The Century Cook Book circa 1894
Fish cannot be too fresh. The sooner it is eaten after coming out of the water the better.
In selecting fish for the table see that the flesh is firm, the eyes bright, the gills red, and the fins stiff. Nothing deteriorates more quickly than fish; as soon as it has lost its first freshness it has also lost its delicate flavor, and moreover becomes decidedly unwholesome.
The principal ways of cooking fish are Frying, Boiling, Broiling, Baking and Stewing, and with but a few exceptions all varieties can be rendered palatable by any of the above processes.
In preparing fish for cooking, cleanse and wash thoroughly in cold water, be careful not to bruise or break, and do not leave it in water longer than is absolutely necessary, as it destroys the flavor. An exception can be made in case of some varieties of fresh water fish which have a muddy flavor. These can be dressed, washed, and left in salt and water for two or three hours. Be sure and have cold water.
In boiling fish a fish kettle with a perforated bottom is a great convenience, but is not absolutely indispensable. Fish can be boiled very nicely in a deep dripping pan by wrapping it up in a thin cloth and if the pan is not deep enough to cover the fish is can be turned over once or twice.
The time required to boil a medium sized fish is from twenty to thirty minutes if the water is kept bubbling all the time. But the surest test is to insert the blade of a knife between the fish and the bone; if it flakes readily and separates easily it is ready to take from the fire.
Fish that is to be broiled whole should be split down the back.
With regard to sauces for fish it is difficult to give advice. There are many who would consider fish served without sauce utterly flat, stale and unprofitable. And again there are others, and they are by no means in the minority, who assume that delicate flavors are disguised if not utterly destroyed by the addition of highly flavored sauces.
As a rule people who live near a seashore, and who can obtain fish in the highest state of excellence, seldom use anything besides pepper and salt as seasoning. It is therefore a nice plan for the cook to study the tastes of those to whom she caters.