Yes, I know grilling season is upon us, but since I’m an apartment dweller, I am in the habit of baking fish, which seems simpler than pan-frying although I love that too.
I have two preferred methods for the baking and I like them equally:
First is to generously coat the fish in spices (try salmon and ancho chili powder) or a spice rub/blend. There are some great ones on the market now, I’ve enjoyed several from The Spiceologist (thanks to 40% off in late Nov.), but have noticed that Princeton’s Savory Spice Shop has really upped their game in that department, too. (I look for no-salt or very low salt.) I also coat the fish in oil, then plop it in a baking dish at whatever temperature I’m in the mood for (350°-375°) for about 20 minutes, checking for doneness as needed with a thin, sharp knife tip.
Second method is to coat (okay, cover) the fish with breadcrumbs. I love breadcrumbs, which are so underutilized in American cuisine. (Did you know that, in parts of Italy, seasoned breadcrumbs stand in for Parmesan cheese in “la cucina povera,” poor man’s cooking?)
I always keep dried breadcrumbs I make from leftover bread on hand for this method. I season the breadcrumbs first, in a bowl, with a good glug of olive oil, and mix it all together. Sometimes I season with just salt and pepper, or I might use one of my spice blends, or individual spices such as dill or thyme or even something more exotic like coriander or Moroccan ras el hanout.
I just plop the fish into an oiled baking dish, and pile (too many) seasoned and oiled breadcrumbs on top, effectively burying the fish. Don’t judge me, this often takes the place of a starch in the meal, leaving me just a green vegetable and/or salad to deal with.
When I use this method, I keep an eye out to be sure the crumbs don’t burn, even laying a sheet of foil loosely on top near the end if necessary. After it’s baked, the crunchy bits stuck to the dish are not to be missed – scrape those onto your plate with the fish!
Sometimes I do a bit of a brown sugar glaze (see the salmon below, think it was sugar + chili powder), or just thinly sliced lemon and dill fronds. Once it’s in the oven, I can attend to the rest of the meal. If I’ve done my fish very simply, I might make a butter-lemon-caper sauce while it bakes (you can even, carefully, do the sauce in the microwave).
And my favorite kinds of fish? Anything wild caught, salmon, swordfish, halibut. If I’m lucky – usually in summer – I may have scored some local hake or tile fish or weakfish. Or really fresh bluefish, delicious when baked with a smear of mayonnaise mixed with horseradish! And I almost always must have a good wedge of lemon for my fish at the table.