I have a problem buying fish. Actually, I don’t have a problem buying fish. I have a problem buying fish that I like. Most times I buy any old fish, am not happy with it, then forget what kind of fish it was and I end up making the same mistake over and over again. I think I’ve bought cod three or four times and still can’t make myself remember that I don’t like it. Or maybe that was haddock. See what I mean?
In a perfect world, I would have, as Alton Brown says, a fishmonger. Actually, I probably could have a fishmonger. The nice folks at Wegman’s and The Fresh Market seem pretty knowledgable about fish. But since I usually buy my fish frozen, and there doesn’t tend to be a store employee chilling out in the frozen fish case, I’m left to my own devices. Since I also shop at a couple of different stores and they all package their frozen fish differently, I can’t keep track of what I’ve bought and liked or not liked. Geez, it’s a wonder I manage to feed myself at all.
Recently, I decided to give the fish counter at the Asian Market a try. That would be the H Mart at Rt. 40 and Rolling Road for anyone reading locally who wants to go on a field trip. They carry several varieties of whole fish that you can have cut to order. If they have it, they will scale, gut, and fillet it for you. I can’t say that The Fresh Market does that but I have seen some whole fish being cut down at Wegman’s…more as entertainment than a regular service of the seafood department. The fish counter at H Mart even has a few tanks with live fish. The sign said that it was Tilapia that was swimming around. While that would be some fresh fish, the thought of seeing my dinner plucked out of a tank and watching as it gets butchered makes me a little uncomfortable.
So anyhow, I found myself at the fish counter looking for either grouper or halibut. They had both so I had to choose between them. According to the guys at the counter, the halibut would be moister than the grouper. Usually, when I don’t like a fish it’s because it’s dense and dry. So I was hoping that by choosing the moister of the two, I wouldn’t end up with something that would be a disappointment on my plate. And let me just say that for $12.99 a pound, that halibut was an expensive gamble.
Thankfully, it was gamble that paid off. The halibut steaks that I cooked up were tender and moist. The fish had a mild flavor that did not compete with the cilantro, ginger, shallot, chile, or coconut milk. Actually, it was the perfect canvas to showcase those other flavors.
So now I know that I like halibut. I know that right now, at this moment. I just hope I can remember that the next time I’m at the store.
For those of you, like myself, who can’t figure the difference between a mackerel and a monkfish, there’s this guide. I only stumbled on it when I was googling my research for this post so I can’t vouch for its accuracy in description of the different species it lists or its recommendations for substitutions. I wonder if somewhere there’s an app for that?
Grilled Cilantro Fish in Coconut Broth
Adapted from Cuisine for Two
BAH Note: I used halibut instead of grouper. Instead of fillets, I got halibut steaks at the store. If you use steaks instead of fillets, watch out for bones…they are everywhere. I don’t have a lot of confidence in being able to judge when meat or fish is done so for the halibut, I figured it was done when it started to fall apart. The presentation wasn’t pretty but the fish was perfectly cooked. If you have a grill, CFT says you can grill the fish over direct heat, covered.
For the Fish:
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- juice of 1 lime (about 1 to 2 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- kosher salt
- 2 fresh halibut or grouper fillets
For the Broth:
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 Vietnamese or Thai chile, seeded and thinly sliced
Place the cilantro, lime juice, olive oil, and a pinch of kosher salt in a food processor and pulse until it forms a rough paste. Transfer the paste to a shallow dish, add fish, turn to coat, and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, saute shallots, ginger, and vegetable oil over medium low heat for approximately 5 minutes until soft. Add the coconut milk, chicken broth, sugar, fish sauce and sliced chile. Using an immersion blender, carefully blend the sauce. Add kosher salt to taste. Then simmer gently until the sauce is reduced by about half. If the heat is too high, the sauce will foam up and boil over the sides of the pan.
Lightly coat a grill pan with vegetable oil and heat over medium flame. Remove the fish from the marinade and place on the prepared grill pan. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes per side or until the fish flakes easily and is firm.
Ladle broth into two bowls and top with fish.