To Boil Fish.
—When boiling fish, to have the water bubble is worse than useless, as it cracks the skin. If fish is put into cold water at first, it, like meat, gets dry (see our article on the principles involved in cooking meat).*1 A compromise is therefore made, and salt is added to the water (use about 1 oz. of salt to each quart of water): it is well also to add about 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to each 2 quarts of water. Vinegar or lemon juice are valuable because albumen coagulates sooner when in contact with an acid, and they thus help to coagulate the surface albumen, and so retain the juices inside. Salt added to the water in which fish is cooked acts in 3 ways, as explained in the article on cooking meats.*1 The old plan has been to put fish into cold water at first, but it is much better to put it into water as hot as the skin will bear without breaking, and this varies with each kind of fish. To break the skin is very undesirable, because it not only makes an unsightly appearance but each crack makes an opening through which the interior juices will escape. Any fish which is to be served without the skin on, like sturgeon or halibut, is best if put into boiling water. Fish having a thick, tough skin, can be put into water at the boiling point. Fish with delicate skins, like trout, mackerel, etc. should be put into warm water - 140° to 150°. If a fish kettle is used, and a fish plate that can be taken up, there is no need of a cloth around the fish, but if it has to be boiled in a common kettle, it should be rolled in a piece of cloth (butter cloth *2 is best) to keep it in shape, and it is likely to be broken when taken from the water, if the cloth is not used. Allow the fish to gently simmer, not actually boil, or the outside will break into pieces before the inside is done. If water is to be added, do not pour it directly on the fish, as that is apt to break the skin; pour it gently in on one side of the kettle. Fish should always be put into the water in which it is to be cooked; if the water is poured upon it, it is apt to become broken. It should not be allowed to remain in the water after it is done; if it has to be kept hot, it should be taken up on a drainer, placed across the fish-kettle over the hot water, and covered with a soft cloth or flannel folded several times, to prevent its losing its color. The reason for skimming is, that the scum will be likely to settle on the fish if that is not done, and give it an unsightly appearance. Save the liquor in which fish has been boiled, as it makes an excellent soup with a few cheap additions.
Boiling is the least desirable way of cooking fish.
The time of boiling depends entirely on the freshness and thickness of the fish, and varies so much that no rule can be given; experience is the only guide. There are three reliable tests by which it can be ascertained if the fish has been sufficiently cooked: First, if the fins will pull out easily; second, if the skin of the fish is cracked; or, third, if a skewer passes easily when run into the fish close to the bone. Too long boiling makes fish "woolly" and tasteless. Fish should be well cooked to be digestible, but should not be overdone. White fish cook much more rapidly than meat. All dark-fleshed fish require more boiling than the white-fleshed kinds. Salmon needs about 10 minutes to each lb. Haddock, cod, etc. only need 2 or 3 minutes to the lb. Mackerel needs about hour. Bass or sheepshead, of 4 or 5 lbs., will boil in about 10 minutes. Herring and many similar fish, in 6 or 8 minutes.
Au Court Bouillon is a term applied when white wine or vinegar and onions and spices are used to flavor the water in which the fish is boiled.
A la bonne eau is a term applied when the fish is simmered in a little water made savory with herbs, and the water in which it is cooked is generally served with it. When sea water is used the fish is said to be a l'Hollandaise.
Au bleu is the term applied when red wine and vinegar are used in the water in which the fish is boiled, and it is also strongly impregnated with herbs. The fish is then generally served cold. Only the best kinds of fish are thus treated.
All boiled fish should have a good sauce served with it. Hollandaise and sauce piquante go well with salmon, oyster, lobster, and shrimp; and drawn butter, egg, pickle, etc., with other fish. Serve the sauce in a sauce-boat unless the fish breaks and looks badly, in which case the bones can be taken out, the fish flaked, piled on a platter lightly, and the sauce poured over it.
Garnish boiled fish with slices of lemon or hard boiled eggs, parsley, button mushrooms, fried oysters, sliced pickles, Saratoga potatoes, etc.
*1 Referenced article has not yet been published to the web. Please check back later for this information.
*2 It is unclear what a "butter cloth" is. Smileys itself on page 194 calls for a piece of muslin to be wrapped around fresh made butter. From online, WebExhibits (an online museum created by Michael Douma and produced by the Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement, 2007) describes a process used prior to 1890 whereby brine was poured on top of butter when it was sold in wooden tubs, with a white cloth laid across the brine. Salt was then sprinkled across the cloth and rubbed until a paste resulted on top of the cloth. When the wooden tub was opened, the cloth could be pulled off, leaving the butter with a smooth, clean surface. However, Smileys's was published after 1890. Smileys's may intend the cook to simply use a smooth cooking cloth, or perhaps a cloth impregnated with salt or butter, or something else entirely unknown to us today.
All text information above the dashed line taken from pages 50-51 of Smiley, ed. Smiley's CookBook and Universal Household Guide: The Toronto Daily Star Edition. Chicago: Smiley Publishing Company, 1901. The background image of fish is taken from a plate in Smileys facing page 48. The editor of this site claims no copyright for the image.
All italics in original.
This information is provided for your curiosity and viewing pleasure. Reading it provides insight about historical household management in 1901. Reliance upon the information presented here, or attempting to prepare any recipe on this site, shall be at your own risk. CatamountClyde Studio and Gallery, its heirs and assigns, shall not be held liable for any injury or damages resulting from preparation of this recipe or use of this information.
Copyright Notice and Warning: The recipe and/or cooking information, in plain text, and as taken directly from Smileys, as well as the background image taken from Smileys,, are not copyright and may be freely distributed, so long as credit is given to this website. If reproduced online, a link must be provided to this website. Any text or background image appearing above the dashed line may be used; However, any one using said text or images is responsible for any injury or damages resulting from that use, and shall hold CatamountClyde Studio and Gallery, its heirs and assigns, harmless therefrom. NO GRAPHIC LOGO IMAGES APPEARING ANYWHERE ON THIS PAGE AND NO TEXT APPEARING BELOW THE DASHED LINE MAY BE USED WITHOUT PRIOR EXPRESS, WRITTEN PERMISSION of CatamountClyde Studio and Gallery at catamountclyde at yahoo dot com. Copyright to all graphic images and all text appearing below the dashed line are held by CatamountClyde Studio and Gallery, 2007, in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.