Buying Fish: A Cautionary Tale

Although I live on the Connecticut shore, I have the hardest time finding decent seafood. So one day, when I discovered a shop near my house that happened to be selling excellent black fish—a great sports fish that's rare in stores—I was thrilled. One weekend I promised my family a fish dinner and went to the store hoping to find black fish again. No luck. All I saw were glaringly shiny cod and sole fillets. I bought the cod because it looked really fresh; but when I got home and smelled it, it gave off a chemical scent. I guessed it had been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, a preservative that gives fish an odd, slippery feel and a strange taste. When I cooked the cod, I loaded such a thick layer of herb –garlic bread crumbs on top of it that no one noticed anything off. But I did.

The next time I make that simple, wonderful recipe, I'll be sure to use truly fresh fish (cod works well here because it cooks as quickly as the crumbs toast, but any mild, thick fillets will do). Here's how:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees; put a rack on the upper shelf.
Place the fillets on an oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with white wine or vermouth. Scatter a minced shallot on top. In a food processor, combine lots of fresh bread crumbs from really good bread, a few chopped garlic cloves, lots of parsley, some thyme and basil and enough extra-virgin olive oil to really moisten the crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Salt and pepper the fillets. Pack the bread crumbs on the fillets, dot with lots of butter. Bake until crumbs are crisp and brown and fish is just cooked, about 10 minutes.