From cooking it to eating it, I have people tell me constantly they have a fear of fish. And no matter how many times I hear it, I always go wide-eyed when someone utters the words, "Cooking fish seems too difficult" or "Fish grosses me out." Lets get two things straight: 1) Fish is easier to cook than any other meat. For instance, the most popular cooked meat - chicken - often has a long cook time, can be over or under cooked very easily, and has to be overly seasoned to even have flavor and 2) Fish is the cleanest, freshest of all meats. If you can eat slimy, grimy, often over-processed chicken, believe me, you can eat fish. Think about it: a lot of chicken comes from dirty, smelly, over-populated farms, whereas fish comes from large, clear, open water. Not to mention, it's the source that makes up the majority of the earth and our bodies, so it only makes sense to eat what comes from water! Now, I'm not trying to dis chicken or say it's not worth cooking. I just think fish is cleaner, purer, healthier, and because it can be simply seasoned and cooks quickly, it makes life easier.
You may be shaking your head right now thinking, what does she know about being a beginner cook or a picky eater? I'm here to tell you, not too long ago I was both. The first time I cooked fish I will never forget thinking, wow - that was the quickest, easiest meal I have ever made! As a recipe writer, the one question I get asked most is: What are the quickest, easiest recipes? My answer is and will always be: fish. It does not require a long cook time, plus it's already fresh with tons of clean flavor so salt, pepper, and olive oil are usually all that's required to cook it.
As for picky eating, it's something I am now somewhat ashamed of and also something I currently have a lower tolerance for. When someone tells me they don't like fish, the first thing I am going to ask them is: Have you tried good-quality, fresh fish and have you tried every type of fish in the world? When I personally "didn't like fish," it was because I had never had a fresh, well-cooked piece and had only ever been exposed to low-quality types. As a recovered picky eater, I'm a strong believer that you're not allowed to say you don't like something unless you've tried it, and my guess would be 99% of people who claim to not like fish haven't tried them all. Hell, I haven't even tried them all. But I can say, I have broadened my horizons. Close-minded thinking gets us nowhere in life.
Ok, enough lecturing, lets talk fish!!!
Choose your Swimmers Wisely
If you aren't fond of fish, it's important for your first experience to be the freshest. And lets be real, if you are fond of fish, it's still a must to always shop for good quality, fresh creatures so you never have an off-putting experience so you'll continue to love it.
- Shop local or stores known for fresh food - I prefer my fish to be from a local store or farmer's market. However, if that's not an option, I hit up Whole Foods or Fresh Market.
- Be mindful of where your fish came from - Most good stores will have each fish's origin labeled. If they don't, ask the fishmonger.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions - Ask when the fish was delivered and how long it's been there. There is no harm in that, and you're buying it, so you have a right to know. Most stores will have certain days and times when special, unique fish are delivered. Ask what days different types of fish are available.
- Be observant - One thing I know for sure is that most of the time, all you have to do is look at and smell a piece fish to know if it's fresh or not. Don't go to the store with a certain type of fish in mind. Look at them first, and choose the one that looks the freshest.
Get to Know your Swimmers
There are more fish in the world that I can discuss in one post, so I'm going to avoid boring you (and pretending I know what I'm talking about) and just cut to the chase. These are the most popular fish, the ones you'll most likely be able to find, and my personal favorites.
Branzino - If you have never eaten fish in your life because "you don't think you like it," this is the number one fish I recommend to warm yourself up. Branzino is a European or Mediterranean sea bass, and in my opinion, the best fish on God's green and blue earth. You will often find it at authentic Italian restaurants as it's a very popular dish in Italy. It's not easy to find because it comes from way across the ocean, but Whole Foods has a shipment once a week so check your local stores. This fish is best roasted whole, stuffed with citrus and herbs, sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil. Ask your fishmonger to fillet it if you don't wish to deal with bones. For a filleted branzino, I recommend roasting or grilling it with the skin on. Hands down, though, my favorite way to cook this fish is to simply roast it with a sprinkle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a fresh herb like thyme. And in true Italian form, before serving, drizzle the baked fish with more olive oil. Melt. In. Your. Mouth. Delicious! Try my Lemon Herb Branzino over Wine Balsamic Collards!
Tuna - This is another fish for people who are scared of eating anything from the sea. But don't go overcooking it, thinking that taking the pink rawness out will make it better. Tuna should be served rare - seared over high heat for one minute on each side. Did you know overcooking fish actually makes it taste fishier? Well, now you do, and tuna is at the top of that list. When most unseasoned fish eaters think of tuna, they think of what's in the can. No sir, no mam, please don't say that ever again. A good quality tuna filet will not smell fishy and it won't have a strong flavor. It will quite actually have the cleanest, softest, subtle flavor. I've always said to people, you know something is clean and good for you if your breath doesn't stink after eating it. Your breath will feel so fresh and so clean clean after eating tuna. That's how pure it is. Try my Tuna with Mojito Sauce and see for yourself!
Trout - There are several different types of trout you may see when you're fish shopping, and you may notice several different colors: pink, white, and orange. But in my experience, they all taste fairly similar. The best way to describe trout is a mix between salmon and char. The flavor of trout is buttery, nutty, and delicate. I always say, if you like salmon, you'll like trout. The only difference is salmon typically has more body and thickness and is not quite as delicate as trout. Trout is great cooked various ways but best smoked, pan seared, roasted with butter, and my personal favorite, blackened.
Salmon - It's not for everyone, but I have to admit, it's one of my favorite types of fish for numerous reasons. It's easy to find, extremely versatile when it comes to serving with different sauces and sides, and most importantly, it's easy to cook restaurant style. I have mastered the absolute best way to cook salmon, and because it's so perfectly cooked and delicious, we eat it sometimes twice a week. I'm very passionate about this cooking method, and I promise if you cook it this way, you will never cook it any other way. Try my Balsamic Salmon with Tomato and Avocado Salad for the perfect technique and a pretty delicious side to go with it!
Sea Bass - Just because a person lectures people on how to like fish doesn't mean they have to love them all. While I like sea bass, it's certainly not my favorite, but I must be the crazy one because it's one of the most popular and more expensive types of fish. There are many types of sea bass - black sea bass and striped sea bass being the two most common. You may see Chilean sea bass on fancy restaurant menus, but you'll pay for it and you're actually eating a Patagonian toothfish. Anyway, before I start talking too much about something I only know a little about, a sea bass is a firm fish that becomes flaky and someone oily when cooked and has a buttery, mouth-coating, rich flavor. It's best cooked pan-seared or baked in the oven.
Snapper - Red snapper is another one of my favorite types of fish. Seriously, if you ever go to the Gulf (Destin, Orange Beach, Seaside, etc) on holiday, I highly recommend staying in a condo and cooking fresh Gulf red snapper for dinner one night. There are fish markets galore where you can buy it, and you won't find it fresher! The flavor or red snapper is mild and clean and the texture is thin and flaky. My favorite way to cook snapper is to roast it. Try my Roasted Red Snapper with White Balsamic Tomatoes recipe!
Catfish - Here in the south, catfish is as common as fried chicken and BBQ. It's not always the most appealing fish and can even be somewhat to blame for all the close-minded, fish haters out there, but if cooked correctly and not eaten at a fast food joint, you will probably like it. Catfish can often have a slightly fishy flavor and some have even described it as tasting mucky or dirty, which is why the stuff is often fried. However, a good quality piece of catfish will also have a very minimal, smooth flavor. I always recommend frying catfish and serving it over a bed of greens or grits but it's also great grilled or blackened.
Halibut - Halibut was one of the first fish dishes that helped me overcome the fear of eating sea creatures, so I always highly recommend it for picky eaters. It's a firm, lean, white fish that becomes soft and flaky when cooked. It has a very light, simple, sweet flavor when cooked correctly. That's one negative of halibut, it can be easily overcooked so you have to watch it closely. Another negative is it can sometimes be quite expensive; however, it's one of the easiest eating pieces of fish so for first-time fish cookers, I say go for it. My favorite way to cook halibut is by marinating it with light ingredients such as lemon, olive oil, and herbs then searing it, grilling it, or roasting it and serving with lemon butter and olives, and capers. Or try my Mango Salsa Halibut with Pink Peppercorn Brussel Salad, and bonus: read more about my picky eating habits on this post.
Haddock - I was most recently introduced to haddock while on a trip to Ireland, Scotland, and England. While I had seen and heard of the fish before, I had never really given it a try, but fell in love with it across the pond. Haddock is found in the North Atlantic Ocean (hence eating it in the UK), and the texture is similar to cod, yet finer and more tender when cooked. It has a simple, delicate, and someone sweet flavor similar to cod but more interesting. You can do just about everything with haddock that you can do with cod. The best ways we had it were smoked, roasted, fried for fish and chips, and baked in a fish pie.
Cod - Cod may be one of the most versatile fish types to cook because it's a blank slate when you get it and you can do just about anything with it. It's white, meaty and also has a reputation for being uber healthy. Cod is very mild and simple, so it can sometimes be bland unless seasoned properly. One way to overcome that is to salt and pepper it well and roast with loads of herbs like thyme, oregano, and parsley. And don't forget a drizzle of olive oil at the end. If any of your fish dishes lack flavor at the end, a drizzle of olive oil over the top will put you right back on track. Try my version: Roasted Lemon Cod with Olive Salad. Cod also the most common fish used for frying up fish and chips, and in my opinion, it's the best fish used for just that.
Swordfish - Swordfish is large and meaty, almost like a steak. It's moist and sweet in flavor with a higher fat content than most fish. You may notice when shopping for it that it's color can vary. Don't be alarmed, if it's orange, white, or pink, it will still taste the same. Because it's so large and meaty, it's usually recommend to cook on the grill and that's the only way I have ever cooked it!
Grouper - When I think of grouper, I think of momma. She cooks it a lot and loves it. Grouper is a lean and firm fish with an easy going, mild flavor. This is a fish that's not fishy and easy to eat. If you like it, move on to halibut or bass. It's similar to those two fish. Momma has a great grouper recipe that I'll get from her soon to share with y'all!
Now, get out and cook and eat some fish y'all!! Quit being little scaredy cats! Cats aren't even scared of fish... They love it! And so will you!
CHEERS TO HAPPY FISH EATING!!!