How to Cook Sturgeon Fish

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Sturgeon is a special-occasion fish, one you'll seldom have an opportunity to cook. They're farmed on a modest scale at a few places in North America, and it's possible for anglers to fish them in some areas, but only the most dedicated of fishmongers will ever have sturgeon fillets on ice in their display case.

If you do have the good fortune to locate some sturgeon, it's an interesting fish to cook. Its fillets have a satisfyingly meat-like texture, rather than the delicate flakiness of most white fish, which opens up a range of culinary possibilities.

The Basics

Sturgeon is almost always sold as a skinless fillet portion. That's because the fish are usually too large to sell whole -- some species routinely run to hundreds of pounds -- and because sturgeon skin is startlingly tough. Fillet portions from small sturgeon resemble those of other white fish, while portions cut from large sturgeon are typically cut steak-style across the grain of the muscle. They cook the same way, in either case, though they look a bit different on the plate.

Cooking Methods

Sturgeon's versatility stems from its unusual combination of mild flavor and robust texture. You have the option of gentle cooking methods and subtle seasoning, to play off its mildness; or searing heat and bold spicing to take advantage of its sturdiness.

Gentle Options

If you opt for one of these traditional fish-preparation methods, serve the sturgeon with simple wine- or butter-based sauces, mild-tasting fresh herbs, and simple side dishes such as rice or quinoa pilaf.

  • Poaching

Simmer the sturgeon in a flavorful liquid, at temperatures 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below the boiling point. Any liquid from apple juice to tomato sauce will work, but chefs usually whip up a quick broth called court-bouillon for the purpose. If you prefer, you can poach in olive oil or butter rather than a water-based liquid.

  • Cooking en Papillote

A classic French technique, this simply means sealing the sturgeon portions into pouches of parchment paper and cooking it in the oven. The sturgeon cooks in its own juices, and absorbs the flavors of any other ingredients you tuck into the pouch. You might opt for fresh herbs such as dill or thyme, aromatic leeks or ginger, or a splash of white wine or herbed vinegar.

  • Baking

Brush the sturgeon lightly with oil or melted butter to keep its surface from drying out, or bake it in a flavorful sauce to keep it moist. In either case, keep your oven temperature at a moderate 300 to 325 F and allow 15-18 minutes per inch of thickness.

Robust Cooking Options

These high-heat techniques play up sturgeon's surprisingly meat-like texture, creating bolder finished dishes. Serve it with assertive sauces or fresh-made salsa.

  • Grilling

Sturgeon's firm texture makes it one of the best fish for grilling. It won't crumble or break when it's turned, and won't stick to a clean and well-oiled grill. Marinate it briefly before cooking, or rub the sturgeon with a spicy, smoky blend of spices ahead of time.

  • Hot-Smoking

Sturgeon takes smoke beautifully, so smoke-roasting your fillets over alder or fruit wood can yield an especially memorable meal. Serve it hot as an entree, or refrigerate it and use it in canapes or appetizers.

  • Pan-Searing

Use a heavy cast-iron or aluminum pan, preheated to the verge of smoking. Season the fillet portions and oil them lightly, then place them in the pan. Once the surface sears to a brown and flavorful crust, turn the fillet and finish cooking at moderate heat for another 7 to 10 minutes.

  • Broiling

Broiling is much like grilling, except it's done indoors in your oven. Arrange your oven rack so the broiler pan rests six inches from the burner, then heat your broiler for 10 to 15 minutes. Season and lightly oil the sturgeon, and broil -- turning once -- for 12 to 14 minutes per inch of thickness.

Doneness

Most fish recipes encourage you to cook fillets until they can be flaked with a fork. This isn't an option with sturgeon because of its meat-like texture, but there are two foolproof ways to check your sturgeon's doneness. The first is simply to cut into it, and see if it's cooked to a pearly white color all the way through. This takes away from the appearance of the finished dish and doesn't tell you when the fish is overcooked, so it's less than ideal. The second and better option is to use an instant-read thermometer. It's done, but not overdone, when a thermometer inserted horizontally into the thickest portion of the fillet reads 145 F.

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