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Fish Cooking Basics

More and more Americans are realizing that fish is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet and many are quite adept at cooking their fish and seafood so that it’s not only healthy but delicious as well. However, if you’ve just recently added fish to your diet, you may be hard-pressed to figure out the best ways to prepare your selections. While the staff behind the grocery store fish counter might be able to help, it’s a good idea, nonetheless, to read up on the particulars of cooking fish. These basics will help you produce a good end result and will also provide ideas for variety as you cook, so that you’re not always preparing your fish in the same manner.

Methods of Preparation

Most types of fish can be cooked in a variety of ways for a different taste each time you make it. Simple is the name of the game as fish is tasty and healthy on its own and doesn’t need a lot of embellishment. Of course, you will encounter recipes that will tell you exactly how to prepare your fish, but here are a few guidelines.

o Saute or Pan Fry – This is one of the most popular ways to prepare fish and can be very healthy as long as you use oil that’s low in saturated fat, like olive oil. This method works best with lean steaks or fillets. To sauté or pan fry, you really don’t need to do anything but season the fish with salt and pepper, but if you prefer, you can bread it as you would chicken. Simply dip it in egg and breadcrumbs and place in the pan. Be sure the oil is hot but not smoking hot or the outside of the fish will cook and the inside will not. If the oil is medium hot, it should take about 6-7 minutes on each side for the fish to be fully cooked.

o Baking – This is also a simple preparation method. Rinse and dry the fish and place it on an oiled pan in a 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Season it as you wish before placing it in the oven. Be careful not to over-bake as the fish will become dry and lose its flakiness.

o Broiling – Similar to baking, first rinse and dry the fish and place it on a greased broiler or baking pan. Cooking spray works well for this method. Always place the fish skin side down and broil on low for about 6-8 minutes per inch of thickness. Watch it carefully as the outside can burn quickly in the broiler.

o Grilling – In the summertime or any time the weather is pleasant, the opportunity to grill fish outdoors results in a tasty and healthy end result. You’ll probably want to use foil or a grill basket as flaky fish can easily fall through the grates though firmer fish, like tuna or salmon, can go directly on the grill. Use medium heat and flip it only once to avoid breakage. Cook it until it is just opaque throughout. For variety, marinate it for about 30 minutes before grilling.

o Poaching – This is a great way to cook fish and adds lots of flavor, depending on the liquid you use for cooking. Fill a pot with enough liquid (wine, milk, stock) to cover the fish. Cover the pan with an airtight lid and cook to just below the boiling point. After it cooks, you can use the poaching liquid as a base for all kinds of sauces.   

o Boiling – This method applies only to shellfish not to other kinds of fish like fillets or steaks. Place the shellfish in boiling water and cook until the outer shells turn red or orange.

o Steaming – In steaming, the fish never actually touches the water but is cooked by the steam released by the water. Simply but the fish on a rack inside the pot, over boiling water. Cover the pot and let steam for about 15 minutes for most fish fillets, less for shellfish.

o Microwaving – When you’re in a hurry, you can indeed use your microwave to prepare your fish for the evening’s meal. Choose any shallow microwaveable dish and place a small amount of liquid inside, perhaps about a quarter-inch. Place the fish in the dish in a single layer, cover with plastic wrap, punch a few holes in the top to vent, and microwave on high for about 3-4 minutes per pound. Don’t season the fish until after it’s cooked and turn it only once to avoid breaking and insure even cooking.