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MICROWAVE

Fish Tales

August 20, 1992|MARCIA CONE and THELMA SNYDER | Cone and Snyder are cookbook authors. and

No one would ever call me a fisherman. I haven't fished more than about four times in my entire life. But I was fortunate enough to go on one special fishing trip that made me the envy of every sportsman I know.

It was a salmon-fishing excursion to Alaska a few years ago, and it was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and exciting trips I've ever experienced. We were flown by pontoon plane to a lodge on the banks of a secluded lake, with no one but our lodge keepers for miles around.

Although it was August, it rained most afternoons, and the mornings were still misty and cool. We would don our bulky, olive-green rain gear and waddle out to powerboats that took us to the best fishing holes on the lake. In two days, a rookie like me caught so much salmon that to bring it back to the Lower 48 required a box larger than my luggage.

That same box was well packed with enough ice to last 72 hours--which was a good thing, because that's just how long it took me to get home. Plane delays and missed connections brought a crumpled traveler and a thawed-out box of 20 pounds of salmon home to central Illinois. I gave a lot of it away but cooked a lot too, almost immediately.

Here are a couple of the ways I served it during those hot August weeks. To achieve best results, read the information on Fish Basics first.

FISH BASICS

* Because a whole fish can be difficult to transfer after it has been cooked, we find it easier to cook it right on the serving platter. You may find it necessary to remove the head and/or tail to fit the fish into the cooking dish. In our opinion, the presentation loses something without the head, but then some people prefer not to exchange glances with their dinner.

* Whole fish is cooked on MEDIUM (50% power) for gentle simmering and to ensure even cooking at the thickest part.

* A tight cover, lid or plastic wrap folded back at one corner helps steam the fish and keep the poaching liquid from evaporating.

* If you keep the head on, cover the fish's eyes with aluminum foil. Metal reflects microwaves and will prevent the eyes, which are mostly water, from popping.

* There is a great tendency to overcook fish. If you follow the old rule, "Cook until the fish flakes with a fork," you will have gone too far. At that point, all the collagen--the organic glue that holds the packets of protein together--will have melted away, and you'll be left with a bland hunk of sawdust that tastes vaguely like fish.

Instead, your goal should be to cook the fish to the point where you can press the fish with your finger without leaving a dent in the flesh. As you press down, the fish will flake under the pressure of your finger, because you are forcing the collagen out. In whole fish, check close to the bone area to make sure the flesh is opaque. At this point the fish is ready for standing time.

CHILLED WHOLE SALMON WITH CUCUMBER SAUCE

20 sprigs parsley

1 (3-pound) whole salmon or bass, cleaned, head and tail intact

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 pound cucumbers, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced into crescents

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup plain nonfat yogurt

Arrange parsley sprigs on 3-quart microwave-proof serving platter or rectangular dish. Place salmon on top, allowing parsley to protrude to form lacy edge around fish.

Pour wine over fish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, turned back slightly on 1 side. Microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) until fish flakes in thickest part when pressed with finger, 12 to 15 minutes, rotating dish one-quarter turn twice. Drain cooking liquid and discard. Chill 2 hours on platter.

To prepare sauce, place cucumbers in 1-quart microwave-proof casserole. Cover with lid or plastic wrap, turned back slightly on 1 side. Microwave on HIGH (100% power) 2 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.

Rinse under cold water and drain well. Combine drained cucumbers, lemon juice, chives, dill, lemon zest, salt, pepper and yogurt in medium bowl and mix well. Chill until serving time.

Serve salmon drizzled with ribbon of sauce. Serve remaining sauce on side. Makes 6 servings.

FISH AND APPLE SALAD

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 pounds rich-flavored fish fillets (salmon, bluefish, tuna or mullet), each 1 inch thick, cut into 4 serving pieces

1 cup peeled, thinly sliced tart apples (preferably Granny Smith)

1/4 cup thinly sliced celery

1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon mustard (preferably coarse country variety with seeds)

Lettuce leaves (red-tipped, leaf or Bibb) for garnish

Lemon slices for garnish

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons lemon juice on both sides of fillets. If fillets have skin, sprinkle juice on side without skin. Place fish, skin side up, in 2-quart rectangular dish. Cover tightly and microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) until fish tests done, 14 to 15 minutes, turning over after 7 minutes. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes.

Remove any skin and bones from cooled fish. Drain juices and discard. Transfer fish to medium-size mixing bowl and flake fish with fork. Add apples, celery, green onions and parsley.

Mix together mayonnaise, mustard and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice in small bowl. Combine with fish mixture and toss to moisten. Cover and chill.

To serve, line 4 salad plates with lettuce leaves (contrasting red-tipped lettuce looks good). Spoon salad into center and garnish with lemon slices. Makes 4 servings.

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