The freshest fish might be frozen

Is it possible that frozen fish could be the freshest fish? The label on the package of a new frozen fish product seems to say yes. The product, called ''Today's Catch,'' has a catchy slogan that says ''possibly fresher than fresh.''

The people who sell the fish have researched the question and they're right, it is a possibility. They explain it this way.

''Fish that's called fresh can sit on ice on the boat for days and could be as much as a week old by the time it gets to market,'' said Ernie Townsend, vice-president of marketing for Van de Kamp's Frozen Foods.

''Fish tastes better right out of the water, and this fish is frozen at sea moments after it's caught,'' he said at a press conference.

''Fresh-caught fish that are used immediately and held in ice thereafter will remain of high quality (US Grade A) for eight to nine days and of edible quality for about two weeks,'' according to an article in Marine Fisheries Review by Louis J. Fonsivalli, former director of the National Marine Fisheries Services, Gloucester, Mass.

''At the other extreme, if fish are properly packaged, brought to a temperature of -20 degrees F., and held at that temperature or below, they will retain their higher quality for more than one year and will remain edible for much longer.''

This fish is caught in North Atlantic waters for the most part, by Japanese fishermen, and five kinds of fish are available: cod, baby sole, perch, whiting, and flounder. Haddock and other kinds of fish will be added to the line.

Barbara Kafka, a New York restaurant and food writer and consultant for the new product, put on a demonstration at a press luncheon here at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

She points out that the fish is flash frozen on the fishing boats under top quality conditions and each fillet is individually wrapped.

''It's a real convenience food,'' she said. ''Unlike other frozen fish, it isn't necessary to thaw a whole package if only part will be used. You may take out what you need and return the rest to the freezer.

''Packed fresh without any coating or batter, the fillets are ideal for adding different sauces, and they are a wonderful convenience for the busy person without time to cook.''

''There's no need to thaw this fish, so you're saving all the natural juices, as well as lots of time,'' she said.

Some of the dishes Barbara has developed are Steamed Perch Fillets With Beurre Blanc and Saffron; Fried Flounder With Fried Parsley; Curry of Cod; and Quick Bourride With Aioli Sauce.

Although she is an advocate of fresh natural foods, Barbara Kafka does not take a rigid stand in defense of fresh against frozen.

''Frozen peas, for example are certainly a time-saver, especially in midwinter, and I'd be inclined to use a good quality canned tomato rather than a poor quality fresh one out of season,'' she said.

Barbara Kafka was a consultant for New York restaurants Windows on the World and Le Plaisir, among others. She was also the editor of ''The Four Seasons Cookbook.''

She recently invented a cordless whisk, and she's the owner of Star Spangled Foods, a shop for regional American foods ''that are in some way better than most,'' in New York City.

A free recipe folder, ''Fresh Ideas From Van de Kamp's,'' is available from Dan Barnett, Van de Kamp Frozen Foods, PO Box 1451, Long Beach, Calif. 90803.

Van de Kamp's distributes more than 35 frozen entrees and dinners internationally. This one is different from most other frozen fish because each fillet is individually wrapped and because the fish is not coated with a batter or covering of any kind.

Today's Catch fish is now available in the New England states and in Arizona, and further expansion is planned.

Here is Barbara Kafka's recipe for Curry of Cod. Curry of Cod 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 4 medium mushrooms with stems, sliced 2 1/2 teaspooons curry powder Juice of 1 lemon 12 ounces frozen cod fillets 1/2 cup water 6 nickel-size slices ginger, cut into thirds 10-ounce package frozen peas 1/4 packed cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves 1 teaspoon kosher salt 6 canned Italian plum tomatoes, drained, crushed 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)

Heat butter in 8-inch skillet; add mushrooms, curry powder, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring over medium heat 2 minutes. Keep stirring to avoid burning.

Add still-frozen fish in a layer over mushrooms. Add water and scrape with wooden spoon to deglaze skillet. Cover pan and simmer 3 minutes.

Turn fish, add ginger and cilantro, and cook 3 minutes more. Carefully remove fish to a warm plate.

Defrost peas in a sieve under hot running water. Add with salt and tomatoes to the pan. Cook about 2 minutes; stir in extra butter to enrich sauce.

To serve, spoon sauce over brown or white rice. Top with cooked fillets. Serves 4. Fried Flounder With Fried Parsley 4 cups vegetable oil 3 large eggs 1 1/4 cups plain bread crumbs 12 ounces frozen baby flounder fillets 1 bunch parsley, stems removed, dry 3 lemons, halved Place oil in a deep 10-inch skillet to reach a depth of 1 inch and heat until bubbles will quickly form on the end of a wooden spoon inserted into the oil.

Scramble eggs with a fork in a deep bowl and place crumbs in a flat pan.

Dip still-frozen fish, one at a time, first into the egg to coat, then into bread crumbs. Coat amply, then shake to remove excess. Place the fish in the hot oil, cooking half at a time.

After 1 minute, turn carefully with a pancake turner to brown other side. Cook another 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove with pancake turner, letting fat drip back into pan. Place on paper towels.Cook remaining fish.

Standing back from the skillet, drop parsley into the fat and cook until very dark green. Drain over the pan, then on paper towels.

Serve two fillets per person with some of the fried parsley and a lemon half. Serves 6. Pan Fried Fillets With Ginger Sauce 12 ounces frozen cod or fish fillets 2 tablespoons oil 1 teaspoon minced ginger 1 green onion, thinly sliced 3 teaspoons shredded or diced bamboo shoots 1/8 teaspoon five-spice powder 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1/2 cup chicken stock 3 tablespoons soy sauce 2 teaspoons water if necessary

Heat oil in skillet or wok and fry fish 5 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Remove from heat and sprinkle ginger, green onion, bamboo shoots, and five-spice powder over fish.

Dissolve cornstarch in chicken stock and soy sauce, pour over fish, and bring quickly to a boil. Cover and simmer gently 5 minutes. Serve with steamed rice.

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