With just a few basic techniques, you can cook seafood like a pro

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Cooking seafood is really rather simple once you know the basic cooking techniques and a couple of tips to ensure success.

When cooking fresh or even frozen fish, the standard rule of seafood cookery is 10 minutes cooking time per each inch of thickness. This will vary, though, depending on the density of the flesh or whether it’s being stuffed or cooked from frozen. You can tell when it’s done when the flesh becomes opaque all the way through and flakes easily with a fork.

When it comes to clams, mussels and oysters, their shells will open up to tell you when they’re ready. If cooking shucked oysters or clams, they’ll become plump and opaque when cooked and ready for eating. The edges of the oyster will begin to curl, but don’t overcook them or they’ll begin to shrink.

Mussels are my favorite shellfish. If you buy mussels that are not farm-raised and have beards, don’t remove the beards until you’re ready to cook the mussels, or the shellfish will die. Most are farm-raised these days, so just wash them well. Use shallow bowls to serve the mussels and always put an extra bowl on the table for empty shells.

Mussels with Leeks and Fennel

4 lbs. mussels

4 Tbsps. butter

1 leek (white part only), washed and thinly sliced

1 cup diced (1/4-inch) fennel bulb

1/4 cup shallots or green onions, thinly sliced

1 can diced tomatoes, drained

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 Tbsp. minced garlic

1 cup dry, white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub mussel shells with a stiff brush and rinse several times in cold water. Just before cooking, remove the beards and discard; reserve mussels.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add leaks, fennel and onion; cook, stirring, until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parsley and garlic; cook another 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the mussels and wine and increase heat to high. Cover and cook until all mussels have opened (you may have to shake the pot occasionally), about 6-8 minutes. Discard any that do not open. Serve in shallow bowls with the veggies and broth spooned over them. Makes about 4 servings.

Grilled Halibut Steaks with Green Onion Sauce

Chervil lends its sweet licorice-like flavor to the savory green onion sauce.

4 6-oz. fresh or frozen halibut or tuna steaks, about 1-inch thick (thaw if frozen)

2 Tbsps. olive oil

6 green onions, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tbsps. butter

2 tsps. flour

1/2 tsp. dried chervil, crushed

1/2 tsp. instant chicken bouillon

1/4 cup milk

For the sauce: In a small saucepan, cook green onions and garlic in butter until onion is tender, not browned. Stir in flour, chervil and chicken bouillon; add milk all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly; cook for an additional minute. Keep sauce warm while grilling fish.

Cooking the fish: Brush both sides of halibut or tuna steaks with olive oil. Place steaks in the center of a pre-heated grill (medium heat) using the indirect method (turn off middle burner). Cover and grill for 8-12 minutes or until fish begins to flake easily, turning once and brushing with olive oil halfway through grilling time.

To serve: Spoon sauce over the grilled fish steaks. Makes 4 servings.

Swordfish Steaks with Papaya Cheese Salsa

4 swordfish steaks, 3/4-inch thick

1/4 cup lemon juice

3 Tbsps. olive oil

4 tsps. dried minced onion

4 tsps. chili powder

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. ground cumin

3/4 tsp. salt

5 drops hot sauce

Papaya cheese salsa (recipe below)

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, olive oil, onion, chili powder, cumin, salt and hot sauce. Place swordfish in a glass baking dish or plastic bag; add marinade, turning to coat fish. Cover and refrigerate 3-4 hours or overnight.

Grill fish over medium-high heat about 5 minutes; turn and grill another 2-3 minutes longer or until fish flaked easily with a fork. Serve with Papaya Cheese Salsa. Makes 4 servings.

Papaya Cheese Salsa

2 cups diced papaya, 1/4-inch diced

1 cup diced (1/4-inch) Jack cheese

2 Tbsps. limejuice

2 Tbsps. minced red onions

1 Tbsp. minced cilantro

1 tsp. honey

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients; cover and let stand to allow flavors to blend.

Grilled Salmon with Lemon Mayonnaise

This is a simple recipe but full of flavor! I also like to grill the salmon on cedar planks, adding that extra smoked flavor to them.

4 salmon filets

1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest

2 Tbsps. fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. Spread half of the mixture on the skinless side of the fillets.

Place salmon skin-side down on a pre-heated grill at medium-high heat. Cook for about 4 minutes, until topping is golden and slightly puffed. Serve with remaining lemon mayonnaise mixture. Makes 4 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.