Funny thing about fish: Everybody loves a great fillet in a restaurant or mussels in a bistro, but few of us cook fish at home with any confidence, thanks to so many efforts that end with the ugly mess of a halibut steak stuck to the skillet, disintegrating before it even hits the plate.
"Fish is not a pork chop," says chef David Kinch, owner of two-Michelin-star restaurant Manresa, in Silicon Valley. "Rightly or wrongly, it's perceived off the bat as intermediate cooking."
Kinch grew up surfing the Gulf Coast of Texas – "I was an oil brat," he says – and now lives near the beach in Santa Cruz, California, spending his free time longboarding, standup paddleboarding, or sailing with friends. Winner of the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef in America, Pacific region, he has become a foodie cult figure for his imaginative, fish-centric cuisine. He also makes regular transpacific trips to Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, personally scouting out the freshest seafood on Earth. But the real strength of Kinch's approach lies in his mastery of precisely what the rest of us need to learn: the fundamental cooking methods applicable to every maritime meat.
"A few simple techniques make seafood so much more accessible," he says. "Once guys learn them, they won't hesitate to pick up a beautiful piece of fish."
Here, from Kinch and Las Vegas chef Rick Moonen, another seafood expert, is advice on buying fish, keeping it as fresh as possible, and cooking it. Thanks to their insights, you will forever interrogate your fishmonger like a pro, render skin crispy as a potato chip, poach crustaceans to perfection, and debone whole fish effortlessly. And finally, those tricky, delicate meats will become your go-to home-cooking staples. Time to get your sea legs.
Perfect Pan-Seared Scallops
Rich and tender, with a bacon-like flavor, scallops are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. And though their delicate flesh – seemingly so easy to under- or overcook – often intimidates, they're actually almost idiotproof once you learn how to give them a proper sear. "Forty-five seconds to a minute and a half per side, and you're done," Kinch says. Here, he presents them with a classic beurre blanc, a white-wine-and-butter combo he calls "one of the greatest sauces to come out of France." With twists like a splash of OJ, it's adaptable to nearly any seafood dish.
- 6 large dry-packed diver or day-boat scallops
- canola oil
For the beurre blanc:
- 1 cup minced shallots
- 2 cups white wine
- 2 sticks cold butter, cut into cubes
Step One: Make the Beurre Blanc
Combine shallots and white wine in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat until the wine has evaporated, leaving a syrupy glaze on the shallots. Reduce heat to low, and add butter, one cube at a time, stirring with a whisk to combine between each addition. Set the pan somewhere warm.
Step Two: Prep the Scallops
Use a paring knife or your fingers to remove the tendon attached to each scallop. Set scallops on a plate with their most attractive faces – their "presentation sides" – up. Blot dry with paper towels.
Step Three: Sear the Scallops
Credit: Photograph by Peden + Munk
Place a skillet over high heat. After a minute or two, add a thin film of oil. Set scallops presentation-side down. Now, says Kinch, "do not move the scallop. Do not pick it up and look, then pick it up and look. You won't get a beautiful sear that way." Leave it for 45 to 90 seconds, depending on size. Then flip to sear the other side, and quickly add a tablespoon of butter to the pan; it will immediately foam and turn brown. Tilt the pan to one side, allowing the butter to pool. Ladle butter repeatedly over scallops, and then set them on paper towels just long enough to drain excess butter. Arrange scallops on a plate with freshly steamed bright-green vegetables – broccoli florets are Kinch's choice – and ladle the beurre blanc over all.