Expert chef Nathan Outlaw knows how to treat a fish. He talks us through his golden rules, from spotting the best buys in a fishmonger through to fridge protocol and serving suggestions.
Learning your way around a fish isn’t something that happens overnight, but it’s an art that expert chef Nathan Outlaw has mastered. We spoke to him to find out his fish timeline, from buying tips, through to preparation and cooking, serving suggestions and flavour combinations. He even revealed his all-time favourite fish…
Pointers for buying fish
Nathan says: “Look for fish with bright eyes, a clean smell and scarlet-red gills. And remember – slime is a good thing. The fish may have been thrown around, so make sure all parts of it are intact, and if you’re buying a flat fish, turn it over to check the belly has no marks on it.”
How to store fish…
Nathan says: “In both my home and professional fridges, I use a couple of ice blocks and pack the fish into the bottom compartment. I then cover them with a jay cloth dipped in fresh water.”
The golden rules for perfectly cooked fish…
Nathan says: “The important thing is to make sure you don’t overcook fish. The white liquid that seeps out of the flesh is protein, meaning it’s at risk of overcooking. If you’re cooking the fish on the bone, use a little knife and pull it away from the bone – when it’s cooked perfectly it’ll come away easily.”
How do you cook fish on a barbecue?
Nathan says: “First and foremost, ensure the barbecue is hot enough, otherwise the fish will stick – for that reason I struggle with gas barbecues as they don’t get hot enough. Or, you could make a parcel and cook the fish en papillote. If doing this, make sure the fish is very dry before cooking.”
What do you serve with fish?
Nathan says: “Anything and everything! There are a few rules of thumb. With oily fish it’s good to serve it alongside something acidic, so anything pickled, citrusy or vinegary. Avoid putting anything rich with oily fish, for instance you should never put a cream sauce with mackerel, although I like horseradish as an accompaniment. I think you should avoid rich things full stop though – the richest I’d go is a fish pie, and even then I do a light version. I use olive oil instead of butter, plus skimmed milk. I’m very particular about it, and my strict ratio is one third oily fish, one third cod family fish and a third smoked fish.
Fish in the cod family, such as coley, pollack, whiting and ling, aren’t necessarily tasteless, but they need a little encouraging. Use a flavoursome marinade, or they work well when deep fried as the flesh steams in the batter. If you want to cook fish in a sauce, for instance fish curry, you need to use a fish with a dense texture, like monkfish or ling.
It’s important to consider flavour combinations – Far Eastern flavours such as ginger, garlic, chilli and coriander work with fish. Potatoes are always a good choice as an accompaniment. I like simple new potatoes, but chips and shoestring fries are also nice.”
Do you eat frozen and canned fish?
Nathan says: “Absolutely! I love sardines and Spanish, Italian or French anchovies, although it’s important to check the label [or the Marine Stewardship Council website] to make sure it’s from sustainable stock. I often freeze fish myself. The best thing to do is take a visit to a fishmonger, see what’s available then buy it in bulk and freeze it straight away. Certain fish actually benefits from being frozen as when the enzymes break down it serves to tenderise the fish. The process also kills any parasites, and lots of top sushi chefs freeze their fish for this reason. Remember not to freeze it whole – fillet and prepare it, removing the main bone, and make sure it’s ready for how you want to serve it.”
Essential kitchen kit…
Nathan says: “Invest in a good, thin-bladed filleting knife, a decent pair of fish scissors and a separate chopping board. Always wash everything in cold water, otherwise the steam from hot water will cause the fish smell to absorb and linger.”
Nathan’s all-time favourite fish…
Nathan says: “Mackerel. It’s fascinating as a fish – it’s beautiful. I see it like a timeline of fish; You can catch it and eat it raw, or you can cook it on a barbecue on the beach, or you can smoke it, pickle it or pan-fry it. It can be cooked any way, although I’d avoid steaming or poaching it. The flavour is so unique as well. One of my favourite quick, simple meals is mackerel, beetroot, horseradish, yogurt and watercress. Plus, you can adapt this to be luxury or budget, for instance swapping fresh mackerel for canned. My favourite shellfish are scallops and oysters, although scallops are a luxury as they’re hand-dived. I love that oysters come in lots of different kinds with different characteristics, too."