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Yachts chefs have advantage for cooking fresh-caught fish


If there ever was a chef who knows about fish and seafood, it would be a yacht chef. We have the on-water advantage. From purchasing directly from fishing boats as they come back into home port to stopping a small lobster boat or crab boat in transit, yacht chefs get the freshest seafood out there.

I have purchased it all, exactly this way, and still do when I have the chance. If you can forgo the purchase of fish in a store or if you have a second option of buying it direct, then do so because even a sustainable store has to have it shipped in.

There are many categories of seafood; for fish, there are two: flat and round. These two categories encompass both freshwater and saltwater species. So, depending on where you are and the type of fish you are looking for, this is a refresher course, Fish 101.

Flatfish: Just as the name describes, these are flat-bodied fish. An example of this type of fish is sole, flounder, halibut, etc. Just so you know, if you order sole in a restaurant in North America, you are probably eating flounder. It is substituted for sole all the time.

Round fish: Again, as the name describes, round-bodied fish are tuna, sea bass, haddock, salmon and trout, to name a few.

Now, just because they are flat or round does not tell you how to cook them. You cook a fish by a particular method after determining if it is fatty or lean.

A lean fish such as haddock or cod doesn’t have a lot of oil in its body and requires moist heat preparation methods such as poaching, steaming or sauteing.

A fatty fish such as salmon or sea bass requires dry-heat methods such as grilling or broiling. Fat content helps moisten the flesh. There is also sous vide if you have that capability onboard.

If you are new to filleting fish, check out one of the numerous videos online that show how to fillet a flatfish or a round fish. But know that it takes practice.

For a flatfish, find the ridge running down the back. Make a long cut down the back bone. Your fillet knife should be flexible. You can hear it ting against the bones on the ridge. Then make a U cut around the head. Remove the head. Make a single cut across the tail. Now rest your knife against the bones at the top of where the head and where the flesh starts. Make a long sweeping cut to remove one fillet.

Turn the flatfish over and repeat the long cut down the ridge and follow the same procedures for removing the fillets. On a flatfish such as a lemon sole, there are two sides, which equal four fillets.

For round fish, remove the head by cutting at an angle and just under the fins near the head on each side, then under the fin on the underside. Cut the head off. Remove any innards that might be attached.

Make an incision along the skin on the back of the fish, to one side of the dorsal fin. Place the tip of the knife and run from head to tail along the bones. In the middle of the fish, place the knife down through to the underside of the fish and run your knife along the whole fillet to the tail. Remove the fillet by edging the knife under the fillet from the middle of the fish toward the head. Remove it from the fish’s body. Now repeat the process. Use tweezers to pull pin bones and other bones from the fillet.

For flavoring, consider the guidelines for cooking in dry or moist heat. If using moist heat, such as poaching, be sure to flavor the water with herbs, stocks or seasonings. For fatty fish that need dry heat, consider a rub or create your own.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome at

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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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