The other day someone asked me, “What do I do to cover up the smell of fish? I like it, but sometimes it just tastes and smells too strong.”

Pause. Beat. “Ahhh, OK, how ’bout let’s talk about how to buy fish first.” Because it shouldn’t smell fishy at all. The adjectives and phrases that should be coming to mind are something in the vicinity of briny, salty, like the sea, like an ocean breeze that travels across the water picking up moisture and the scent of its inhabitants. NOT, “Whew! Dang, this stinks! But maybe I’ll eat it anyway.”

That’s true for the taste of fish as well. It should feel silky on your tongue, have almost melt-in-your-mouth texture and a suggestion of the sea that doesn’t hit you over the head with a low-tide mouthful.

To buy fish well, you must ask to smell it before you buy it. (See above for what it should smell like.) You must also look at it. You want pieces that are full, firm and shiny, but not watery. They shouldn’t be dry on the surface or be in any way falling apart. If you are buying whole fish, look at the eyes. They should be clear, not opaque. Don’t be afraid to offend the fishmonger, the good ones understand. Even the smell of the store is a hint. It should be and smell clean and yes, with a hint of fish, because after all that’s what they are selling, but the scent of ocean is what should come to mind when you walk in the door.

Be brave and ask questions. Develop a relationship with your local fishmonger. Who knows, they might even grant you a fish story or two.

SALMON WITH THAI YOGURT SAUCE

Salmon has to be one of my favorite fishes for its assertive yet not overpowering flavor, its versatility to receive and match a breadth of pairings from spicy to sweet and most things in between, and for its color; it’s rare to find a fish that needs less fussing with to make the plate look eye-catching.
If the weather takes a turn toward ridiculously hot again, it’s possible to cook the salmon ahead in the morning and serve it cold. Again, stove top would work at medium to medium-low heat, and cover the salmon once the liquid is at a low simmer. Watch the cooking time, which may be shortened by the direct heat and the need to allow for the salmon to continue cooking once it is removed from the heat and is cooling down.

SALMON:
2 pounds salmon fillets, cut into four pieces
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons white wine

Preheat oven to 375. Put the salmon in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan, preferably a non-reactive one – enamel or ceramic. Drizzle the lemon juice, olive oil and white wine over the salmon and season with salt and pepper. Let the salmon sit for 15 minutes, then bake, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Take the fish out when it is still a somewhat darker pink in the center. It will continue to cook when you remove it from the oven, so take it out before it’s quite done.

CILANTRO AND TOMATO YOGURT SAUCE:

This sauce is extremely amenable to creativity and play. Add cucumbers, mint, basil, jalapeno and/or avocado, leave out the tomatoes, replace the lime with lemon. The most important part is to drain the whey from the yogurt to thicken it. The basic idea is a tzatziki of sorts, which is a Lebannese cucumber, garlic and yogurt sauce on which this is a riff.

1 cup yogurt
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered, about 6 to 8 tomatoes
Pinch of salt and sugar
Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Drain the yogurt in a fine meshed colander or sieve for 30 minutes. Discard the whey and mix the yogurt with the rest of the ingredients.
Makes about 1 cup.

ROASTED SWEET POTATOES

Sweet potatoes are full of nutrients, skin included. Keep the skin on; it adds a nice texture and isn’t at all objectionable. If you aren’t quite ready to turn the oven on for this length of time, sweet potatoes take the transition to stove top fairly well. Substitute half canola oil for the sesame oil so that it doesn’t smoke when you heat the oil and the pan. Add the sesame oil after the potatoes go in. Be sure canola oil and pan are hot over medium to medium-high heat before you add the sweet potatoes. Let a skin develop before using a spatula to turn them in the pan. Then add sesame oil.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, about 3 sweet potatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick, skin on
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Spread sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place on center rack of oven. Roast for 40 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
Serves four to six.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]