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How Can I Keep My Fish from Swimming (in its own juice)?

My black cod is especially prone to this, though I dearly love this fish. Just tonight, I seasoned it, dredged it in Wondra, and pan fried it in a non-stick pan, being careful, I thought, not to overcook it. Within 3 minutes of being placed on a serving platter, it was disporting itself in a considerable puddle of its own juices. What am I doing wrong? Should I cook it even less? Heat up the serving platter? Not use a non-stick pan? Recite an incantation?

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  1. Unfortunately, I haven't cooked black cod, so you can take my advice with a pinch of salt if someone more experienced with it comes along.

    If you're complaining about the white gunk that comes out of fish, that would be albumen. You can help minimize that by brining the fish in a 10% salt water solution for a short time. It seems to me that many black cod recipes include a fairly salty marinade, which may be in part to accomplish this.

    If you're losing large amounts of liquid juice (for lack of a better term), the problem might just be that the fish was poorly frozen at some point. Aside from sourcing it from a better purveyor (fresh or flash-frozen fish that were well-stored tend not to have this problem), you might be able to help the situation by fully defrosting it, drying it and salting it 15-30 minutes in advance of cooking it.

    Continuing to brainstorm - are you cutting it immediately after taking it off the heat? There are a few fish that you have to rest before cutting, though I didn't know black cod was one of them.

    1. The first question that comes to mind for me is whether the fish was frozen? This is a fairly common result with frozen fish, but not so much with fresh.

      1. Thank you for the suggestions, cowboyardee and Caroline1!

        I forgot to mention that the fish was fresh, sourced from Whole Foods just yesterday afternoon, and caught somewhere on the West Coast, probably California, as it was not as large as the Canadian and Alaskan specimens I've seen. It was also filleted and skinned. (Personally, I prefer fish with skin on, but I didn't have a choice, and this fish, a.k.a., sable or butterfish, usually gives me this swimming problem, though less so when the skin is present.)

        The liquid that came out wasn't albumen, which, from sorry experience, seems to appear when I have overcooked a piece of fish. It was a watery juice. The fish itself retained its buttery texture, and flaked quite nicely without falling apart, so I am at a loss to figure out where I went wrong. I thought that the Wondra would help absorb any excess moisture, but I would have had to wrap the fish in a sponge to do that. I wonder how restaurants cook this fish?

        4 Replies
        1. re: pilinut

          I'm at a loss too. I'm wondering if you'd have the same problem if you battered the fish and deep fried it, or broiled it? Or even cooked it just a tad longer? But you may have struck gold by wondering about restaurants. Why don't you call one and see if you can talk to the chef and ask? I'd aim for a time when he won't be slammed. Start with the very best fish restaurant in town! '-)

          1. re: pilinut

            "The fish itself retained its buttery texture, and flaked quite nicely without falling apart"
            ________
            I'm at a loss as well (though I have to wonder if the fish was frozen upon being caught and then thawed and sold as fresh either to or by whole foods).

            However if the texture and flavor were still good, you could always just avoid flour or breadcrumb coating, let the fish rest (or expel its juices) for a bit before plating, serve the fish on a dry plate, and use the juices for some kind of sauce.

            1. re: pilinut

              I have never been impressed with fish at Whole Foods. Much of what they sell is defrosted, and usually labeled as such. Could be that they simply forgot to change the labeling, or that your Whole Foods just doesn't bother to correctly label what is fresh and what is defrosted.

              1. re: pilinut

                I suspect it was not labeled properly and was previously frozen.

              2. Is this more of this particular fish or every fish you have tried?

                4 Replies
                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  This fish, black cod, more than any other fish I have ever cooked, has had this propensity to leak juice. Maybe once or twice it hasn't given out annoying amounts of liquid, but it has never stayed as dry as when it first came off the pan.

                  1. re: pilinut

                    Another possibility. The fish may well have been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate or metabisulfite...the stuff added to make it retain water. That's exactly the kind of thing I've seen with seafood treated that way. Those chemicals, especially in frozen seafood, really make stuff too disgusting to eat.

                    1. re: EricMM

                      Is there some way of telling if seafood has been treated this way? Some kind of taste or visual clue?

                      1. re: pilinut

                        The original packaging of the fish/seafood will have to list it. However, out of the packaging, its up to the store to list it and I don't know of any store that does, nor do I know if they have a legal obligation to list it. (The exception is Citarella, which clearly states that their rock shrimp are treated.) As for recognizing it, that can be difficult. Shrimp look pretty much the same, but will have an unpleasant gelatinous consistency when cooked (Think Appleby's...). Scallops are more obvious...they will look very white, plump, and wet. I have never seen fish treated with these chemicals (knowingly), so I don't know how it looks. (Much of the Chilean Seabass that I see looks like it could be treated, but I never eat that fish so I can't say if it actually is.) I find that it only affects the texture of shrimp..as I said, making them sort of gelatinous. Scallops, in addition to being gelatinous, lose their sweetness and get a slight bitterness to their taste. The stuff is not a preservative...it makes them absorb water. They are sold for less, but you end up paying more since you are roughly paying for 40% extra weight that is all water.

                2. For future reference, lay it onto a cooling rack, covered, for about five minutes before serving to drain.