deep fry pan on the stove, I slid in serving-size chunks of skinned fillets, poached them for a few minutes and plopped them onto a bed of steamed spinach beside a pile of rice.
After cranking up the heat and reducing the curry to a richer, thicker consistency, I poured it over the fish and rice and garnished it with chopped cilantro and slivers of Fresno pepper and served it with crunchy bread and a green salad. A tastier, prettier halibut dish will be hard to find.
* The Fresno peppers mentioned above are usually available in local stores, but often go by other names. They look like jalapeno peppers, but are red. They add color, without adding much heat.
* Those "On Sale" ground spices at the grocery store are no bargain. Ground spices more than six months old are wimpy compared to the freshly ground item, and that includes black pepper. With a coffee grinder, you can grind cumin seeds, annatto seeds, chili pods and most anything. The difference in flavor is worth the effort.
* Strive to put contrast in food -- sweet and sour, crunchy and soft, red and green, hot and cold. Few things are less appealing than a plateful of mushy, drab-colored food.
* Experiment. Use recipes mainly for ideas, reserving them for dishes that you haven't previously tackled. Thumb through cook books, but also use the Internet and the television cooking shows.
I hope some of this has moved you to turn your freezer fish into tasty, nutritious works of art. If not, here's something else that should prompt you to eat those fish: Fishing season is right around the corner.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.