Fish is easier of digestion but less nutritious than meats, if sal mon is excepted, which is extremely hearty food, and should be eaten sparingly by children and those whose digestion is not strong. Fish must be fresh, the fresher the better - those being most perfect which go straight from their native element into the hands of the cook. The white kinds are least nutritious; and the oily, such as salmon, eels, herrings, etc., most difficult of digestion. When fish are in season, the muscles are firm and they boil white and curdy; when transparent and bluish, though sufficiently boiled, it is a sign that they are not in season or not fresh.
As soon as possible after fish are caught, remove all scales (these may be loosened by pouring on hot water), and scrape out entrails and every particle of blood and the white skin that lies along the backbone, being careful not to crush the fish more than is absolutely necessary in cleaning. Rinse thoroughly in cold water, using only what is necessary for perfect cleanliness, drain, wipe dry, and place on ice until ready to cook. To remove the earthy taste from fresh-water fish, sprinkle with salt, and let stand over night, or at least a few hours, before cooking; rinse off, wipe dry, and to com pletely absorb all the moisture, place in a folded napkin a short time. Fresh-water fish should never be soaked in water except when frozen, when they may be placed in ice-cold water to thaw, and then cooked immediately. Salt fish may be soaked over night in cold water, changing water once or twice if very salt. To freshen fish, always place it skin-side up, so that the salt may have free course to the bottom of pan, where it naturally settles.
Fish should always be well cooked, being both unpalatable and unwholesome when underdone. For boiling, a fish-kettle is almost indispensable, as it is very difficult to remove a large fish without breaking from an ordinary kettle. The fish-kettle is an oblong boiler, in which is suspended a perforated tin plate, with a handle at each end, on which the fish rests while boiling, and with which it is lifted out when done. From this tin it is easily slipped off to the platter on which it goes to the table. When no fish-kettle is at hand, wrap in a cloth, lay in a circle on a plate, and set in the kettle. When done the fish may be lifted out gently by the cloth and thus removed to the platter.
In frying by dipping into hot fat or drippings (or olive oil is still better), a wire basket in which the fish is placed and lowered into the fat, is a great convenience.
One of the most essential things in serving fish, is to have every thing hot, and quickly dished, so that all may go to the table at once. Serve fresh fish with squash and green pease, salt fish with beets and carrots, salt pork and potatoes and parsnips with either.
In the East there is a great variety of fish in winter. The blue fish is excellent boiled or baked with a stuffing of bread, butter and onions. Sea-bass are boiled with egg-sauce, and garnished with parsley. Salmon are baked or boiled, and smelts are cooked by dropping into boiling fat. The sheap's-head, which requires most cooking of all fish, is always stuffed and baked.
Nearly all the larger fresh fish are boiled, the medium-sized are baked or broiled and the small are fried. The very large ones are cut up and sold in pieces of convenient size. The method of cooking which retains most nourishment is broiling, baking is next best, and boiling poorest of all. Steaming is better than boiling. In baking or boiling place a fish as nearly as possible in the same position it occupies in the water. To retain it there, shape like the letter "S," pass a long skewer through the head, body, and tail, or tie a cord around tail, pass it through body, and tie around the head.
In cooking fish, care must be taken not to use the same knives or spoons in the preparation of it and other food, or the latter will be tainted with the fishy flavor.
In boiling fish, allow five to ten minutes to the pound, according to thickness, after putting into the boiling water. To test, pass a knife along a bone, and if done the fish will separate easily. Remove, the moment it is done, or it will become "woolly" and insipid. The addition of salt and vinegar to water in which fish is boiled, seasons the fish, and at the same time hardens the water, go that it extracts less of the nutritious part of the fish. In boiling fish always plunge it into boiling water, and then set where it will simmer gently until done. In case of salmon, put into tepid water instead of hot, to preserve the rich color. Garnishes for fish are parsley, sliced beets, fried smelts (for turbot), lobster coral (for boiled fish). For hints on buying fish, see "Marketing."