Thick, firm fillets of white-fleshed fish are the seafood equivalent of chicken breasts -- a superlatively versatile entree that can be prepared in any number of ways. New Zealand's orange roughy is a fine example of the type, a large fish yielding big, meaty fillets that lend themselves to both dry and moist cooking techniques. The fish is widely available and reasonably priced, though some retailers have dropped it because of concerns over sustainability.
Thank Goodness It's Fry Day
Fried fish is one of the world's most widespread dishes, and deservedly so. The golden-brown fried surface lends a nutty flavor, textural contrast and visual appeal to the fish. More important, a coating of flour, crumbs or batter protects its relatively delicate flesh from the searing heat of the hot fat you use. Roughy works well pan-fried, with either a dusting of flour or a coat of crumbs. Crumbed or battered fillets can also be deep-fried, yielding a superbly moist and delicate result. Your skillet can produce a more nuanced meal if you turn the heat down and cook the fillet gently in butter, with a delicate sauce and no coating.
Steamy Summer Nights
Hot and wet isn't especially appealing in the weather forecast, but for fish it's an ideal environment. Wet-cooking techniques are relatively gentle, because they're limited by the boiling temperature of water. For a delicate texture and infusion of flavor, poach your roughy fillets in gently simmering water filled with herbs, aromatics and a splash of vinegar or white wine. Chefs produce a richer variation by poaching the fish in a mixture of butter and water, or butter and wine. Steaming the roughy Asian-style on a bed of herbs and aromatics gives you another fine option, adding plenty of flavor but no fat to your meal.
All Fired Up
Roughy's mild flavor doesn't mean it's restricted to subtle preparations. Its texture is firm enough to stand up to high-impact cooking methods such as grilling. Cook the fillets on a scrupulously clean and well-oiled grill to minimize the risk of sticking. Brush the roughy with oil and -- if you wish -- crust it with herbs or ground spices, and then place it over your hot coals or gas flame. When the visible lines of cooked flesh come close to the center of your fillet, flip it carefully with a spatula and cook the other side for about the same length of time.
The Dark Side
If your fridge is filled with free-range eggs, organic vegetables and pastured meats, orange roughy -- despite its many culinary virtues -- might present you with an ethical problem. The fish is very slow-growing, not reaching sexual maturity for a minimum of 20 years, which makes it highly vulnerable to overfishing. While the New Zealand government has begun to closely monitor and regulate the fishery, Seafood Watch still advises consumers to avoid the species because of sustainability concerns.
- Professional Cooking; Wayne Gisslen
- Serious Eats: How to Grill Skinless Fish Fillets or Steaks
- StarChefs.com: Swimming in It -- Butter-Poached Halibut Technique
- Food & Wine: Orange Roughy on Rice with Thai-Spiced Coconut Sauce
- Undercurrent News: NZ Orange Roughy Prices Hit Floor on Sustainability Concerns
- Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch: Orange Roughy
- Photo Credit neiljlangan/iStock/Getty Images
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