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Test Kitchen tips: Scaling fish (without the mess)

July 13, 2012 |  9:30 am

Scaling fish without the mess

If you've ever tried scaling fish at home, you know what a mess it can be. Scales everywhere, just like confetti. Except they can be even more difficult to clean, because scales seem to stick to everything.

Don't worry. It is possible to scale fish without the gigantic mess. Simply use a trash bag. Place the fish in a large plastic trash bag (not a plastic grocery bag, you need a big garbage bag so you have room to work), and cover the fish and your arms as you scale to contain the mess.

And while you can buy fish scalers to do the job, I find a nice, somewhat flat soup spoon works just fine to pry the scales. Just be sure you don't put too much pressure on the fish as you scale, or you can bruise the flesh. (Gutting a fish is for another post, but I promise to cover that soon.)

For some great whole fish recipes from Food editor Russ Parsons, continue reading below.

If you have any kitchen tips or questions you'd like me to explore, leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail at noelle.carter@latimes.com.

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Grilled fish with basil oil

Total time: 30 minutes, plus 30 to 60 minutes resting time

Servings: 2 to 4

Note: Whole Tai snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are commonly available; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine, too. Cooking times vary with size.

1 (1 1/4 - to 2-pound) whole fish, cleaned

Salt

1 1/2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves

1 cup olive oil, divided, plus more for fish

1. Weigh the fish. Measure the salt: For every pound of fish allow a scant 1 tablespoon coarse salt or 2 teaspoons fine salt. Rub the fish with the salt on both sides and in the cavity and set aside on a plate for 30 to 60 minutes.

2. To prepare basil oil, blanch the leaves in rapidly boiling salted water just until they wilt, about 15 seconds. Remove immediately and place in an ice water bath to stop cooking. Squeeze the basil dry and chop coarsely.

3. Place the basil in a blender and add just enough oil to cover. Puree until finely chopped and then with the motor running, add the remainder of the olive oil through the feed tube on the top. Add salt to taste, about one-fourth teaspoon.

4. When the basil mixture is perfectly smooth, pass it through a fine mesh strainer into a measuring cup or bowl. You can stir the mixture gently with a rubber spatula to make it flow a little faster, but be careful not to press -- that will cloud the oil. You will have 3/4 cup to 1 cup of basil oil, which will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for about 1 week.

5. Heat the grill or broiler. If using a broiler, line the broiler pan with foil and brush with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Rinse fish under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub lightly with 1 tablespoon olive oil and grill over moderately high heat or broil about 5 inches from the flame until a knife penetrates the flesh and the top fillet begins to lift easily, about 5 to 7 minutes, depending on size of fish. Turn and continue cooking until done, about 5 to 7 minutes more.

6. Remove the fish to a platter and let it stand briefly. Lift off the fillets and drizzle them each with about 1 tablespoon of basil oil.

Each of 4 servings: 204 calories; 30 grams protein; 0 carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 9 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 53 mg. cholesterol; 356 mg. sodium.

*

Provencal braised fish

Total time: About 1 hour

Servings: 2 to 4

Note: Whole Tai snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are commonly available; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine too. Cooking times vary with size.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup minced onion

1 clove garlic, minced

3/4 cup white wine

1 teaspoon chopped thyme

1/4 teaspoon crushed red

pepper flakes

Salt

3 medium tomatoes, cut into one-fourth-inch-thick slices

1/4 cup pitted and chopped brine-cured black olives

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 (1 1/4 - to 2-pound) whole fish, cleaned

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Warm the olive oil and onion in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. When the onion starts to soften, after about 2 minutes, add garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add three-fourths cup water, the wine, thyme, red pepper flakes and one-fourth teaspoon salt and bring to a low simmer. Cook 20 minutes.

2. While the liquid is simmering, combine the sliced tomatoes, olives, parsley and one-fourth teaspoon salt, or to taste, in a baking dish just large enough to hold the fish. Arrange the mixture in an even layer in the bottom of the dish.

3. Season the fish inside and out with one-half teaspoon salt. Bring the liquid to a rolling boil. Lay the fish on top of the tomato mixture and pour the boiling liquid over it all. The liquid should come barely halfway up the fish. Seal tightly with foil and place in the oven.

4. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and spoon some cooking juices over the fish. Replace the foil, seal tightly and return to the oven to cook until a knife easily penetrates the flesh and the top fillet begins to lift easily, about 15 to 25 minutes more, depending on size of fish.

5. Remove the fish from the oven and let it stand briefly before spooning more of the juices over the top and serving.

Each of 4 servings: 272 calories; 31 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 10 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 53 mg. cholesterol; 728 mg. sodium.

*

Roast fish stuffed with lemon and rosemary

Total time: About 45 minutes

Servings: 2 to 4

Note: Whole Tai snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are commonly available; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine too. Cooking times vary with size.

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1/4 cup olive oil

1 pound fingerling potatoes

1/2 onion, cut in large dice

Salt

3/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 (1 1/4 - to 2-pound) whole fish, cleaned

1 lemon

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine garlic and olive oil and let sit to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain and discard garlic; set aside the oil.

2. Slice the potatoes lengthwise into one-fourth-inch-thick pieces and place in a baking dish with the onion. Drizzle 2 tablespoons garlic oil over potatoes and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and chopped rosemary. Stir to combine. Roast in the oven 30 minutes without stirring.

3. Season the fish inside and out with salt and brush inside and out with the remaining garlic oil. Thinly slice and seed the lemon and place all but 2 or 3 slices in the cavity with the sprig of rosemary.

4. Stir the potatoes and place the fish on top. Arrange the remaining lemon slices on top of the fish and roast until a knife easily penetrates the flesh and the top fillet begins to lift easily, about 25 to 30 minutes.

5. Carefully transfer the fish to a warm platter. Let stand for a few minutes while arranging the potatoes on both sides and serve hot.

Each of 4 servings: 360 calories; 32 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 16 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 53 mg. cholesterol; 656 mg. sodium.

*

Pan-roasted fish with prosciutto and mushrooms

Total time: 45 minutes

Servings: 2 to 4

Note: Tai snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are the most commonly available whole fish; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine too. Cooking times vary with size.

1 tablespoon butter

1/4 pound prosciutto (about 8 or 9 slices), divided

3/4 pound sliced mushrooms

Salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 (1 1/4 - to 2-pound) whole fish, cleaned

3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large (13-inch) ovenproof skillet. Mince 2 slices of prosciutto and add to the butter. Cook until prosciutto starts to render its fat, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and sprinkle with one-eighth teaspoon salt.

2. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give off their moisture, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and cool slightly.

3. Season the fish inside and out with a very small amount (one-fourth teaspoon) of salt. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of the cooked mushrooms into the belly cavity of the fish, reserving the rest. Wrap the fish snugly in the remaining prosciutto slices, leaving the head exposed and with the middle of the slices sealing the belly. It will take 6 or 7 slices to enclose the fish.

4. Wind a length of butcher's twine around the fish to hold the prosciutto in place snugly. Inevitably, one side of the fish will have a more uniform wrapping of prosciutto than the other. This will be the presentation side, so knot string on the other side.

5. Clean the mushroom pan and return it to high heat. Add oil and when it is nearly smoking, place the fish in the pan, presentation-side down. Depending on the size of the pan, you may need to arrange the fish to make sure all of the prosciutto wrapping comes in contact with the heat. Sear until the prosciutto has darkened and begun to crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.

6. Using a wide spatula, carefully turn the fish over so the presentation side is up and cook another minute to begin crisping the prosciutto. Scatter the remaining mushrooms on both sides of the fish and place the skillet in the oven. Cook until a small knife penetrates the flesh easily, about 10 to 15 minutes.

7. Carefully transfer the fish to a warm platter. Use scissors to cut the string and remove it. Let stand a few minutes while scattering the mushrooms over the fish and serve hot.

Each of 4 servings: 341 calories; 40 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 1 grams fiber; 19 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 86 mg. cholesterol; 833 mg. sodium.

*

Steamed fish with pea shoots

Total time: 25 minutes

Servings: 2 to 4

Note: Tai snapper and loup de mer (branzino) are the most commonly available whole fish; wild striped bass and rockfish work fine too. Cooking times vary with size.

1/2 ounce piece peeled ginger

2 green onions

1 (1 1/4- to 2-pound) whole fish, cleaned

Salt

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 pound pea sprouts or pea shoots

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1. Fill the bottom of a steamer (or a roasting pan fitted with a rack) with at least half an inch of water and bring to a boil. Cut the ginger into shreds by slicing it lengthwise into thin sheets; stack the sheets and slice lengthwise. Scatter half the ginger on a heat-proof plate or platter large enough to hold the whole fish.

2. Trim the dry ends of the green onion tops and then cut about 3 inches of green tops. Shred these lengthwise as thinly as possible. You should have about one-fourth cup of shredded green onion tops. Scatter half of the shredded onion tops over the ginger.

3. Lightly season the fish inside and out with salt and place it on the plate. Scatter the remaining ginger and green onion over the fish. Place the plate on the steamer rack and cover tightly. Cook until a knife easily penetrates the flesh and the top fillet begins to lift easily, 6 to 10 minutes depending on the size of the fish.

4. With the steamer still in place, drizzle soy sauce over the fish, mound pea shoots on top and drizzle with sesame oil. Cover and cook until pea shoots have barely wilted, about 1 minute. Remove steamer from the heat and let the fish stand, covered, for a few minutes before serving.

Each of 4 servings: 209 calories; 33 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 1 grams fiber; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 53 mg. cholesterol; 323 mg. sodium.

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