Fish is not fit to eat unless fresh, or frozen. If frozen it may be kept for weeks in winter, but be sure not to let it thaw till immediately before cooking it. Then lay it in cold water for an hour or so to thaw. Do not buy fish unless the eyes are prominent and bright, the gills bright red, and the body firm ; the absence of these signs shows that the fish is not fresh. Fish bought in market are usually ready cleaned, but for the convenience of those who enjoy the luxury of fishing themselves I will give directions for this.
Fish should be scaled and cleaned as soon as possible after being caught. In doing this use as little water as possible, though enough must be used to wash them thoroughly afterwards. Begin by scraping off every one of the scales. Then, if the fish is small or intended for broiling or frying, split it down the back, and remove all the entrails. If large, or intended for baking or boiling whole, open it as little as possible; cut it in front from the gills downward about two inches, put in your finger and draw the entrails up, taking care not to break the gall-bag, or the whole fish will taste bitter. The blood must all bd scraped and washed out. Pond fish and flounders should be soaked for an hour in strong salt and water, to take away the earthy taste.
Keep a fish in the coldest place you can find, until ready to cook it. If it is to be kept over night, rub it well with salt on every side, and scatter salt thickly over the inside; it will easily wash off in the morning.
Cod is often boiled, but other fish of the same size, such as Blue Fish, are usually baked, with the exception of Shad, which is best broiled. Mackerel should be broiled or fried. Smelts are always fried ; and so are most small fish, commonly called Pan-fish.
I cannot give rules for cooking every kind of fish, they are too numerous. Suffice it to say that the directions for cooking one will apply to any other of the same size.
Wash and wipe the fish. Rub a little salt along the bone and on the thick part. Lay the fish in a clean cloth, previously dipped into hot water and dredged with flour to prevent sticking. Draw it together to fit the shape of the fish, and sew it, having but one thickness of cloth around the fish. (Some persons use a fish-kettle ; then sewing in a cloth is needless. But any one who will take the trouble to use the cloth will find that the fish, though it requires a little dexterity to turn it out, will have a far finer flavor than that which is boiled in a fish-kettle.) Put it into cold water enough to cover it, with a tablespoonful of salt and a tablespoonful of vinegar. (If you put it into boiling water the inside will have a raw taste.) Notice when it begins to boil, and counting from that time allow it to boil about fifteen minutes for each pound, though different kinds of fish require a longer or shorter time to boil. It should boil rather fast. Take off any scum that may rise.
When done (which can be ascertained by opening a corner of the cloth and piercing with a fork) take the fish out. Lay it on a platter while you cut the threads, and fold back the cloth. Invert another platter on it, and very quickly and dexterously turn the fish out on it. Take off the cloth, wipe the edges of the platter if at all smeared, and pour "Drawn Butter" over and around the fish. Serve more in a gravy boat.
If you use a fish-kettle allow only ten minutes or less to the pound, for boiling.