Cooking Techniques: Fish

Wonder twins activate!

If you are of a certain generation in the U.S., you probably grew up watching the Hanna Barbera Saturday morning Super Heroes cartoon. In this particular cartoon, all the super heroes are working together to save the world, and the wonder twins are a boy and girl team whose powers must be activated by the two of them connecting in a certain way.  When they do, they become one unit which is better equipped to fight evil than if they had remained separate.

I thought about this the other day when a mom wrote in about my last super foods post, asking whether I had any suggestions for how to get her children to like fish. In my experience folks tend to either like or not like fish, but I do believe there are ways to get your children to tolerate fish. The trick is to combine ingredients in such a way that they become something better than the fish by itself.

Some Suggestions:

1. Coat the fish: Most children will eat fish sticks, but storebought fish sticks aren’t necessarily the healthiest and while they do make gluten free versions now, they don’t always meet other allergy needs. You can, however, make your own coating for fish. Use the type of wholegrain bread which fits your dietary and allergy needs and simply process them in your food processor to make bread crumbs. The best crumbs are flavored, so add fresh or dried herbs of your choosing and/or garlic and/or onions and black pepper as you’re zooping the bread crumbs.

The healthiest way to cook breaded fish is to bake it in the oven. If you crinkle up aluminium foil and use it to cover a shallow baking pan, your fish won’t stick the way it would otherwise. Coat the aluminium foil with a little bit of a healthy plant oil like olive oil before placing your breaded fish onto the pan.

For the fish itself, you can use beaten whole eggs or egg whites or a type of milk as your liquid for which the breading can stick to. I recommend double coating your fish for the best adhesion and taste. You can either double coat it with the bread crumbs or what I prefer is to coat the fish first with flour such as garbanzo bean or sorghum or gluten free oatmeal which I’ve mixed with some herbs and black pepper, and then I coat it with the bread crumb mixture.

After your fish is laid out on the pan, use a brush to lightly coat the top with olive oil so you’ll get that nice crunchy texture that kids tend to like.

The best way to bake the fish is at a high temperature such as 400 or 425 degrees for a shorter length of time. Most fish bakes in less than 10 minutes, as long as they’re not too thick.

When serving the fish, you can make up sauces for your children to dip with whether it’s a fancy homemade ketchupy type or a tartarish sauce or a yogurty, fruity type. If you have a few options, you increase the chances of your child finding a combination he or she likes.

2. Glaze the fish: The most common complaint folks tend to make about fish is that it’s fishy, so when making fish for children, you want to give them a different flavor that they can taste instead.

One of my children’s favorite glazes for fish is simply a mixture of soy sauce, agave, garlic, onions, and ginger. I mix the glaze well and let the fish marinate in the sauce for at least half an hour in the fridge. Then I either bake the fish, broil it, or grill it. Broiling or grilling the fish will allow the sauce to cook directly onto the fish. Baking it will make a liquidy sauce which you can spoon over the fish when serving.

You can experiment with different types of glazes. Maybe your children prefer something fruity and you could use an all fruit jam as a glaze. Maybe you like the taste of balsamic vinegar and want to make a glaze with that. Use your children’s taste buds as your guide.

3. Top the fish: If your children don’t really like fish but love salsa or spinach dip or tartar sauce, put it on top of the fish you cooked so that your children are eating something they like with something they’re not as fond of.

My children love when I put a roasted eggplant dip onto broiled fish. I make this dip where I chop up one eggplant into one inch pieces, mix it with a little bit of olive oil, and roast it for 10 minutes at 500 degrees, turning once or twice during the cooking time. I then puree the roasted eggplant with minced garlic and onion, black pepper, and one 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted but sometimes just plain or the versions which have herbs or garlic and onions mixed in.

When the fish is done broiling, I put as much of the eggplant dip as each child wants on top of the fish, and they love it.

When making a topping for your children, think about what they like. If they like salsa, experiment with different types of salsas, whether store-bought or homemade. I like to make a pineapple salsa where I simply puree up tomatoes, pineapple, onions, garlic, peppers, fresh cilantro and cumin. Sometimes we use mangoes or peaches instead. All are tasty on fish.

4. Stuff the fish: My children like stuffed fish because then you taste more of the stuffing than the fish. You can use leftover actual stuffing. You can cook up a mixture of spinach and vegetables with herbs and a type of cheese. You can even stuff the fish with fruits like dried figs or sauteed apples.

There are couple of ways to stuff fish. The traditional way is to put the stuffing ingredients on the fish and then to roll the fish up around the stuffing. Another way is to layer some fish in a pan, top with the stuffing mixture, and then top the stuffing mixture with a second layer of fish. Either way works. For both, simply bake in the oven until the fish is fork tender, usually about 20-30 minutes. For fish which is stuffed, I suggest baking at a lower temperature like 350 or 375 degrees.

5. Sauce the fish: You can top fish with just about any type of sauce. Tomato sauce, a white sauce, a cheese sauce, a spinach sauce, a tartar sauce – whatever your children prefer. One of the ways my children like to eat fish is when I bake it with a pureed, saucy salsa with cheese sprinkled on top.

Another way is when I make up a spinach sauce where I whisk 2 cups of soy milk with 1/4 cup of sorghum flour and slowly cook it over low heat until it thickens. Then I add 10 oz thawed frozen spinach, garlic, onions, oregano, and thyme. When the spinach has begun to warm, I add a couple tablespoons of Tofutti dairy free cream cheese. It makes a wonderful sauce for just about any type of white fish.

The key to getting your children to eat fish is to find something which they like to pair with the fish. Then the fish becomes more than just fish to their taste buds.

Menu Suggestion: Stuffed Flounder

“We’d like to take you on a whale watch.”

Some friends of ours wanted to thank us for having been there for them over the years and suggested treating us to a whale watch, something the children had always said they wanted to do but which we’d never had.

The day was beautiful, and as we began the journey towards the open seas, the children had a great time watching the waves, feeling the wind, and chatting with our friends. Slowly, however, we began to realize that our children suffer from seasickness, and within an hour of the trip, the children were… well, let’s just say, their symptoms weren’t the pleasant kind.

While my daughters were old enough to fend for themselves, I ended up being caretaker for my son, holding him, watching his face, helping him to rinse his mouth, and the like. By the time it was clear there really wasn’t much else left to come out of him, he was just plain exhausted, and he fell into a deep sleep.

Just after he fell asleep is, of course, when we finally reached the deepest waters and amazingly enough there were three beautiful whales to be seen for a very long time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t rouse my sleeping son to see it. After his miserable experience, he wanted nothing to do with the whales and just kept pushing me away, insisting he’d rather sleep. In the end he missed what would probably have been one of the best experiences of his life.

Sometimes I feel people behave similarly when it comes to the idea of eating fish. They had a bad experience once or they ate some which didn’t taste to their liking or they don’t like the look and smell of fish in general, and they write off all fish and end up missing food which is not only very healthy for them but which can be incredibly tasty.

Recently we wanted to make a special meal for dinner, and I chose to make flounder. Flounder is one of those fishes you’ll often find on a restaurant menu because it’s very mild tasting. As a rule my children actually prefer salmon over most white fish, but I like to use flounder (or sole, as it’s sometimes called, too) when I want to make a nice stuffed dish for a special occasion.

What’s nice about flounder is that is has all the health benefits of fish while also being low in mercury which they’re always telling you to be wary of eating too much of. For stuffing purposes, it’s a nice fish because they’re thin and layer and roll well.

By now, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m a firm believer in making things as easy as possible. So, this post is about how to make a quick and easy stuffed flounder. There is no rolling of fish, no trying to hold the rolled fish and stuffing while trying to roll it in bread crumbs, too. This is my version of what is actually a very nice company dish, which you can adapt to your own tastes.

Tips for Stuffed Flounder:

1. The flounder: The two big debates you’ll always hear are “wild versus farmed” and “fresh versus frozen”. Generally speaking, people say that wild fish doesn’t have the types of chemicals you’ll find in farmed fish. Personally, I think you’re going to find both bad and good in anything you eat these days, from fruit and veggies covered in pesticides to milk produced from cows given growth hormones. Be wise about moderating what you, wash all your produce, and recognize that sometimes the good health benefits outweigh the possibility of ingesting something not as good. Fortunately, flounder isn’t as greatly farmed as salmon, so most flounder found in the stores are usually wild anyway.

As for fresh versus frozen, people make a big deal about frozen fish being second rate. I personally have never found anything to complain about. Frozen fish is cheaper and ready when you want to use it instead of having to eat it on its freshness timetable. The tip is to make sure that after you defrost it, you rinse the fillets and pat them completely dry. If you choose to purchase fresh flounder at a fish market or at the grocery store, make sure they’re fillets (unless you like skinning and boning a whole fish yourself, in which case, go for it) which are a nice white color, not graying, and which don’t smell – fresh flounder really doesn’t smell all that fishy.

2. The stuffing: You can use almost anything you want to stuff flounder. People will use bread crumbs, stuffing, rice, vegetables, even meat. I personally prefer to use vegetables, and the recipe I will be sharing uses frozen greens mixed with other sauteed vegetables.

So, you can choose spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens, your choice. For my recipe, it is important to use thawed frozen versions of these as opposed to fresh because you need the moisture from the frozen varieties for making the creamy sauce for the vegetable stuffing.

For other vegetables, any possible combination exists. My personal favorites are spinach and mushrooms or kale and zucchini and squash or collards and carrots, but you can use whatever foods you like best.

3. The topping: When you’re making a stuffed flounder, you can leave it bare or you can cover it. I prefer to cover the flounder because it helps to keep the flounder from drying out too much. Many recipes will call for either coating it in breadcrumbs or making a sauce to pour over it. I prefer to use a light breadcrumb topping because I’m not actually rolling the flounder to stuff it.

For a breadcrumb topping, I use a nice gluten free high fiber bread which I pulse into tiny breadcrumb pieces, but you can always use a gluten free packaged bread crumb mixture, too. The key is to not use as much as most recipes call for and to use a nice olive oil instead of butter and to mix it with lovely herbs for a great taste.

4. The preparation: Most stuffed flounder recipes tell you to individually roll the flounder around the stuffing, and it is true that those little rolled pieces of fish look quite pretty when you put them onto your company’s plate. The problem I find, though, is that it’s not always easy to roll the fish around the stuffing and to get it to stay rolled, and when you go to eat it, it’s actually quite a mess because the fish will fall apart and then you’re eating the fish and stuffing separately anyway.

So, what I do is to put a layer of fish on the bottom of a pan, put my stuffing on top of those fillets, and then cover the stuffing with a second layer of fillets. This way, you have fish on both sides of your stuffing without the hassle of rolling, and when you eat it, the tastes of the fish and the stuffing meld together in your mouth. In addition, when the fish is topped with bread crumbs, the final presentation is quite pretty and easy to serve.

Stuffed Flounder

(Recipe for a company crowd, can cut in half for a family)

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tbsp minced onions

16 oz sliced mushrooms or sliced zucchini and squash or sliced carrots

10 to 16 oz thawed frozen spinach or kale or collards:  Do NOT squeeze out any of the liquid.

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried crushed thyme

8 oz tofu cream cheese

14 thin flounder fillets

1 cup gluten free high fiber bread crumbs

1 to 2 tsp olive oil

2 tsp Italian herb blend

Cooking Instructions:

1.  Lightly grease an 11 x 15 pan and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a large sauteing pan, mix the olive oil with the garlic and onions and cook for about a minute over meduim low heat until fragrant.

3. Add the mushrooms or zucchini and squash or carrots and saute for 3 to 5 minutes until the vegetables are softer and beginning to cook through.

4. Add the spinach or kale or collards along with the pepper, oregano and thyme and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes until most but not all of the liquid has begun to evaporate.

5. Put the tofu cream cheese into the center of the vegetable mixture and continue to stir and mix the cream cheese into the vegetables over medium low heat until its completely melted and incorporated into the mixture. This usually takes about 2 to 4 minutes.

6. Layer seven flounder fillets on the bottom of the baking pan. Cover each fillet with the vegetable mixture. Cover the vegetable stuffing with the last seven fillets, and flatten the layered fish so it completely fills your pan and is even.

7. In the same pan you used for making the vegetable stuffing, mix the bread crumbs with just enough olive oil to moisten them and with the herb blend. Saute for a minute.

8. Evenly divide the bread crumbs over the top of the stuffed fillets and pat the crumbs down so they stick to the top of the fish.

9. Bake for about 20 minutes. The topping will be golden brown, the fish a nice white, and there will be some bubbling from the stuffed vegetable mixture.

If your oven runs hot, check it at 15 minutes. You don’t want to overcook the fish. If by some chance you do, overcook it a little bit, cover the pan with foil and let it sit, covered, until you’re about to serve it.  This will restore some of the moisture to the fish.

10. Serve the stuffed fish with a nice salad of mixed greens and herbs and enjoy!