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Steaming a succulent way to cut fish calories

Associated Press

“A perfectly steamed piece of fresh fish is so pure and delicious that it will make you forget you are eating healthy.”

That endorsement comes from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, in their new cookbook “The Best Light Recipe” (America’s Test Kitchen, 2006, $35), in a feature dubbed “Steaming Fish 101.” The book focuses on lower-fat recipes that have been developed to keep the flavor of the originals.

On fish steaming, the advice includes steaming times for different kinds of fish. The editors point out that the temperature, thickness and quality of the fish will all influence the cooking time and suggest cooks use the following recommendations as guidelines:

Start checking the fish for doneness before the suggested time to avoid overcooked fish. If you are going to be steaming a fish that is not listed on the chart below, compare it to a fish that has similar texture and thickness.

For simple steamed fish: Fit a large Dutch oven with a lightly oiled steamer basket. Fill the pot with water until it just touches the bottom of the basket. Bring the water to a boil. Gently lay the fish in the steamer basket, cover, and cook, following the times in the following chart. Remove the fish from the steamer and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Steaming times:

Arctic char fillet (1 inch thick): 5 to 7 minutes.

Bluefish fillet ( 3/4 to 1 inch thick): 6 to 8 minutes.

Cod fillet (1 inch thick): 6 to 8 minutes.

Flounder and sole fillet ( 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, thin ends tucked under): 4 to 6 minutes.

Grouper fillet (1 to 11/2 inches thick): 10 to 12 minutes.

Haddock fillet ( 1/2 to 1 inch thick): 5 to 7 minutes.

Halibut fillet (1 inch thick); steak (1 inch thick): 6 to 8 minutes.

Monkfish fillet (1 inch thick): 10 to 12 minutes.

Salmon fillet (11/4 inches thick); steak (11/4 to 11/2 inches thick): 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare, 7 to 9 minutes for medium.

Sea bass fillet (1 to 11/4 inches thick): 8 to 10 minutes.

Red snapper fillet (11/4 inches thick): 8 to 10 minutes.

Tilefish fillet ( 3/4 to 1 inch thick): 6 to 8 minutes.

The book’s fish-en-papillote recipe for haddock uses foil and, naturally, the ingredients and cooking times that won out during experimenting. Cod, red snapper, thick sole fillets, halibut, and tilapia also work well.

Haddock With Zucchini and Tomatoes en Papillote

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt and ground black pepper

3 medium plum tomatoes (about 12 ounces), cored, seeded, and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium zucchini (about 6 ounces each), sliced 1/4-inch-thick

4 haddock fillets, 1-inch-thick (about 6 ounces each)

1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 F.

Combine the oil, garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, 1Ú4 teaspoon salt, and 1Ú8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl.

Measure half of the oil mixture into a separate medium bowl and toss gently with the tomatoes. Add the zucchini to the remaining olive-oil mixture and toss to coat.

Cut four 12-inch squares of heavy-duty foil and lay them flat on a work surface. Shingle the zucchini in the center of each piece of foil. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and place on top of the zucchini. Top the fish with the tomatoes, then tightly crimp the foil into packets.

Set the packets on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the fish just flakes apart, about 20 minutes. Carefully open the packets, allowing the steam to escape away from you, and let cool briefly.

Smooth out the edges of the foil and, using a spatula, gently push the fish, vegetables and any accumulated juices out onto warmed dinner plates. Sprinkle with the basil before serving. Serves 4