Let’s talk fish: not the pretty ones living in the saltwater aquarium that cause me such angst when my husband is traveling & I’m charge of keeping them alive, but the ones you dream of finding perfectly cooked and seasoned on your dinner plate.
The majority of my conversations as of late revolve around food and recipes. Over the past couple weeks as I have broached the subject of food likes and dislikes with friends and potential clients, the fish category has evoked the most discussion (with lamb being second on the list). The majority of the replies regarding preparing fish at home fall into two categories: “Well, I like fish if it isn’t fishy.” “I like to eat fish when I go out, but I don’t know how to buy or prepare fish.”
If your reply falls into either of those two categories, read on! You can be enjoying a serving of fish that you have quickly prepared at home tonight.
Let’s start with the “rules” for buying fish fillets at the grocery store or at the fishmonger. I’m going to leave the rules for choosing and preparing whole fish for another time.
Where are you buying your fish fillets?
- Employees should be in clean clothing, wearing a hat or hair net, have no open wounds and should be wearing disposable gloves.
- The fish should be displayed on a thick bed of fresh (not melting) ice, preferably in a case or under some type of cover.
- The fish should be arranged “belly down” in a case that drains the ice away from the fish reducing the chance of spoilage.
- Do not buy from vendors selling from pick-up trucks. Buy from reputable sources.
- Get to know your vendor. Talk to him/her. Ask what just arrived and is freshest. (It’s tempting to buy that fish that has been marked way down, but chances are it is about to meet the garbage can at the store if it doesn’t go home with you right then.)
Choose the right fresh fillet:
- Fish fillets should be firm and shiny. Dull flesh = old fish.
- There should NOT be dark, brown or yellowish discoloration around the edges of the fillet. Look for consistent coloring throughout the fillet.
- If you get any whiff of an ammonia-like smell, it is bad.
- The fillet should smell fresh and mild. It should NOT smell fishy.
- If there is any milky-looking liquid on the fish, that is a sign of spoilage.
Tips for choosing frozen fillets:
- Make sure the package is sealed.
- If you see frost or ice crystals inside the package, that indicates that the fish has been stored a long time or has been thawed and refrozen. Do not buy that package.
- Look for fillets that are tightly individually sealed within the package.
- Choose packages that are in the back of the display case or on the bottom of the pile. The ones closest to the frost line or in the front of the case have been exposed to more temperature changes.
Make your seafood counter the last stop on your shopping trip. Ask your vendor to place the fish in a bag and then place a little ice inside another bag to keep the fish at the proper temperature for your trip home.
Once you get home:
- If you are going to use the fish within 2 days of purchase, place it in the coldest part of the refrigerator or in the “meat keeper” drawer.
- If it is going to be longer than 2 days, wrap it tightly in moisture-proof freezer paper or foil and store it in the freezer. (Defrost it in the refrigerator overnight.)
- Prep everything you will need for your meal while you keep the fish in the refrigerator. Do NOT leave the fish out at room temperature.
- Always rinse your fish fillets with cool, clean running water and pat them dry with a paper towel before you begin seasoning.
I’m going to share two quick, easy recipes to get you started; one for a mild white fish, such as tilapia, and one for salmon.
You will know the fish is “done” when you slip the tip of a sharp knife into the center of the flesh and pull it aside and see that the edges are opaque and the center is slightly translucent with flakes beginning to separate. Fish will continue to “cook” a bit after you take it out of the oven.
SUPER Simple “Can’t Mess It Up” Oven Tilapia:
- Tilapia Fillets
- Olive Oil
- Fresh Garlic, Minced
- Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper Seasoning
- Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
- Lemon Wedges
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Rinse the tilapia fillets under cool running water. Place them on a paper towel and pat both sides dry.
- Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Rub a teeny bit of olive oil over both sides of the fillets and place them on the baking sheet. Rub the garlic into one or both sides of the fillets.
- Sprinkle both sides of the fillets with the lemon pepper seasoning.
- Bake the fillets for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.
- Serve with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and lemon wedges.
Super Simple Oven Baked Salmon:
- 6 to 8 ounce Salmon Fillets
- Olive Oil
- Fresh Garlic, Minced
- Fresh Parsley, Oregano and/or Basil or Dill (If you choose dill, don’t use the other herbs) finely chopped
- Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1/2 Tablespoon per fillet)
- Lemon Wedges
- Rinse the fillets under cool, running water. Place them on a paper towel and pat both sides dry. (NOTE: If the fish has skin on one side, go with it. It’ll come right off the skin after you bake it.)
- Rub a little bit of olive oil on both sides of the fillet. Rub in the garlic and herb of your choice. Squeeze the lemon over the fish.
- Place the fillets in a single layer in a glass dish or ziploc bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. (Don’t leave them in the lemon juice for more than an hour or two.)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Prepare pieces of aluminum foil that are big enough to wrap the fish in for cooking. Place one fillet in the center of each piece of foil. Pull the sides of the foil up around the fish and then fold the aluminum foil over at the top of the fish to make it tightly sealed.
- Place the foil fish packets on a baking tray and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. Be careful! There will be steam when you open the packages.
- Season with salt and pepper and serve with lemon wedges, if desired.
If you’ve been afraid to buy and prepare fish, I hope this helps you get started. Let me know how it goes and if you have any specific questions, feel free to e-mail them to me and I will do my best to give you a quick reply!
Fish is a simple, healthy answer to the “What’s for dinner?” question. If you follow these guidelines, the fishy-fish worries should be long gone!