People often turn to eating more seafood when they are ready to take better care of themselves and their families through diet. Low-fat and -cholesterol preparations can increase those benefits, and can be simple for novice seafood cooks. Baking is a great way to get started, and is fool-proof as long as you take care to follow a few simple guidelines.
1. Sear it first. If you have a nice thick fillet of halibut or salmon, for example, you want to keep as many of the natural juices inside as you can. You don’t want to fry the fish, but heating a tiny amount of oil in a heavy skillet and then quickly searing the fish on both sides can help reduce drying in the oven, and adds a nice touch of flavor, especially if you’ve dusted the fillet in herbs or salt and pepper.
2. Coat it. The only thing that can really go wrong with baked fish is drying and toughening. One way to avoid this is to cover the fish in some kind of sauce or glaze while it’s in the oven – mayonnaise is a common choice, as it brown nicely and adds a creaminess to the crisped edges of the fish. Try low-fat varieties if you’re on a stricter diet. Other choices include creamy salad dressings, steak marinades, and a carpet of thin lemon slices.
3. Steam it. Another variation on baked fish is foil-steaming. This is particularly great for whole fish such as trout or snapper. Clean, gut, and score the fish, rinse it well in cold water, and then season – garlic, herbs, lemons, soy sauce, ginger, scallions, brown sugar, or chilies are all great additions. Place the fish on a large piece of aluminum foil, and then wrap the ends of the foil up, folding them together to create a sealed pouch. Put the whole pouch in the oven to bake. This technique is very low fat, and can be done in a matter of minutes.
4. Semi-poach it. I rarely bake fish without surrounding it with some kind of liquid – usually a mixture of lemon juice and vegetable broth or white wine. Place the fillets in a glass baking dish and pour the liquid up to the edges of the fish – it shouldn’t cover the fillet, but will help keep it moist during the cooking process. I often use this method in conjunction with searing and coating.
5. Check on it frequently. Don’t be afraid to open the oven and stick a fork in the densest part of the fillet. The best way to ensure that fish is fully but not overly cooked is to keep an eye on it and trust your eyes over recipe cooking times. If it looks done, taste it – it probably is. Fish cooks quickly, and shouldn’t be left unattended for too long.
Good luck, and enjoy!