A slight aroma of garlic and lime reaches your nostrils as the oil in the deep fryer begins to bubble and pop. You plunge the grouper fillet into a bowl of egg yolks. Picking it up, it drips like slime for only a few seconds before you dunk it into a mixture of breadcrumbs and cracker meal.
Preparing fresh seafood is easier than you think. You don't need to be a sous chef to fry, bake, sauté and grill a fresh catch.
"People should know, especially college students, that you really should not be afraid of fish," said Ali de Paz, chef at Emiliano's Café. "Play with it, because you are going to be so satisfied."
1.Home grilled to perfection
Before you get ahead of yourself, check on the cleanliness of your grill. If you are going to cook the fish on the grill, make sure the grates are scraped clean and oiled down. The grill also needs to be around 350 degrees.
"If it's too cold, the fish will stick right to the grill," said Kathleen Sefcik, head chef of Great Events Catering in Key West. "When it is hot, it will sear the meat and release away, and won't break while you turn it."
Meatier fish like yellowtail, grouper or swordfish work the best because they aren't flaky and prone to falling apart. Grilling fish enhances the flavor, so simple seasonings are best, Sefcik said.
2.Fry with flavor
What do plantains, Doritos and corn meal have in common? All of them are great for breading fish before it's fried. Any type of fish is delicious fried, as long as it is cut to the right proportions. Sefcik recommends using 1-inch pieces, so it will cook all the way through.
"You don't want to have a raw fish on the inside and burnt black on the outside," she said.
First place your raw fish in flour, and then follow that with an egg wash mix (eggs with water). Coat it with the breading of your choice and fry at 350 degrees in peanut oil.
3.Spice it up
If you like a little spicy kick, blackening your fish is the way to go. Because you need to get your skillet smoking hot, a cast-iron one is best, said Dale Bixby, executive chef at O!O Tapas and Tinis. He recommends brushing the fish with some olive oil before adding your spices. As it's searing, add about a tablespoon of fresh lemon or lime juice. If you are using a bigger fillet, like snapper, it will need to be finished in the oven until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
4.Sizzle and sauté
The key to sautéing is your seasoning. You can be as simple or as outrageous as you like. Take caution, however, getting too overzealous can mask the flavor of the fish instead of enhancing it. For lots of flavor without going overboard, Bixby said he likes to brush his fish with chimichurri, a Cuban pesto made with cilantro, mint, parsley, garlic, lime juice and olive oil.
"The mint really brings out the flavor of the fish, making it light and refreshing," he said. To add a little bit of crunch, lightly dust the fish with flour before sautéing to create a golden crust.
5.Shake and bake
For those who like a challenge, try baking your fish. Start by making a pocket around your fish out of parchment paper. Add in whatever seasonings you would like (Sefcik recommends white wine, garlic and basil).
To try an Asian infusion, use ginger and lemongrass instead. Place your pouch in the oven to seal in the flavors.
"The idea is you open the parchment table side and get all of the aromas," Sefcik said. "All of the flavors are steamed right into the fish."