If a fish is not perfectly fresh, perfectly cleaned, and thoroughly cooked, it is not eatable. It should be cleaned or drawn as soon as it comes from market, then put on the ice until the time of cooking. It should not be soaked, for it impairs the flavor, unless it is frozen, when it should be put into ice-cold water to thaw; or unless it is a salted fish, when it may be soaked overnight.
The greatest merit of a fish is freshness. The secret of the excellence of the fish at the Saratoga Lake House, where they have famous trout dinners, is that, as they are raised on the premises, they go almost immediately from the pond to the fish-kettle. One is to be pitied who has not tasted fish at the sea-shore, where fishermen come in just before dinner, with baskets filled with blue-fish, flounders, etc., fresh from the water.
A long, oval fish-kettle (page 52) is very convenient for frying or boiling fish. It has a strainer to fit, in which the fish is placed, enabling it to be taken from the kettle without breaking. A fish is sufficiently cooked when the meat separates easily from the bones. When the fish is quite done, it should be left no longer in the kettle; it will lose its flavor.
It makes a pleasant change to cook fish "au gratin" It is a simple operation, but little attempted in America, I would recommend this mode of cooking for eels, or the Western white-fish.
A fish is most delicious fried in olive-oil. A friend told me he purchased olive-oil by the keg, for cooking purposes. It is, of course, expensive, and lard or beef drippings answer very well. I would recommend, also, frying fish by immersion.
If a fish is to be served whole, do not cut off the head and tail. It also presents a better appearance to stand the fish on its belly rather than lay it on its side.