( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Fish is perhaps a little more difficult to digest than tender cuts of beef or tender chicken. The varieties that contain much fat are more difficult to digest than the leaner kinds. Red snapper or bass is more digestible than Spanish mackerel. Why ? In markets remote from the water there are few varieties of fish offered, but near the great bodies of water there are many kinds from which choice may be made, including pompano, sea trout, Spanish mackerel, red fish, red snapper, flounder, cod, haddock, halibut, salmon, and shad. Among the fresh water fish are perch, trout, bass, and catfish. Of the shellfish oysters, clams, shrimps, lobsters, and crabs are used.
Compare food value of fish as given in the table, page 147, with that of beef. Compare prices in your market. For a given sum—twenty-five cents, for example—which would furnish the greater quantity of food, beef or fish, not considering food value? Compare, considering food value and price. What fish are offered in your market? Where are they caught'?
Selecting Fish. Any variety of fish that has been out of water long is not a safe food. Good fish must be firm; if the tail is limp the fish is old. The following advice, from the United States bulletin on fish, furnishes a safeguard against the purchase of stale fish. "Fish should be considered unfit for food when their eyes have lost their sheen, the cornea is somewhat cloudy, the gills pale red, and the blubber shows at the gills; when the scales are dry and easily loosened, or when the meat is so soft that when pressed with the fingers the indentation. remains." Some unscrupulous dealers use blood coloring on the gills ; others remove the head. Any fish with a strong odor should be avoided. Fish is a frequent source of ptomaine poisoning, and it is not safe to use any but the freshest.
Oysters are not in the best condition in summer. If dead in the shell they are not fit for food. Good oysters close the shell when removed from the water, and move when touched. There is a clean fluid inside the shell. The slightest odor of staleness about the oyster is a good reason for rejecting it. No preservatives should be used. Oysters should not be frozen. The oyster, if from polluted waters, may be a source of typhoid and other diseases.
Canned and Preserved Fish. Fish decomposes easily, and if canned has the additional danger of a possible absorption of metal from the can. Like all preserved meats, it is more difficult to digest than the fresh fish. Fresh foods can usually be substituted for it. What foods other than meat are a good substitute for fish in your locality?
Cleaning Fish. Fish is usually cleaned at the market, but as the cleaning is often carelessly done, one should remove the remaining scales when it is received. Begin near the tail and work toward the head. Use a knife, turning it a little toward your body, so that the flesh will not be cut. After the scales are removed, cut off the head, if desired, and wipe the fish inside and out with a cloth wrung from cold water. The fins may be cut off close to the body with large scissors. When fish are to be split and boiled or baked, always remove the back fin. Split the fish on the lower part of the body and remove the intestines.
Fish is sometimes skinned, but this can be done successfully only when the fish is fresh. To skin a fish remove the back fin, cutting off a narrow strip of skin with it. Loosen the skin next to the gill on one side ; then pull the skin from the flesh. Remove the skin from the other side in like manner. After the fish is skinned it may be boned. Beginning at the tail, run a sharp knife along the back, making as clean a cut as possible. Lift off the half of the fish, then turn and remove the other side. Pick out the small bones with the finger. A piece of skinned and boned fish is known as a fillet.
Opening Oysters. To open oysters use a stout thin knife. Put the knife under the back of the upper valve and press it to the front until it cuts the muscle that joins the shells; then lift the upper valve.
Cleaning Oysters. Oysters are usually delivered with the shells removed. Pick the bits of shell off and place the oysters in a sieve. Wash by pouring over them a little cold water, a half cup to a pint of oysters.
Ways of Cooking Fish. The principles of cooking given for meat apply in a general way to fish. The following are some of the exceptions : since fish is more watery, the flesh requires a high temperature throughout the cooking period. Fish should never be served rare. It must be thoroughly cooked but not overdone. Fish is done when it shrinks from the bone and when no juice flows as the flakes are pulled apart. Oysters should be lightly cooked as they become tough if overheated. Oyster stew must not boil.
The method of cooking depends on the quality of the fish and on the size. Thin, highly flavored fish like pompano, Spanish mackerel, and trout, are best when broiled, and should be served with plain dressing so as to preserve the flavor. Sliced fish may also be broiled. Fish that require liberal seasoning, such as the red fish, are best when baked or pan broiled in the oven. It is difficult to baste a fish satisfactorily while broiling it. Large fish, rich in fat, may be boiled in salted water to which lemon juice has been added. The salt adds to the flavor and the lemon whitens the flesh. Fish lacking in fat must be cooked with fat or served with a rich sauce. An acid sauce or relish is appetizing. Small bony fish are fried.
Removing Fish from Broiler. Fish sticks to the broiler and is difficult to remove. When the fish is done, place the broiler over a large pan or on a zinc covered table. Take a four-pronged kitchen fork and slip it over the wire of the broiler so that two prongs are on each side of the wire. Press down on the fish and slip the fork the full length of the wire. Repeat on all the wires, touching the fish on both sides of the broiler. Then slip the fish from the broiler, skin side down, to a warm platter.
Baked fish may be easily removed from the pan if strips of cloth dipped in bacon fat are placed under it when it is put into the pan.
Fish may be pan broiled very well under a gas flame or on the grate of a wood range. Heat an ordinary baking pan very hot and rub with melted butter. Split the fish and remove the back-bone. Plane it in the pan on a slice of fat pork with the skin side down. Draw the fish together to protect the thin middle portion. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and baste well with melted butter. Cook for at least half an hour. Have the gas flame turned high until the fish browns; then lower the heat. Place on the lower shelf of the upper oven occasionally to heat the bottom. Baste with lemon sauce every ten minutes. Lift the fish carefully on to a large platter and garnish with parsley and slices of lemon.
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice 2 tbsp. butter 4 tbsp. hot water
Mix all together, and place on the back of the range to keep hot.
Baked Fish, Hollandaise Sauce
A 3 or 4 pound fish 1 c. bread crumbs
1 tbsp. capers 1 tbsp. chopped parsley..
1 tbsp. chopped onion 1 tbsp. melted butter
1/4 tsp. white pepper 1/2 tsp. salt
Select a fish suitable for baking and clean as directed. Use but little stuffing as it is only for seasoning. Mix the stuffing. Fill the cavity and sew up the opening. Rub the fish thoroughly with salt. Put pepper and butter on both sides. Cut gashes across sides of fish two inches apart. Do not have the gashes opposite one another. Lay a very small strip of salt pork in each gash. (If pork is not used, baste with sauce given for broiled fish.) Skewer fish in shape of letter " S" and dredge well with flour. Put pieces of pork in pan so that the fish will not stick. Place the fish on a strip of cheesecloth and bake in a hot oven, allowing fifteen minutes to the pound. Baste frequently; garnish with parsley and slices of lemon, and serve with hollandaise Sauce. Fish with dry flesh is improved if baked in a covered roasting pan.