It is essential that fish should be perfectly fresh, thoroughly cleaned, and carefully cooked. If underdone it is not eatable; if cooked too long it loses flavor and becomes dry. The sooner it is cooked after being taken from the water, the better. When fresh, the eyes are bright, the gills red, the flesh firm and odorless. Ordinarily the fishman removes the scales and draws the fish before delivering it; but if not, this should be done at once, and the fish thoroughly washed, but not allowed to soak in water, then wiped dry and put into the refrigerator, on the ice, the skin side down, but not in the same compartment with butter, milk, or other foods which absorb flavors.
Fish that are frozen should be laid in cold water until thawed, but not allowed to remain in the water after they become flexible.
The head and tail should be left on, and the fins trimmed, of any fish which is to be served whole.
When the fillets only are to be used, the head and bones may be used for a fish soup.
To separate a fish, cut through the skin all around, then, beginning at the head, loosen the skin and strip it down. By putting salt on the hand a firmer grasp may be obtained, and with the aid of a knife the skin can be removed without tearing the flesh. After the skin is taken off from both sides, slip the knife under the flesh, and keeping it close to the bone, remove the fillets. The fillets may then be cut into two or more pieces according to the size of the fish, care being used to have them of uniform size and shape.
Fillets taken from small fish and from flounders or other flat fish are sometimes rolled and held until cooked with small skewers. Wooden toothpicks serve this purpose very well.
Fish containing many bones are not suitable for fillets.
Run a knife down the back, cutting through the skin. Remove the fins. Then cut into even pieces on one side. When these pieces are served, remove the bone, and cut the under side in the same way.
Add one teaspoonful of salt and one tablespoonful of vinegar to every two quarts of water, and use sufficient water to entirely cover the fish. The salt and vinegar serve to whiten and harden, as well as to season the meat. A bay-leaf and soup vegetables in the water improve the flavor of cod and some other fish. The fish must not be put into cold water, as that extracts the flavor; nor into boiling water, as that breaks the skin and gives it a ragged appearance. Lower the fish gradually into warm water, let it come quickly to the boiling point, then draw to the side of the range, where it will simmer only, until done.
Allow ten minutes to the pound after the water has begun to simmer.
A fish kettle, with strainer, is requisite for boiling a fish whole. A plate held in a piece of cheese cloth may be used for smaller pieces. When the fish is done the strainer should be lifted out carefully and placed across the kettle until the fish is well drained.
A boiled as well as a baked fish is more attractive served upright as if swimming. To hold it in this position, place a carrot inside the fish to give it roundness and stability, and prop it on both sides with pieces of carrot or turnip. The head must be wrapped with cord or a strip of cheese cloth to keep it from losing shape, and the whole held in position by strings going around the strainer (see illustration). If a fish is too large for the kettle, it may be cut into halves or thirds, and when cooked laid carefully together on the dish and garnishing placed over the cuts.
FISH PREPARED TO BOIL IN UPRIGHT POSITION. (SEE PAGE 114).
Boiled fish is served on a napkin, and garnished with parsley. This may be so arranged as to conceal any defects.