Seek uniform cuts at least an inch and a half thick whenever buying fillets from larger fish (halibut, striper, grouper).
My buddy Bobby DeMasco at Pierless Fish Corp. in Brooklyn recommends seeking out cuts that are at least an inch and a half thick whenever buying fillets from larger fish (halibut, striper, grouper), and of uniform thickness, which makes cooking time easier to judge. “You want a fillet from the back third to half of the fish,” he says. “The quick-twitch muscles closer to the tail hold up better.” He also says to stay away from outfits that put fillets directly on ice: “I see guys in the fancy grocery stores shoveling ice on striped bass all the time. That fish is gonna be completely waterlogged.”
Cloudy Eyes Are Okay
Freshwater fish actually have a reflective coating on their eyes that makes them look cloudy. Also, if an ocean fish gets freshwater ice on its head, its eyes will cloud over.
Fillets Should Have Color
You also don’t want them to be soft or mushy.
Smell is the Best Indicator
Fish shouldn’t smell like anything — even mackerel.
The gills are not always bright red
“If a fish dies out of water or gets ice in its gills, they are not going to be as vibrant,” says DeMasco. “That doesn’t mean it isn’t fresh; it just means it might have died working its gills.”
Crisp Pan-Fried Fish Fillets
1-1/2 pounds meaty white fish fillets, such as striped or black bass, red snapper, or grouper, preferably skinned • kosher salt • freshly ground black pepper • 4–5 tbsp Wondra or white rice flour • 1-1/2 tbsp unsalted butter • 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil • lemon wedges (optional) • brown butter vinegar sauce (optional) • 2 tbsp unsalted butter (for sauce) • 2 tbsp balsamic or Banyuls vinegar • pinch of sugar
1. Prepare fish by skinning fillets and slicing them in half lengthwise, along the center seam. Cut each half in half. 2. Pat fillets dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper to taste. 3. Dust fillets with flour, then dredge in flour from plate until completely coated. 4. Heat a heavy nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat. Add 1 tbsp of butter and some olive oil; swirl to coat pan. 5. When butter has stopped bubbling, tap fish lightly to knock off excess flour and arrange in pan. Cook for 1-1/2 minutes or until bottom is golden. Adjust the heat so that the fat sizzles around the fish, smoking slightly. 6. Turn, add remaining 1/2 tbsp butter, and cook until golden on the second side. 7. Drain on paper towels, transfer to dinner plates, and serve with lemon wedges. 8. Finally, rinse and dry pan, return to heat, and add 2 tbsp butter. When it turns golden and smells like roasting nuts, add the vinegar, salt and pepper, and sugar and drizzle the sauce around — not over — the fish.