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Fish Tales

May 21st, 2011 - By Lari Robling

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With three fish restaurants (and counting), you could say Chef Mike Stollenwerk has his technique down — hook line and sinker. Get his expert tips for buying and preparing healthy fish dishes at home.


Photo by Flicker user cowfish / CC BY-NC 2.0

-Grilled Mahi Mahi, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Sweet Lemon Vinaigrette »

At least two servings of fish a week! The American Heart Association says those omega three fatty acids are good for everyone! Cooking at home is always best. But fish is expensive, so to protect your heart and your investment, Chef Mike Stollenwerk offers advice. He should know, he has three Philadelphia fish restaurants. So, let’s begin with shopping…

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “I think the color of fish has a lot to do with freshness. If it is supposed to be a whitefish it should be white.”

Lari Robling: “As opposed to…”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “As opposed to off-white. Tuna is a big thing I‘ve seen in supermarkets that’s not very fresh. It should be a deep red, purplish color and it’s usually very light. There’s a lot of farmer’s markets and stuff and some of them will have a seafood guy and that’s probably the guy that’s going to have the fresh stuff.”

Pan Seared Mahi Mahi

Lari Robling: “What particular fish do you recommend to start cooking at home?”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “I think mahi is a great fish. It’s very versatile, it’s a little more forgiving than other fish.”

Lari Robling: “And what do you mean by that, it’s a little more forgiving?”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “If you overcook it a little bit it is not going to be terrible. It’s not going to fall apart. If you undercook it a little bit it will still be fine, because it should be undercooked a little bit. Salmon is a tough one. I know a lot of people think salmon is a great beginner fish to cook, but salmon, once it is overcooked, it is going to be dry and chewy, so you want to keep that undercooked a little bit.”

Lari Robling: “Is there one cooking method that you would recommend?”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “Pan seared! Just because you get a little caramelization and crust on it. It adds to texture of fish a little bit so it’s not just mushy. You have the texture and then you have the nice soft fish.”

Lari Robling: “How high of a temperature?”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “Depending on the fish you want to start pretty high you want the oil to smoke a little bit you can always turn it down or adjust it. We usually start pretty high crisp the skin up and finish in the oven a couple minutes. Take it out flip filet over and squeeze a little lemon on top and it’s done, ready to go.”

Lari Robling: “And how high is the oven when you put it in there to finish it off?”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “At home I would use around 400°.”

Lari Robling: “What about a steak?”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “Steaky fish… kinda like tuna or swordfish and stuff like that are definitely best grilled. Maybe marinated ahead of time, a little olive oil you don’t want to use acidic stuff when you are going to marinate the fish because it’s going to cook it in the acid. So you use a little olive oil salt, pepper and some herbs. Again like the sauté pan start off hot because the lower the temp the more chances fish is going to stick to the grill and then it is a big mess, the fish is torn in half and doesn’t look nice. You want to start hot. You can always turn it down after the initial sear takes place.”

Lari Robling: “I imagine a lot of people don’t like their fish whole, but I think it has the best flavor that way.”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “I think whole fish is great. And whole fish can be done in a pan so that you can get the skin crispy. Or again, the grill is perfect for whole fish because you have the room you have the space. You can get the smaller fish red snapper is perfect whole, bronzino, the smaller striped bass. Fish like that are kind oily and the skin is crispy. That’s what you want for the grill because the oil will help it not stick to the grill.”

Lari Robling: “Any technique for taking care of the bones?”

Chef Mike Stollenwerk: “When it is cooked the bones will slip right off so if you can find where the bones run down middle of the fish pull it off from the backside and all the pinbones with the backbone should slide right out.”

That’s Chef Mike Stollenwerk.

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Photo by Flicker user Chiot's Run / CC BY-NC 2.0

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High Tunnel farming caught my eye because its extended growing season adds to the amount of local produce we get. While farm manager Aviva Asher was tidying up the winter crop to make way for spring, I discovered another benefit of local growing: use what you’ve got.

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