Fish Fridays: A grunt by any other name would taste as good

Flounder, snapper grouper – these are the perky cheerleaders of the fish world. Everybody loves them But give some love to less familiar fish, such as the grunt.

Maybe we should start by getting this fish a new name, because that’s a terrible one to hang on a delicious flaky, white fish. But as I learned working on “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press), there are a lot of good fish in the sea (and the ponds).

Less familiar kinds of North Carolina fish are just as good to cook and eat as what I call the Big Three (see above) and seeking them out lessens overfishing pressures on popular fish. Also, you’ll find new and delightful things to eat. In “Carolina Catch,” I offer information on substituting different kinds of fish in recipes, and how to find fish you might like based on what you currently enjoy. For example, if you want to substitute something for flounder, look for another thin and flaky fish (not a thick and steak-like one, such as mahi). An important piece of advice: Find a fishmonger who knows North Carolina fish and shellfish to guide you in selections.

Here are a few of my don’t-miss fish. Try them!

– Tilefish cooks up with a beautiful white color and tender, flaky texture. Its delicate, sweet flavor requires little more than a squeeze of lemon and a bit of butter. You’ll never look at flounder again.

– Sheepshead offers texture and flavor that stand up to being simmered or baked in sauces.

– Trout, whether farmed or wild-caught, can be used any way you’d cook snapper or flounder, and it’s especially tasty fried (although, what isn’t?)

Now, go fish!

To learn even more – and get recipes from appetizers to sides – take at a look at the book. And visit the Events list at debbiemoose.com to find a signing or cooking class I’m doing near you.

Welcome to Fish Fridays!

The alliteration was irresistible. So stop by here every Friday for the next eight weeks as I offer tips, hints and information that will help you overcome any “fear of fish” in your kitchen.

I found out a lot in working on my new cookbook, “Carolina Catch: Cooking North Carolina Fish and Shellfish from Mountains to Coast” (UNC Press). “Carolina Catch” features more than 90 recipes plus a guide to the state’s fish and shellfish – freshwater, saltwater, wild-caught and farmed. Turn to the Best Basics section  for detailed information on selecting, storing and preparing fish.

Let’s start with three kitchen tools for cooking fish and shellfish that will change your world.  These are all indispensable in my kitchen.

1. Instant-read thermometer. Many people overcook fish, end up with a wad of sandpaper and declare they don’t like fish. Wrong – you just messed up in cooking it. A simple instant-read thermometer, plus the exact temperatures and times in Best Basics, will help you stop guessing and have great fish.

fish spatula

fish spatula

2. Grill pan. In the summer, I like to cook everything on the grill (I’ve even grilled salads). A grill pan with a perforated bottom ensures against shrimp or fish falling through the grill grates, and is easy to clean. I usually spray mine with cooking spray before grilling even if the pan claims to be nonstick.

3. Fish spatula. This tool is great for everything, from turning fish to lifting frittatas or omelets from the frying pan. I hardly use my regular spatulas anymore. It’s thin, slotted, has a slanted edge and is wide enough that you can lift fish without breaking up the filet.

Now, go fish!

To learn even more, take at look at “Carolina Catch.” And the Moose is loose! Visit Events at debbiemoose.com to find a cooking class or signing I’m doing near you.

What I ate on my summer vacation

pan-frying tilefish

Despite having books that we had not yet read, The Hub and I reluctantly returned recently from Buxton on the Outer Banks. We do three things while we’re there: Read, walk on the beach, and eat seafood until we threaten to grow fins and shells.

We dug into enough steamed clams to pave a driveway. Grilled sea scallops were sweet enough to consider them dessert (until we dug into the bag of Oreos in our condo pantry). The mackerel must have been running that week, because it was the catch of the day at most restaurants we hit, along with some sea trout and bluefish. Mackerel and bluefish are the rare finny creatures that are not to my liking. But my patience was rewarded when we visited a seafood market with a mind to cook dinner. There it was: tilefish.

When I gush to people about this fish, they usually look baffled. Few people have heard of it. (I was delighted to see it at Chef & the Farmer in Kinston the week it reopened after a fire.) The white fish has a sweet flavor reminiscent of shellfish, because that’s what it likes to eat. It’s moist, and difficult to mess up when cooking. I kept things simple. I sprinkled the fillets with a little salt and Barrier Reef Seasoning from Savory Spice Shop, then pan-fried them in olive oil.

We also toted back some spiced shrimp that had been steamed at the market, and added some penne pasta and steamed broccoli.

Add beer on the side. Listen to the waves.

Food News Roundup

I often meet people who seem to think that I, and other food writers, prepare everything from scratch. They’re shocked that I don’t make my own pasta, or some such. But, as The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reveals here, convenience foods are the friends of chefs, food writers and culinary instructors, too. And we are not ashamed about it. The article offers ways to use convenience items creatively. It’s in The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), too.

Mildred “Mama Dip” Council’s Chapel Hill, N.C. restaurant is the center of the universe for Southern food lovers. Now, Council’s daughter, Annette, is making a mark with her cake mixes. Read more in the Independent Weekly (Durham, N.C.) here.

A review of Cary, N.C. writer Sandra Gutierrez’s new cookbook is in the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal here.

The latest on brews in the North Carolina mountains, including a new tasting room in Hendersonville, is in the Asheville Citizen-Times here.

While wandering the ‘net, I found out that the Ikea store in Charlotte contains a restaurant. They serve Swedish meatballs, naturally. Wonder if you have to cook your lunch yourself using a cheap miniature spatula? See the menu here.

Still carrying that Partridge Family lunch box? Well, put it away for Antiques Roadshow and look at the beauties at Leite’sCulinaria.

A sort of clam-burger is awaiting at Mariner’s Menu here.

Bye-bye yellow haze

The yellow haze of pine pollen lifted this weekend, and even the pink and purple azaleas in my yard seemed brighter. It would no longer require a complete hose-down and wardrobe change to sit outside, so the grill was running. First, grilled asparagus. It’s the only way to cook asparagus. Roasting in the oven is OK; steaming is a waste of a good vegetable. But grilling, with its crispy-smoky goodness – that is asparagus heaven. Don’t bother with the other methods. All the grilled asparagus needed was a little salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

I got some thick, meaty fillets of North Carolina striped bass at the Western Wake Farmers Market. Those I marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and chopped ginger and garlic. Never marinate fish too long or the texture will become mushy – 15 minutes is plenty. The fish was fairly thick, so it took, maybe 6 to 10 minutes to cook. Better to undercook slightly – and touch up any pieces that need it in the microwave indoors – than overcook fish on the grill.

I put some North Carolina shrimp, boiled in beer and Old Bay, next to it. And a bowl of spring greens (kale, tatsoi, baby spinach, leaves from tender Japanese turnips) sauteed in olive oil, garlic and ginger. A meal that threatened to be healthy, although I wouldn’t hold that against something that tasted so good.