Have Faith in Frozen Fish 

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Because, land-locked Americans, the payoff at suppertime can be staggering. If not because the Food and Drug Administration recommends fish and fish oils in the prevention of major heart disease, then because it's just plain good eats, especially pan-fried, Southern-style, in a heap of hot oil to counterbalance all that highfalutin' healthy hee-haw.

If you don't know what to do with a salmon steak or thick cod fillet that's been subjected to the deep freeze, follow these four easy steps to a glorious, flavorful meal.

Thaw out the fish

Think Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back. After freezing his nuggies off in the wicked cosmic tundra, slowly, under the careful gauge of circulating water, he was revived, brought back to life, made into his whiny-ass, dorky-butt self again.

The same basic theory is used when reviving frozen fish. Place your fully sealed specimen in a bowl, and allow a light but continuous flow of cold water to pour over it in the sink. Hot water is a no-no. That's like shocking the fish back to life with emergency room heart paddles ("3 ... 2 ... 1... BzzzzzzzzztHhHHuurrrFff!"), and the drastic change in temperature will affect the tenderness and consistency of your fish.

You should always leave your fish in the freezer until its time to thaw. Placing it in the refrigerator overnight will have it sitting there, thawed and unattended, for more hours than fish should have alone. The possibility of a nauseating stink that could rise from the depths of your meat drawer is far too great a risk to even consider storing fish anywhere but in the freezer.

Gussy up the fish

After smoothing your clean hands over your freshly revived fish to ensure a full and proper thaw, organize a series of four shallow plates on the counter. Plate one holds the fish. On plate two, crack an egg and whip it. Fill plate three with a mixture of bread crumbs, flour and spices like oregano, paprika, salt and pepper. Don't so much mind the amounts of each, worry warts of the world. Just mix enough on the plate to cover however much fish you've got waiting back on plate one. In true assembly-line fashion, plate four becomes the landing pad for the hot batter-making action.

Grab a piece of fish, and take it for a swim in the egg wash. Ahhhhhhh -- thick, sticky yellow-y glue -- that's the stuff. Now, flop it over into the spicy bread-crumb pile, and make 'em stick real good-like to the fish. When totally covered in crumblies, flop it over onto plate four, the waiting circle for the searing fry bath of joy.

Preparing fish in this multi-dip manner brings to mind a trip to Ojo Caliente hot springs in northern New Mexico. You got all these little pools to dip your hiney in before achieving a final, blissful result.

Cook the fish

The searing fry bath of joy is best prepared in an iron skillet for its deep sides contain excess splatter and its temperature is quickly regulated compared to other metal pans or Teflon. And as for oil, vegetable seems to work best, although some pure olive oils (not virgin or extra virgin) will do the trick; same with some lards if that's all you've got. It's just that vegetable oil lends itself to a light, crispy fry that allows the natural fish flavor to shine through.

Pour enough oil in the skillet to coat the bottom and then just a splash or two more as some will burn off and the bread crumbs caked onto the fish will absorb much of the rest. A medium-high heat, right below the point of smoky oil, is the desired temperature for pan-fried anything.

Now, lower your specimens into the shallow bath, and stand by your fish as they sizzle. Listen to them sing with crackle and sear. Flip them once after three minutes or so, but make sure the crust is golden brown. In general, walk your fish through the whole cooking process with a close, parental eye to ensure that nothing gets botched or burned. You get one shot at perfection with each fillet. Attentiveness pays dividends with this dinner.

Eat the fish

And when I say eat it, I mean eat it with pride and savor every crispy, fishy bite. Frozen seafood is not just the stuff of Van de Kamp's fish sticks, ladies and germs. If you make the attempt, you will learn that it is the foundation for some of the most scrumptious of homemade dinners.



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