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3 great ways to cook your catch (plus how to prep it)

At least once a week, Newfoundlander Jeremy Charles, the head chef at Raymonds Restaurant in St. John’s, takes to the water to land the fish he loves to cook. Having hauled out everything from capelin to salmon, the line-to-table expert gives his tips for prepping the one that didn’t get away (plus serving it up three ways)

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DOING THE DIRTY WORK
First, put the fish out of its misery by holding it by its lower body and bringing its head down against a hard surface. “One good crack should do it,” Charles says. Next, bleed it, slicing through its throat with a sharp knife and holding it upside down until the blood stops running. A lot of people wait until the fish has been gutted to scale it, but that’s a mistake, Charles explains. “It is much easier to scale it first.” To do so, scrape the fish from tail to head with the back of a knife. Now all that remains between you and a ready-to-cook fish is the guts. To get rid of them, “slice from the vent all the way through the abdomen to the gills and pull out all the guts you see.” Attached to the underside of the spine is the blood line. “Run your finger or a sharp knife along it” to pop it, then rinse out the blood, Charles instructs. If you plan to keep the head on, cut out the gills. If you don’t, chop it off.

Remie Geoffroi/The Globe and Mail

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ROASTING IT WHOLE
“Salmon, trout and even codfish are great” cooked this way, Charles says. “So are lake fish like bass and pickerel.” The key is temperature. Take your fish, which should be room temperature, out of the fridge an hour before cooking, then set your oven to 425 F. Pat the fish dry inside and out, slash the skin several times along the body with a sharp knife and rub in olive oil, salt and fresh herbs. “I also love [stuffing fish with] thin slices of fennel and dill,” Charles says, noting that more dill can be tucked into the slits. Use a skewer to close up the belly, place the fish in a roasting or frying pan and put it in the oven. “Definitely don’t overcook it,” the chef implores. “The best way to tell if it’s done is by touching it. There should be a golden char on the exterior and the flesh will feel firm.”

Remie Geoffroi/The Globe and Mail

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TRYING FRYING
“I can’t think of a fish that can’t be pan-seared,” Charles says. Begin by filleting the fish (Globe Style Advisor recommends the excellent, detailed instructions in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything), but keep the skin on. “There’s a lot of flavour in the skin,” Charles says, “so just season the fish well with salt.” Put your pan on a burner set to medium-high, pour vegetable oil into it and let it get hot. Place the fish, skin-side down, into the pan, then, after three minutes or so, turn the heat down and leave the fillets alone. “You don’t want to move them,” Charles says. “Let them caramelize. Listen to them sizzle. When they form a crust, the fish can be lifted out easily.” Once that happens, add a nugget of butter and fresh herbs to the pan and baste the fillets for a minute or two, then flip and cook for another 10 to 15 seconds.

Remie Geoffroi/The Globe and Mail

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POACHING (AND PLATING) IT
“People aren’t poaching fish much any more,” Charles says of a once-popular cooking method, which keeps fish moist and gives it a delicate texture. To see for yourself, start by making what’s known as a court bouillon: Pour water into a pan, then add sliced leek, onion, fennel, dill, a sprinkling of peppercorns and “a good pinch of salt.” Bring the water to a boil (it should be deep enough to submerge the fish), turn off the heat, lay your fillets (skin on) in the water and poach them for 5 to 7 minutes. They are done once the flesh has become opaque and the texture is firm. Charles suggests serving poached fish with a simple sauce: “Sour cream with fresh herbs chopped in it is lovely,” as is a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, olive oil and grainy mustard. Plate it simply, he adds, “with potato salad and a glass of chardonnay.” The final verdict: “Life is good.”

Remie Geoffroi/The Globe and Mail

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