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Remember the concept of osmosis from high school biology? That is a big deal in having your fish, especially fillets, be the best they can be. The osmosis idea is that water crosses cell membranes very easily and always moves from an area where its concentration is higher to where it is lower. All the fluids in cells have lots of minerals dissolved in them which reduces the percent of water. Those minerals are very important. Sports drink advertising makes a fuss about replacing lost minerals that they call electrolytes. Fish have those electrolytes, too, and it's a struggle for them to keep the balance of water to minerals just right. They must be either getting rid of too much water, or too much mineral, depending on whether they are in fresh or salt water. If they don't, water either flows quickly into or out of their cells which kills the fish. That's why so few species can live in both fresh and salt water, it's a real challenge to maintain that balance.
When you clean your fish, those cells have no defense against osmosis. Fillets sprayed with tap water immediately begin to take on water since tap water has a higher percent of water in it than cells do. That causes cells to quickly swell and burst. You may have noticed the edges of your fillets turning a milky white after washing in tap water. That color change is caused by cells bursting and losing their fluids. Those fluids are what gives fish flavor, texture and moistness when cooked, or eaten as sashimi or ceviche. When the fluids are gone, so is your premium quality fillet.
The easiest way to wash your fillets and prevent osmotic damage is to wash fish in salt water. That can be as easy as using the water that they were swimming in, if it is close to a beach. Gulf of Mexico salinity is usually pretty close to just what you need. A couple of tablespoons of salt in a quart of water will make your own seawater. It doesn't need to be sea salt either. Osmotic flow across a membrane doesn't depend on what kind of minerals are dissolved in water, just how much, so regular table salt works fine.
Mineral concentration isn't your only adversary either. Most people have gotten away from drinking tap water because it tastes bad. All the intentional and unin-tentional substances in water out of the kitchen faucet won't hurt you, but they won't make your food better either. Tap water is not a good idea when you want maximum quality fish. A gallon jug of bottled water with a little salt added will rinse a bunch of fish.
The first few times that I fished with a sushi chef friend, he wouldn't let me anywhere near the cleaning table with our trout. We had no intention of turning them into sushi either. He filleted the trout by first gutting, then washing (in salt water), then heading, then washing, then drying and finally filleting. He had a special process for filleting, too, but that was more about tradition than improving quality. Back in the kitchen he prepared them kara-age style which is a common Japanese frying technique. The difference in fish quality compared to my faster-is-better electric knife product was obvious enough for me to never go back to my old ways.
Now that you are more likely to hit the dock with a limit of three, instead of a cooler of thirty, try maximizing the quality of your catch. There is a bit of art and science to it, but five-star results are well worth the effort.
This recipe is pure simplicity which lets the star performer really shine. The extra flavors come from a dipping sauce. I use a spicy ponzu here but whatever flavors you like will work well.
Ingredients for the fish:
o Enough fish to feed your party any bay fish will be excellent this way.
o Enough corn starch to coat rinsed and paper towel dried fillets in serving sized pieces
o Enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan about a half inch deep. A neutral flavored oil like canola is best.
Ingredients for the sauce:
· Enough bottled ponzu for each person to have 3 or 4 tablespoons. Ponzu is available at any Asian or larger grocery stores. If you can't find any you can make your own version by mixing equal parts soy sauce, lemon juice, mirin or sake with some sugar mixed in.
· Enough thin sliced garlic, Serrano peppers and scallion (mixed) so that each person to has about 1 tablespoon of the mixture added to their ponzu. Make the sauce before you start cooking the fish so flavors have time to blend.
Heat the oil to 350°F.
Coat the fish with a light covering of corn starch. Fry in oil until
the coating just begins to color. It won't turn golden like flour so be
careful not to overcook. Serve with your dipping sauce. An optional garnish
(shown in the photo) that is becoming very popular is yuzukosho. It's a
little tricky to find but get some if you do.