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GOOD COOKING

As Easy as Fish

November 17, 1994|ABBY MANDEL

Many cooks still shy away from preparing fish at home. But buying fresh fish is not mysterious--and cooking it is a breeze.

Fresh fish (and shellfish) are highly perishable and must be maintained at proper temperatures. In the ideal fish market, the kind where you can rely on the recommendations of the fishmonger, you encounter a fresh, almost sweetish odor when you walk in the door.

Barring a market of that quality, consider fish that was flash-frozen at sea. It can be of better quality than many fish sold as fresh. Also try farmed fish, since the shipping time is typically far less than from a fishing boat.

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In any case, fish should be cooked the same day it's purchased. Flash-frozen fish that has thawed should not be frozen again.

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This simple, comforting chowder is a most delicious focus for an informal fall lunch or supper. Any mild skinless fillets will work well in this recipe.

CHUNKY FISH CHOWDER

2 thick slices lean applewood-smoked bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 tablespoon butter

1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

5 small red potatoes, not peeled, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground nutmeg

Freshly ground pepper

2 cups milk (2% or regular)

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons milk

1 cup corn kernels (cut off cob, frozen or canned, well drained)

1 pound skinless, firm-fleshed, freshwater fish fillets, such as pike or whitefish, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

In 2-quart saucepan, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp, about 2 minutes, stirring often. Add butter. When hot, add onion and celery. Cook until onion is tender, about 4 minutes, stirring often. Add potatoes, clam juice, water, salt, nutmeg and pepper. Bring to boil. Simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Add milk, cornstarch mixture and corn. Cook gently until hot and slightly thickened, about 6 minutes, stirring often. Do not let chowder boil. Adjust seasonings to taste. Can be made 2 days ahead to this point and refrigerated. This chowder does not freeze successfully.

To serve, gently reheat chowder until hot, but not boiling. Add fish. Cook until fish is opaque, about 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot. Makes about 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

387 calories; 680 mg sodium; 64 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 37 grams carbohydrates; 27 grams protein; 1.01 grams fiber.

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These crisp, light-tasting fillets are easy to prepare, even though they require last-minute cooking. The club soda (or sparkling mineral water) gives this thin batter a delicate crunch. Serve these fillets with shoestring potatoes or roasted herbed small red potatoes and creamed spinach.

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FRIED LEMON-BATTERED FISH FILLETS

6 tablespoons club soda

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

4 (4-ounce) mild fish fillets, such as sea bass, red snapper or tilapia

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

Lemon wedges

Put club soda, lemon juice, Worcestershire, flour, salt and pepper in small bowl. Whisk until combined. Transfer mixture to pie plate or shallow soup dish.

Rinse fillets in water, pat dry with paper towels. Set aside on paper towels.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon oil in 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, dip 2 fillets in batter to coat. Fry in skillet until lightly brown and crisp on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer to warm plate. Keep warm in 200-degree oven. Heat remaining butter and oil and repeat coating and frying of remaining fillets. Serve immediately. Garnish with lemon wedges. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

184 calories; 526 mg sodium; 80 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 0.03 gram fiber.

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