A whole fish laid down on a rustic wooden cutting board garnished with sliced lemons.
Food & Drink

Delicious Differences: Fish

Fish takes so many different forms across the world that fish fanatics have plenty to celebrate — and plenty of tantalizing ways to prepare it.

I like to buy my fish fresh from the market, and I sometimes prepare it without sauces. After baking or poaching it in olive oil and adding a little lemon and sea salt, I’m good to go. There’s something wonderfully primal about taking a minimalist approach to preparing fish. Tasting the unadorned richness of the flavors of fish like tuna, salmon, and halibut sends me over the top.

But my palate often craves different flavors and preparations of fish, too. Fortunately, countries and cultures around the globe have contributed mightily and deliciously to the many mouth-watering choices for fish lovers.

Thai Highs: Southeast Asian Fish Curry

I find that nothing adds a wonderful kick to fish like a good curry sauce. For me, the aroma as it simmers is heavenly and evocative of tropical climes. I like to make Thai fish curries, which typically include palate-pleasing spices and ingredients like coriander, garlic, onion, paprika, turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, and coconut milk. Many of these spices have long been used in Thailand for their flavor-enhancing properties and health benefits. 

In Thailand, a popular dish is curried fish that’s baked, grilled, or steamed in banana leaves, and for good reason. The banana leaves, which contain beneficial enzymes and chemicals also keep the fish moist and boost the flavors. When I don’t have banana leaves handy, I wrap the fish in foil instead.

Fish And Chips: Kudos To The United Kingdom

Oh, that first, crisp bite of fish and chips. This popular meal always feels infinitely modern to me, but the first fish and chips shop is said to have opened in London in 1860. The dish picked up steam because it was a quick, nutritious, and filling meal for workers during the Industrial Revolution. One of my favorite classic British fish and chips recipes also includes dark beer as an ingredient and turns out lightly battered fish with that special crispness.

Sardines: Greek Greatness

I didn’t fall in love with sardines until I had them in Greece. Although they’d do in a pinch straight from a tin in college, I had never thought of them as the basis of a delicious meal. That was until I’d had them fresh from the Mediterranean, roasted with olive oil, oregano, and garlic. Another big plus about roasted sardines is that the best way to eat them is with your hands. Greece even has its own version of sushi made with sardines: sardeles pastes. I’ve even made this at home, using small, super-fresh sardines.

I’m a fool for taramosalata. This delectable Greek fish roe pate was a revelation the first time I tried it. The idea of being able to spread something so delicious and briny on bread makes me beyond happy. And luckily, I found it wildly rewarding and not that difficult to make myself. I like to serve it to spread on toasted triangles of pita bread ashors d’oeuvre for parties.

Try Smoked Fish For A New York State Of Mind

When it comes to smoked fish, I find myself incredibly lucky to live in New York City. That’s because the Russ family has been selling smoked fish on New York City’s Lower East Side for more than a century, and I’m happy to report that they’ve perfected it. 

Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe began making their homes in the neighborhood in the late 1800s, nurturing a rich tradition of starting meals with cold appetizers. But according to Jewish law, meat and dairy couldn’t be sold or eaten together. So stores selling fish and dairy became popular and were known as “appetizing” stores. At one point, Russ & Daughters was one of about 30 stores in the neighborhood selling dairy products and fish. It’s now one of the last. 

Think lox and bagels with cream cheese, whitefish salad, salmon roe with crème fraîche and smoked sable. Joel Russ might have gotten his start selling pickled herring from a barrel on the sidewalk, but when I sink my teeth into the luscious silkiness of the shop’s smoked sable, it feels and tastes like unbridled, hedonistic luxury. And when I serve it to grateful guests, it disappears in a flash.

Sushi: Delicacies Made In Japan

The best, freshest sushi I ever had the good fortune to devour was at the fish market in Tokyo, prepared straight off of the fishing boats. Thanks to the modern marvels of refrigeration, we don’t have to eat it or prepare it right off the boat, but it’s oh-so flavorful when it is. 

Inspired by the sushi I sampled in Japan, I decided to try making my own. It was rewarding, but messy and slow going for a novice. But I’m going to keep on trying. The taste is well worth the effort.

Peruvian perfection

Although I haven’t been to Peru yet, the fact that it’s ceviche central has me dreaming of buying a ticket. The way the raw fish chunks marinated in lemon juice or lime juice blends with the flavors and textures of other ingredients like chili peppers, coriander, and onions makes for a magical meal. 

Peruvians have been preparing and eating ceviche in one form or another for thousands of years. And the availability of fresh fish to this coastal country has resulted in some super tasty and inventive ceviche recipes. Other countries like Mexico prepare ceviche with their own deliciously distinctive twists. I like to stuff avocados with ceviche to add another texture to the meal and to balance out some of ceviche’s powerful spices and herbs.