Festive Summertime Fish
When the weather warms up, it’s only natural that most of us want to relax and feel like we’re on vacation, whether we are out of town or at home. This is the time to shake loose from usual cooking routines and take it easy. For entertaining, there is no need to follow a rigid plan and design multi-course menus. Prepare a light fish dish and accompany it with good crusty bread or rice pilaf, simply cooked seasonal vegetables and chilled white wine. Begin the dinner with a colorful salad, then follow the main course with fresh fruit and ice cream, and you will have the type of meal that is welcome during this season.
Fish seems to have been designed for warm weather cooking. Since fish is naturally tender, it requires only brief cooking so it remains moist and retains its natural flavor. This makes fish ideal for summer meals; in the few minutes required to cook it, the kitchen does not heat up. Fish is a fine partner for the wonderful vegetables and herbs that glorify the markets in the summer months. In addition, fish has a lower fat content than meat and fits in perfectly with programs for lighter eating.
Buy fresh fish at most one day before cooking it. Even a fine chef cannot prepare a delicious dish from fish that has lost its freshness.
Ask the person at the fish counter how to prepare the fish you are purchasing, and chances are the recommendation will be to grill it. Fish can be delicious when grilled, and this popular cooking technique is especially suited to summer. Yet there are additional ways to cook fish that are equally pleasing. Poaching keeps the fish’s flesh moist and produces a flavorful liquid as well, that can be used to make a sauce. Steaming also produces moist, light fish dishes. Sautéing is as quick as grilling and gives the fish a tasty crust.
The most important rule for obtaining good results is to cook fish carefully so it is not overcooked. It's easy to tell when thin fillets are done: their appearance changes from translucent to opaque, so they no longer have a raw color. For whole fish and thick pieces, insert a thin skewer or cake tester into the thickest part of its flesh; if the skewer comes out hot to the touch, the fish is done.
When planning dinners in which the fish will be served hot, try to cook the fish last. If the fish must be kept warm for a few minutes before being served, drain it of any liquid that escapes onto the platter before adding a sauce or vegetable.
Although properly cooked fish tastes good alone, fish becomes especially festive when enhanced by a sauce. For warm weather fish recipes, light flourless sauces, many of which require no cooking, are best. Try the quick, fragrant pareve pistou sauce below with grilled salmon or trout as an alternative to poached sea bass.
Experiment with marinating, a valuable technique for adding flavor and moistness to fish before cooking, by letting any fish sit briefly in seasoned olive oil before you grill it. Fish to be poached can first marinate in wine with fresh herbs, as in Sea Bass with Pistou Sauce.
Fish dishes made with olive oil rather than butter or cream are not only healthier, but also give you more flexibility in serving. Such olive oil-enriched entrees are good either hot or at room temperature; there is no need to worry about keeping the fish warm and risking that it will overcook.
In classic European cuisine, fish was often served without a vegetable accompaniment or with potatoes only. Although fish and potatoes make a fine match, many other cooked vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, fresh corn and zucchini, add color, texture and excitement to all sorts of fish dishes. Pasta and rice are good complements for fish, especially when it is served with a savory sauce, like the one in the recipe for Halibut with Leeks and Olives below.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home (Morrow), 1,000 Jewish Recipes (Wiley) and Jewish Cooking For Dummies (Wiley).
HALIBUT WITH LEEKS AND OLIVES
This is a favorite way to cook fish in Nice in southern France, with the lovely flavors of a tomato-white wine sauce, olive oil and both green and black olives.
1 1/2 pounds halibut fillets or steaks, about 1 inch thick
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, rinsed well
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 medium celery stick, diced
4 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
4 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into eighths
1/3 cup dry white wine (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried, crumbled
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 cup mild pitted green olives, drained well
3/4 cup mild pitted black olives, drained well
Rinse fish and pat dry. Cut leeks in thin strips. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large deep skillet. Stir in onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook over low heat about 3 minutes; do not let them brown. Add tomatoes, wine, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to boil. Cover and cook over low heat 7 minutes.
Add fish and cook about 5 minutes per side or until a skewer can pierce fish easily and comes out hot to the touch. Transfer fish to platter, cover and keep it warm.
Crush tomato pieces in skillet lightly with spoon. Simmer sauce over medium heat until tomatoes are very soft, about 10 minutes. Strain sauce, pressing firmly on vegetables in strainer to extract as much juice as possible.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over low heat. Add leeks and mix well. Cover and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 7 minutes.
Return sauce to skillet used to cook fish. Boil, stirring, until thick enough to coat spoon, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste. Stir in leeks and olives and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Discard any vegetable dice attached to fish. If serving fish hot, return slices to skillet, cover and reheat briefly. Return to platter. Spoon sauce, olives and leeks around fish. Garnish fish with a few of black olives. Serve hot or cold.
Makes 4 servings.
TUNA AND RICE SALAD WITH GRILLED PEPPERS
For this quick and easy salad, tuna in olive oil is the best choice. You can also use any freshly cooked or grilled fish.
This salad can be prepared at leisure and served cold or at cool room temperature, as an entree or a tasty Shabbat appetizer.
1 cup long-grain white rice
Salt and pepper
1 pound fresh peas (about 1 cup shelled) or 1 cup frozen
1 medium-size green bell pepper
1 large red bell pepper
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil
two 7- to 8-ounce cans tuna in oil, drained of excess oil
2 small green onions, cut into thin slices
Boil rice uncovered in large saucepan of boiling salted water over high heat until just tender, about 12 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain well. Cook peas in medium saucepan of boiling salted water over high heat until just tender, about 7 minutes for fresh or 3 minutes for frozen. Drain, rinse under cold water and drain well.
Preheat broiler. Broil peppers about 2 inches from heat source until they are blistered and charred, turning often. Transfer to plastic bag and close bag. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel using paring knife. Halve peppers and remove cores. Pat peppers dry. Cut into lengthwise strips about 1/4 inch wide. Reserve 2 strips of each pepper for garnish. Cut remaining strips into dice.
Make vinaigrette by whisking vinegar or lemon juice with oil and pinch of salt and pepper. Drain and flake tuna. Toss rice with tuna, peas, peppers, green onions and vinaigrette in large bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning. Transfer to serving bowl. Garnish with reserved pepper strips. Let stand for 1 hour before serving, or longer in refrigerator.
Makes 6 to 8 servings as a first course or 4 servings as a light main course.
SEA BASS WITH PISTOU SAUCE
Pistou sauce, made with fresh basil, is wonderful with fish. The sauce has the brightest hue when a light-colored olive oil is used.
1 1/2 pounds sea bass fillet or steaks, about 1 inch thick
1 cup lightly packed basil leaves (about 1 bunch of 1 1/2 ounces), rinsed and thoroughly dried
1 cup dry white wine
6 to 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (for marinade and for sauce)
2 medium garlic cloves
2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise or light mayonnaise (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 small tomatoes, quartered
4 small basil sprigs
Put fish in shallow bowl. Coarsely chop 1 tablespoon of the basil and add to fish. Mix wine, 2 tablespoons oil, salt and pepper and pour mixture over fish. Let stand to marinate 1 hour, turning twice.
Transfer fish and its marinade to large skillet. Bring to simmer, basting occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until skewer inserted into fish comes out hot, about 8 minutes. Remove carefully to platter with slotted spoon and let cool to room temperature. Discard any liquid from plate.
For pistou sauce: With blade of food processor turning, drop garlic through feed tube and chop finely; or chop with knife and put in blender. Add rest of basil leaves and 4 tablespoons olive oil and process by on/off turns until basil is coarsely chopped, scraping down often. Transfer to bowl; mixture will not be uniform in consistency.
If you want a thicker sauce, add mayonnaise to processor. Pour in 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Process until blended. Add about half of basil mixture and process until blended. Add remaining basil mixture and process. Add remaining teaspoon lemon juice and process until blended. Transfer to a bowl.
Taste sauce and adjust seasoning. Gradually stir in more olive oil or lemon juice if desired.
Coat fish with sauce on platter. Surround with tomatoes. Garnish with basil sprigs. Serve any remaining sauce separately.
Makes 4 servings.
STEAMED SOLE WITH SAGE VINAIGRETTE
Steaming is a perfect technique for cooking delicate fish for light entrees.
6 ounces small mushrooms
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large red bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 small green bell pepper, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or herb vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/4 pounds sole fillets, or other thin fillets of a white, delicate fish
1/4 cup chopped green onion
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Discard mushroom stems, halve caps and cut them in thin slices. In a large heavy skillet heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over moderately high heat. Add mushrooms, peppers, and salt and pepper to taste and sauté about 7 minutes or until vegetables are just tender and any excess liquid evaporates. Set aside.
For vinaigrette: in a small bowl Combine wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons minced sage and whisk until blended.
Run your fingers over sole fillets and carefully pull out any bones using a sharp paring knife. Sprinkle sole on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle lightly with about half of remaining minced sage and fold each fillet in half. Sprinkle top with remaining sage. Set sole on top portion of a steamer over boiling water, cover and cook over high heat about 2 minutes or until fillets become opaque. Transfer them to a platter and keep warm.
Reheat vegetables over moderate heat. Stir in green onion and garlic and sauté about 1 minute or until heated through. Transfer fish to plates, discarding the liquid from their platter. Scatter vegetable mixture over and around fish. Re-whisk vinaigrette, spoon it over fish, and serve.
Makes 4 servings.