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Help me build my kitchen skills - Poultry & Fish, & SAUCE-making!

This summer, I would like to start to learn how to:

1. Cook fish well.

I am about to buy Fish Without A Doubt. I like that it has a focus on sustainable seafood. What I would like to do is learn to cook a variety of fish - whole and filleted - in a variety of ways. I especially need to learn to cook fish to the correct doneness. I feel like when I cook fish, I either overcook it or I destroy it digging into it, trying to figure out how done it is.

2. Cook chicken well, and maybe quail, cornish game hens, etc.

Really, I have the same problem with chicken as I have with fish: I cook it but it isn't that great and I don't really don't think what I make has been very interesting or good. Though I do like to roast chicken or chicken parts with olive oil and herbs.

3. Make sauces to go with the above.

I am thinking of buying Peterson's Sauces. Can somebody with experience with this book tell me whether you think it'd be a good way to build some sauce-cooking skills and also compliment my poultry and fish cooking goals?

Lastly, would a 12-inch clad stainless steel fry pan be good pan for most of my fish-cooking needs? I have to buy new cookware in the next few months, so I thought I might start my venture with a new pan. My roommate has a cast iron skillet that I really like, but It's a bit on the small side. Plus, is stainless steel better for making pan sauces?

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  1. If you're considering James Peterson's "Sauces - Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making" I don't believe there is a better book available on the market today. There are others, of course, and some good ones. But, IMO, Peterson's book covers just about everything you will ever want to know about preparing sauces, simple or complex.
    If you haven't experienced cooking with quality stainless steel cookware you may be disappointed, at least at first. It is not "non-stick" cookware. In fact, you will probably find that food sticks to even the best quality stainless steel cookware worse than it might to cast iron that hasn't been properly seasoned. Using the proper amount of oil, neither too much nor too little, can be critical with stainless. I use All-Clad, but there are other brands that work very well. You will want a copper bottom - I wouldn't use anything else. If you're frying chicken, blot it dry before preparing it for the pan. If you're pounding a chicken breast to roll something in it, butterfly it first. You'll get a more evenly flattened piece of meat without turning portions of it to mush. Fish is done when the meat flakes as it is lifted with a fork. Fillets cook faster than whole fish. Whole fish can be steamed (I do that often) by wrapping somewhat loosely in a piece of oiled aluminum foil, adding a few herbs and spices and placing in a moderate oven until done. You'll need to get a feel for when the fish is "done" because smaller fish cook more quickly than large fish. I like Mark Bittman's book (Fish - The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking) and I think it's out in paperback now so it shouldn't be too expensive.

    3 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Yes! That is the sauce book I was looking at.

      So, do you think Bittman's Fish book is better than Moonen's? Does Bittman's book attempt to give more recipes for sustainable fish at all? It's a bit older, right?

      And copper-clad is much much better than aluminum core cookware? I just saw a copper-clad 11 inch fry pan from Sitram for about $120, free shipping...

      1. re: megmosa

        Copper is nice in that it conducts heat extremely well. But most home cooks and virtually all restaurants get by just fine with aluminum or aluminum core cookware. Keep in mind that a thin layer of copper on a thin, lightweight pan is still junk. Most good copper pans come with a big price tag. If that price tag is too high for you, you should just use aluminum core pans instead and not feel bad about it in the least.

        1. re: cowboyardee

          Good to know. I bought the Sitram pan. I've read a lot of good things about Sitram on the cookware board, so I guess I'll have to wait and see. And also see how I like cooking on stainless, which I haven't used much, apart from a stockpot.

    2. I know this sounds obvious, but get a thermometer. I bought a digital one for 10, but you can get the analog for even less. A little hole is much better than cutting into the meat. My fish gets to the table in one piece now.

      2 Replies
      1. re: corneygirl

        I have a thermometer...but I have trouble using it with any thin pieces of meat and especially fish fillets. It seems to take so long to actually settle at the supposed temperature. How long does your digital one take?

        1. re: megmosa

          just a second or so. Oven is more forgiving than stove IMO

      2. I'm not sure if you're looking for fish-specific and sauce-specific books, but I got a lot of help when first learning from Julia Child's magnum opus. There isn't much you can't do with sauces once you've mastered classic roux, deglazing and stock making (or giving boxed or canned stocks a lift, which she also covers).

        1 Reply
        1. re: Aravisea

          Oh yes...Julia Childs might be even better. I need to do a side-by-side comparison. I definitely do not need to limit myself to a book that does only sauces. I thought the Peterson book might be good though because it branches out beyond French and has contemporary sauces. I haven't really looked in either book in person though. I did a little bit of browsing online, and I hoped to look at Sauces at the Barnes and Noble near me but they didn't have it.

        2. my son and fiance just gave us Ratio, I really like it for dressing, sauces and we've used it for homemade pasta often. Once you know the ratios, sky's the limit with your creativity:
          http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/din...

          1. I think yes, stainless steel is better for some pan sauces because the iron will react with some acidic ingredients. Not usually in a quick pan sauce, but you will have more freedom, sauce wise, with a stainless steel pan. I use All-Clad and don't feel the need for copper. also, a stainless steel/light colored pan is good because you can more easily judge the fond, which is good as you are perfecting your skills.

            I also think it makes sense, if you get Peterson's Sauces, to get someone else's Fish book, so you have more variety of perspectives.