Go to the poultry and seafood sections of any supermarket and there they will be: shelves of fish filets or chicken parts, packed in manageable sizes for the lone diner or the cook who does not want to handle a whole fish or break down a whole chicken.
I admit that some nights after work, I take the path of least resistance and buy a piece of fish for dinner, or some chicken thighs and legs.
Convenience is key, as I usually cook for one.
While I am still not up to getting a hunk of ribeye or striploin, I think buying a whole bird or fish makes a lot of sense.
It is economical and there are extras that can be used creatively to make more meals. A whole chicken, for example, can yield so much more than a tray of parts will.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: MISO ORANGE SALMON
100g awase miso
500-600g salmon, skin-on,
2 tsp cooking oil
1 Tbs toasted black sesame seeds
2-3 stalks scallions, sliced
1. The night before serving, make the marinade: Zest the orange, then juice it. Pour zest and juice into a small mixing bowl. Add the miso and honey. Whisk until all the ingredients are well-incorporated. Set aside.
2. Wash the salmon under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Run your index finger down the thicker side of the fillet to feel for pin bones. Pull them out with tweezers or your fingers.
3. Pour the marinade into a resealable plastic bag, then place the salmon in it. Use your fingers to coat the fish with the marinade. Seal the bag and marinate in the fridge overnight.
4. Remove the salmon from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking. Preheat an oven to 200 deg C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper or foil. Brush the oil over the paper or foil.
5. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the tray and cook in the oven for 10 minutes. I used a whole fillet weighing 550g from a 2kg salmon, but the rule of thumb is to cook the salmon for about five minutes for every 1cm of thickness.
6. While the salmon is cooking, strain the leftover marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until it becomes a thickish paste.
7. Remove the salmon from the oven after 10 minutes. Spoon some of the thickened marinade over the fish and return to the oven for five more minutes, or 10 if you want the middle fully cooked..
8. Transfer the fish onto a serving platter. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and scallions over the fish. Serve immediately.
Spatchcock the bird by removing the backbone and cracking the breast bone and the chicken will roast more quickly.
The backbone, head and feet can go into the stockpot.
Or, debone the bird and divide the white and dark meat among freezer bags for stir-fries, and throw the bones into the pot too.
With fish, it is pretty much the same thing. You pay a premium if you buy fish that is already filleted and packed in trays.
But buying a whole fish does not mean you have to wrestle with it at home.
Supermarkets will remove the scales from the fish and divide it into filets or steaks, which is when they cut the fish crosswise.
Always ask for the head to be split in half, so it cooks more quickly, and keep the bones too. These are a cook's very welcome extras.
I rub salt onto the head, leave it to sit for about 30 minutes, then wipe it dry with paper towels.
A little salt goes onto the bones, which still have a lot of flesh on them, and everything goes into a 200 deg C oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
Then, all the fish offcuts need is a squeeze of lemon and they are ready to be eaten with some grated daikon drizzled with shoyu, or Japanese soya sauce.
These bits and pieces can also go into a substantial miso soup with tofu and leeks for a warming dinner on a rainy day, or braise them nitsuke-style, with shoyu, mirin, sake, water and ginger for another easy dinner.
This week, I am using a whole salmon filet for a quick and easy meal.
Supermarkets sell whole salmon that weigh 2 to 4kg each.
They can scale and fillet the fish in less than 10 minutes, and I am soon on my way with a bag of head and bones and two beautifully trimmed filets.
My 2kg salmon yields filets that weigh just more than 500g each, and one of these is perfect for four people.
Double the recipe if you are expecting company or have ravenous family members.
Just steam a bunch of asparagus and make couscous and dinner is ready in a jiffy.
Couscous is dead easy to make and requires only a soak in hot water or stock. Follow the instructions on the box.
I stir in toasted sliced or slivered almonds, dried cranberries and some scallions, and add a squeeze of lemon juice.
The marinade for the fish is a simple one with just three ingredients: orange, miso and honey.
Zest the orange before squeezing out the juice as the zest adds a fresh vibe to the dish.
I use shiro or white miso for the first few tries, but the flavour is a bit elusive.
Awase miso, a combination or two or more types of the fermented soya bean paste, gives a much better result without adding too much saltiness.
Finally, honey helps with the caramelisation, which makes the fish look appetising.
Even if I have not convinced you to buy a whole fish, the marinade can be halved for smaller pieces of the fish.
But you will be missing out on the offcuts, and that would be a pity.