posted by Dave Arnold
Cooking a large whole fish is challenging. It’s easy to overcook the outside, leave the inside raw, or both. This problem keeps cropping up for me. You see, my stepfather Gerard has three interests: drinking wine, smoking cigars, and surf casting for striped bass. He’s an accomplished fisherman, and he catches nice big guys –36-40 inches — along the beaches of Cape Cod, whereupon he delivers them to me. When I cook for my family, I like to cook family style. I want to serve a fish whole, and naturally I want to serve it fried. For years I just bent the suckers into a “U”, dusted them with flour, and chucked them in my deep fryer. They were good, but, truth be told, the outside was overdone and the inside wasn’t really done at all. No one noticed because I served pla pad prik style, with a generous amount of spicy Thai curry. But Nils and I have worked out a better technique with the miracle of low temperature cooking (low-temp and sous-vide primer soon to come).
Many fish, like salmon and mackerel, don’t hold up well when cooked for a long time at low temperatures. Their enzymes keep working while the fish is cooking, breaking down the muscle and making it mushy. The same holds true for crustaceans. Some of these fish also taste terrible when they’re cooked to safe bacteria-killing termperatures: Salmon served warm, for example, shouldn’t be cooked much above 50 C for taste, but anything below 50 C is actually growing bacteria. Stripers, however, are made for low temp cooking. They don’t deteriorate in the 2.5 hours it takes to cook them low temp. and they do fine cooked all the way up to 57 C –a perfectly safe temperature.
So how do you low-temp a striper? They won’t fit in a vacuum machine and you don’t want to poach them. A striper just fits into the wide roll foodsaver bags, and for a while this is how we cooked them. I’ve been told that few things are more amusing than watching Nils and me try to get the foodsaver to vacuum the air out of a 42 inch long food saver bag that’s bent into a U and full of fish and oil. The “U” is a necessity: otherwise the fish won’t fit in the fryer.
One serendipidous day we had to cook a striper and we couldn’t locate any foodsaver bags — so we just filled our circulator bath with oil. Easy, delicious, though more expensive (cause you need all that oil). It’s our preferred method now, and here it is on a 40 inch striper: