Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why My Children Like Fish

Several friends have asked me, how do I get my children to eat fish? Here is my explanation:

Ryan and I like fish.

My children love to eat fish: salmon, scallops, tilapia, halibut, cod, shrimp, calamari, snapper, swordfish, sushi, ahi, tuna fish sandwiches, crab, etc. Ryan and I love it too. If you do the math, that means everyone in the family loves it. That means when we order calamari as an appetizer, there is an all-out scramble for it.

Let me tell a little story to illustrate: In Kindergarten, Madison, along with 200 other students in her school, had a writing prompt: Tell about your favorite sea animal and why you like it. Every student wrote something like "I like sharks. I like their teeth." or "I like starfish. They are pretty." or "I like dolphins. They are fast." or "I like seahorses. I wish I could ride one." You get the idea. 199 students all followed the same pattern. Except for one. Madison wrote: "I like crab dipped in butter." The teachers howled over that one and word spread that they had an out of the box thinker. The point of the this story is that my children have always loved it.

I should clarify that they are not fans of just any fish. It you put overcooked, dry fish in front of them, they will react like any normal child. One bite and it will sit there for a very uncomfortable amount of time. They won't touch it. It must be moist and just cooked through, not overcooked. They like their ahi rare. Just seared on the outside and red and rare inside. They also don't like it heavy seasoned. No fancy-smancy herbs, spices, seasoning. Their favorite is basic salt and pepper with a little lemon. They will tolerate a little teriyaki or other Asian influenced flavors.

I usually will not cook fish in an oven or broiler, because I feel like I don't have enough control over it. There are essentially two ways I prepare a standard fish. One is sauteed in a pan and the other is BBQ'd on a cedar plank. The method of pan saute is one of feel and experience. The cedar plank is pretty much fool proof. It will produce a moist fish.

You must purchase cedar planks. You can buy them in gourmet shops or kitchen supply stores. You can also get them at a place that sells lumber. You want them to be about a half an inch thick, completely untreated and the right size. Small enough to fit inside a covered BBQ, large enough to hold enough fish to feed your family. The ones sold at Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table are about 12" by 6" roughly. That will hold a nice sized fillet.

First, you must soak the plank in water for at least two hours. It is going to be put directly on the grill so if it is not wet enough, it will burn up before the fish cooks. Soaking it does two things: it keeps it from catching fire and burning, and it produces steam for cooking the fish.

When you are ready to cook the fish, remove the plank from the water, tap dry and lay your fish on top, skin side down. (I am assuming at this point, it has already been cleaned and ready to cook.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and any other seasoning you desire. If you wish, you may spread a little butter on it. I don't do this because generally the cedar plank gives it a butter taste naturally and salmon already has enough fats in it. However if you are using this method with a less fatty fish, you might want to add butter. It is a matter of personal preference.

Depending on the heat of the grill, check the fish after about 10 minutes and it will usually not take more than 20 minutes. Now, here is the key: take it off right before you think it is done. It will continue to cook after you take it off, so let it have a little rareness when you remove it from the fire. By the time you get it on the table, it will be perfect. If you wait until it is done, it may be overcooked. Remember overcooking is bad ... is dry ... will make a person hate fish.

When sauteing in a pan, I coat the pan with olive oil, add a tiny bit of butter for flavor and heat it up. Cut up the pieces into the serving sizes. Sprinkle both sides with a touch of slat and pepper. Next, put the fish in the pan. It should be hot enough to sizzle immediately. Let it cook until you notice that you can see that about two-thirds of the way up looks cooked. Flip the fillets. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the fillets. This will produce some steam and more sizzle. When you see the sides of the fish appear to be fully cooked, remove the fish. Remember, the fish will continue cooking. You want it to be slightly uncooked in the very center when you remove it. I don't give times because the thickness of the fillet has everything to do with the amount of time. Thin fillets will cook extremely fast. One-inch fillets of salmon will take about five to seven minutes (and that depends on your heat level as well.) I generally make sure everything else is ready and on the table before I put the fish in the pan. Fish is definitely and infinitely better when it is cooked immediately before serving.

To summarize & add a few more points:
1. Never feed your child a piece of overcooked, dry fish.
2. Be careful to not overly season your fish.
3. Cooking your fish with a little fresh ginger will diminish the fishy smell and taste.
4. Using the freshest fish possible will also diminish any smell and taste better.
5. Start feeding your children fish at an early age. That includes sushi, crab, lobster, caviar, calamari and other types that are typically more of the adult fare. Let them taste the good stuff. It will develop their taste buds for seafood in general.
6. Don't treat them like they will hate it. Act like it is the best thing ever. Have a positive attitude yourself. Don't pass on any negative feelings towards any type of seafood.
7. Never expose them to overcooked, dry fish. I might have already said that. It is very important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your tips on helping our kids like fish! I appreciate your insights! Blessings, Debbye