Here's a great way to duplicate the light and crispy taste of fried fish without the fat. Lightly coating the fillets, rather than the skillet, with vegetable cooking spray allows the oil to evenly cover the surface of the fish. The natural sugars found in paprika caramelize with the yellow cornmeal, producing a beautiful brown color. We used catfish fillets, but any mild-flavored fish will work equally well.
Light and Crispy Pan-fried Catfish: Sprinkle 4 (6-ounce) catfish fillets evenly with salt and pepper to taste (or use a spicy seasoning blend, such as Creole or Caribbean jerk). Stir together 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal and 1 tablespoon paprika in a shallow dish. Dredge fillets in cornmeal mixture; coat lightly with vegetable cooking spray. Cook in a hot, nonstick skillet over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until fish begins to flake and is opaque throughout. Makes 4 servings. Prep: 5 min., Cook: 8 min.
Rather than shopping for a specific type of fish, see what looks the freshest. Truly fresh fish smells only faintly of the sea. It should be stored on ice in the display counter and should be well drained. Fish fillets and steaks should look moist and firm, with no discoloration or dryness around the edges.
If a recipe calls for a mild-flavored fish such as cod, you can easily substitute orange roughy or snapper. Bold-flavored fish, such as swordfish and tuna, are often interchangeable.
For more information about seafood and answers to specific questions about safety issues, call the USDA hotline at 1-888-723-3366.
A Case for Frozen Fish
Today's high-tech method of freezing seafood quickly locks in both moisture and flavor, providing a top-quality selection of fish year-round. Many large supermarkets and wholesale clubs offer an excellent variety of vacuum-packed fish fillets and steaks at reasonable prices. Look for packages that are clean and tightly sealed, have no signs of thawed juices, and are free of ice crystals and freezer burn.
Fresh fish is not only healthy and delicious, it's as quick and easy to cook as a boneless chicken breast and almost as versatile. In fact, many of the same cooking methods used for chicken--broiling, grilling, pan-frying, and poaching--work equally well with fish.
A general rule is to cook fish for 7 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness (3 to 5 minutes per 1/2 inch). When done, fish will start to flake and, like a boneless chicken breast, will turn in color from translucent to opaque. To check for doneness, slip a small knife under the fish, and gently lift. When starting to flake, the fish will break open, revealing an opaque color throughout.
During these hot summer months, fish makes a fabulous topping for a main-dish salad. Cut your favorite fillets (we used tilapia, a mild, firm fish) into 2-inch pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, coat lightly with vegetable cooking spray, and sauté in a hot nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until fish begins to flake and is opaque throughout. Serve over mixed salad greens with your favorite dressing.
This article is from the August 2005 issue of Southern Living.