$8 Meals: Whiting Fish

What?! A fish dish for $8 dollars? Yes, you read correctly. There are numerous types of fish which are relatively unknown and unpopular and, therefore, very easy on the wallet. Take, for instance, whiting. It’s always sold whole and has a somewhat ugly physical appearance, which, at first glance, turns the average fan of those denizens of the deep to the opposite side of the fish counter. Their loss; your gain. Whiting is absolutely delicious, and a good choice for someone who is inexperienced in cooking whole fish, as there are very few bones to deal with. Whiting has a very interesting, triangular backbone, which pulls away from the meat of the fish easily after it is cooked.

Whechoosing a fish to buy, always look for visible signs that the fish is fresh. Just because you are told that the store received the fish in the morning, doesn’t always mean that they are as fresh as they could be. For instance, the eyes should be clear, without looking cloudy, and blood in the eyes and around the gills is also a good sign that they are fresh. Of course, the fresher the fish, the less “fishy” it should smell, so feel free to ask for a sniff before you buy.  I have yet to see a farmed whiting being sold in the supermarket, so rest assured that you will be buying a wild and sustainably caught fish. At my local fish monger, whiting comes in at $3.99/pound. For a family of four, two large, or about four small whiting will work nicely as a main dish, which usually amounts to about $6-$7. I always ask for the insides to be cleaned, and leave the head and tail in tact.

If you happen to be a whole fish cookery novice, do not fear! Once you do it, you may never go back to cooking those dried-out fillets of fish ever again. Not only is cooking a whole fish a less expensive option, as the price per pound is much less than a fillet, the meat also tastes better, as the bones release a delicate flavor and help to cook the fish from the inside out, saving you from having to concoct a fancy sauce to replace some much-needed moisture. Also, the meat  retains all its natural juices, producing a moist, succulent fillet. You can stuff the cavity of the fish with just about anything you fancy. I tend to add slices of garlic and whatever fresh herbs I have lying around in the fridge.

Usually I make some sort of rice dish to accompany the whiting, such as a mung bean and rice combination. However, if you prefer, you could simply make a salad and serve it along with some fresh bread. I hope you take this opportunity to try what may be to you a new fish and a new cooking method. We would love to hear your comments. You can always post a comment directly onto this post, or write to us at: twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com  Happy eating!

Yield: 4 main course portions

two 2.5-3 lb. whiting (or four 1 lb. whiting), cleaned with head and tail in tact

handful of fresh herbs, such as tarragon, thyme, parsley, or dill

2-3 cloves garlic, sliced

1 lemon

olive oil

pinch of dried oregano (optional)

salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to broil. In an oven proof pan or tray, place your fish upside down, with inside open. Sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper. Place the sliced garlic and herbs inside the cavity and fold the sides of the fish back down. Lay the fish on one side, sprinkling the outside with salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Splash a bit of olive oil onto the skin. Flip the fish over to the other side gently, as not to spill out the contents of the cavity. Repeat seasoning and oil. (With most fish, I usually slice the skin with two diagonal cuts to facilitate the cooking process, however, because whiting is such a small fish, and the skin is very thin, I do not perform this particular step.) Gently pour some water into the bottom of the pan, or tray, but do not pour directly onto the fish, as all your lovely seasonings will wash off.

Place the fish in the broiler. After about 2-3 minutes, open the broiler and check on the fish. If it has started to brown, baste some of the cooking juices onto the fish with a brush. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice onto the fish. Allow to cook for another 3-4 minutes before flipping the fish over. I usually perform this task with a spatula and a spoon, but however you can accomplish this step while keeping the fish in tact, I say go for it! If there is not enough water in the pan (about 1/2″), pour some more water into it. You want to have some of those delicious cooking juices to spoon over the cooked fish. Allow the new side to cook for another 2-3 minutes, basting when the skin begins to brown and bubble. After another 4-5 minutes, the fish should be cooked through. Take a fork and insert it into the flesh. If it goes in easily, the fish is done.

An Indian Feast

I believe there’s a common misconception regarding Indian food in the U.S., and curry flavors in general. Many people complain that Indian food is hard on the belly, causing mild to severe gas buildup and tend to blame it on the spices used in Indian cooking. Once upon a time, I, too, believed this, although I still would eat Indian cuisine as much as I could because I have always loved it. Then a friend of mine with Indian roots, revealed the secret to this gaseous dilemma: the spices are not to blame, but rather, the cook. If you do not thoroughly cook the spices prior to assembling the dish, the spices will indeed cause a lot of gas once they pass into your intestines. You may be pleasantly surprised that one simple step in the cooking process, could allow you to eat Indian fare without having to worry about post gas or cramping again.

I’ve included three recipes in this post, but feel free to make them separately or all together for an Indian feast worthy of a lovely weekend gathering of friends. If you’re truly feeling festive, make some delicious paratha bread to accompany your feast.

Both recipes incorporate curry, or garam marsala. Which combination of spices you will use will ultimately be up to your taste buds. During your preparations for either of these dishes, you will want to take one heaping Tbl. of spice (to turn up the heat, just add more), and place it in a small bowl or ramekin dish. You will then slowly add some water to the spice to form a paste, such as in the picture to the right. Set aside.

Curried Channa

2 c. dried chickpeas*

1 small yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1″ piece of fresh ginger, grated (optional)
1 heaping Tbl. curry or garam marsala, turned into paste
salt to taste

*You could use canned, fresh chickpeas, however, you won’t be able to cook the chickpeas as long to meld the flavors together.

If you own a pressure cooker, the process of reconstituting the dried chickpeas is less time-consuming. However, if you don’t have a pressure cooker, not to worry. Instead of placing the dried chickpeas with some salt and water (according to your pressure cooker’s instructions) and allowing them to soften, you would need to cover the chickpeas with 2-3 inches of water in a large pot and allow them to soften some overnight. After the long soak, you can then begin to simmer the chickpeas for about 30-40 minutes. Once cooked, but not mushy, drain and set aside. Reserve some of the cooking water, which you will need while making the channa recipe.

In a large stock or sauce pot, on medium high heat, add a good glug of olive oil or clarified butter. Add the onion, garlic, curry paste, and ginger (optional), and allow to sauté until the aroma of the curry paste is noticeable. Add the chickpeas and salt. Give everything a stir, and pour about 3/4 c. of the reserved chickpea cooking water. Allow the dish to cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender. Do not overcook, or the chickpeas will turn mushy. You want them to retain their shape. Serve in a large serving bowl with a little chopped cilantro on top.

Long Bean with Mushrooms

Let me begin this recipe by telling you that I have never been more amazed by a vegetable than when I laid my eyes on these elegantly long beans! Of course, if you don’t happen to have an Asian market near your home, the likelihood of getting your hands on these elongated beauties is pretty slim. Regular green beans will work nicely, too, so no need to fret.

1 lb. long beans, or string beans, cleaned of ends and chopped into 2-3″ pieces
8 white button mushrooms, clean and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
curry or garam marsala paste (see above recipe)
salt, pepper to taste
olive oil or clarified butter for cooking

Wash the beans and dry in a colander. Chop into 2-3″ pieces; set aside. Prepare the mushrooms; set aside. Chop the onion and garlic; set aside. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably one with a lid) on medium-high heat. Add some oil or butter. Add the onion and garlic. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes before adding the curry paste. When the aroma of the paste is noticeable, add the mushrooms. Allow this mixture to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans with some salt and pepper. Give the veggies a good stir or two, then turn the heat down to low and cover the pan. If the mixture seems to be getting to dry, add a glug or two of olive oil, or a little water. Allow the vegetables to cook through, about 20 minutes. Make sure not to overcook the beans, as you want them to retain their shape and not become too mushy. (For a finished photo of this dish, look above to the first picture on this post.)

Fish with Coconut Curry Sauce

I absolutely love this sauce, because it can be used on top of just about any fish you like. It even compliments chicken or meat for that matter. Not only is it versatile, but it can also be tweaked to your liking. Like freshly grated ginger?….add some in. Like dried chili?….add some of that too. I think you get the point. Coconut milk happens to be one of my all-time favorite ingredients. It adds a lovely sweetness, and helps to counterbalance the spiciness of the curry in this sauce. So without further ado, I’ll give you the recipe.

2 lbs. fish (for 4 people)

For the Sauce:
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 pc. ginger (1-2″), grated (optional)
8 oz. coconut milk
curry or garam marsala paste (see recipe at the top of the post)
salt, pepper to taste
1/4 c. olive oil
chopped cilantro for garnish

In a small saucepan, on medium-high heat, add a glug or two of oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic. Add the curry paste. Cook until the onion and garlic are softened, stirring occasionally. Pour the coconut milk into the pan. Stir to combine. Turn the heat to low and allow the sauce to cook for about 10-15 minutes.

Set your oven to broil. Rinse and pat dry the fillet(s) of fish. Place the fish on an ovenproof pan. Drizzle it with some olive oil and sprinkle both sides of the fish with salt and pepper. From one corner of the pan, gently pour a little bit of water into the pan. You don’t want to remove all the lovely seasonings you just placed onto the fish. You should have about a 1/2″ of water filling the bottom. When the oven is ready, place the fish into the oven. Periodically, every 2-3 minutes, check the fish and brush the top with some more of the cooking liquid. Depending on the thickness and type of fish you are broiling, the cooking time will need to be adjusted. Most fish cooks in about 8-10 minutes. The best way to check to see if your fish is cooked through, is once there is a nice golden brown hue on top, poke a fork into the flesh. If it goes through easily, your fish is ready. If there is even a slight resistance, it’s not. If you’re not accustomed to cooking fish, the main thing you don’t want to do is overcook it, which many people do. There’s nothing quite as unappetizing as eating a piece of rubbery fish.

When the fish is cooked, remove from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Pour the coconut curry sauce on top of the fish and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro.