Getting the Best Out of Your Fish

How to use the best cooking methods for the most popular fish and make delicious healthy meals

Roughly three billion people rely on fish every day as their main source of protein, and with good reason.

High in protein, low in fat, and packed with omega-3 fatty acids and multiple vitamins, fish is an excellent source of nutrients. Research suggests that eating fish can improve cardiovascular health, prenatal and postnatal neurological development, and brain function.

Besides that, many species of fish provide the foundation of numerous flavorful dishes. From curries to pasta dishes to bisques, there are about as many ways to cook seafood as there are fish in the sea.

Of course, each fish has its own unique nutritional properties, and not every method of cooking will bring out the best in your choice of seafood.

So what are the best ways to cook these foods?

Well, that depends on which fish you’ve selected, what health benefits you’re after, and your preferred methods of cooking.

Luckily, there are a lot of options, so read on to find out how some of the most popular fish can be cooked to perfection to satisfy your taste buds and your body.

The Most Popular Fish in the United States

That’s a lot of fish.

But of course, most of that is made up of the most popular catches. While any number of fish are technically edible, there are some — say, goldfish, for example — which you wouldn’t want within ten miles of your kitchen unless it was to decorate the windowsill.

However, there are some fish that, when cooked properly and seasoned well, can be, and often are, impossibly delicious. All it takes to get this out of your next fish dinner is a little know-how.

Here are a few of those.

Shrimp

American's consumed 719,840 tons of shrimp

Shrimp is a huge part of the cuisines of the Southern United States, where much of the domestic catch comes from, and in coastal areas and popular dishes all around the country.

Shrimp can be fried, boiled, baked, grilled, and eaten raw, and they’re high in omega-3s, iodine, protein, and calcium.

Tuna

Tuna is one of the most popular fish in the world, and it’s pretty obvious why. With toothsome, tender flesh, a delicate but distinctive flavor, and huge nutritional benefits, any fan of fish in the kitchen would be a fool to ignore this excellent fish.

Available in large cutlets, it makes a terrific fish steak, and in smaller cuts, it’s a very popular sushi fish. 

Where to find blue fin tuna

But far and away the most popular — and easiest — form in which to find tuna is in a can.

americans eat 2.1 pounds of tuna per year

A go-to for simple meals like salads and sandwiches, and often found in casseroles and other baked dishes, it can most commonly be found in Yellowfin, Skipjack, Albacore, and Southern Bluefin varieties.

Salmon

Salmon is an immensely popular fish in the US, widely available in cans, smoked, fresh, or dried.

Because it’s native to large parts of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, and farmed in many others, Americans enjoy a large and steady supply of the fish year-round, in baked, fried, steamed, poached, and grilled dishes, and also as a popular ingredient in sushi.

Although salmon doesn’t contain quite as much protein as tuna, it’s unusually rich in fatty acids which can improve circulatory health, decrease the risks and symptoms of arthritis, and help to maintain good brain health.

As a freshwater fish that’s often farmed with relative ease, tilapia is a popular choice for economical consumers looking to include more fish in their diets without breaking the bank.

Its lean, flaky flesh can be easily seasoned and prepared in a wide array of recipes, chiefly grilling, baking, and pan-frying.

Alaskan Pollock

Alaska is a fishing heavyweight, and it’s no wonder this product of its waters is so popular.

While it’s commonly relied upon as a workhorse commercial foodstuff, pollock is also popular in its unprocessed form for its low oil content and mild flavor. One of the advantages of white fish is the ability to season it in order to bring out its natural flavor, and for this, Alaskan pollock is a winner.

Fresh and frozen pollock bolsters excellent brain health and can help prevent heart disease, and can be baked, fried, grilled, or stewed.

The Best Cooking Methods for Fish

So we know the most popular fish in the US and some of the usual methods of cooking.

But what’s the best way to make a nutritious meal with these fish, and how do you avoid some rookie mistakes?

Here are five cooking methods guaranteed to reward you with tasty, healthy fish dishes.

Broiling

Broiling is an oven cooking method in which dry heat (i.e., not steam) is applied to the surface of your food, usually from above.

Because broiling uses dry heat at high temperatures, it’s easy to dry out your fish before it’s cooked, so this one is particularly good for oilier fish like tuna and salmon, since they can be cooked under high heat with a built-in reservoir of moisture from the oils which make them so flavorful and so healthy.

However, if you’re using a marinade or a glaze, you can use a dryer fish like pollock, so long as you take care to watch out for it!

This method has a few advantages, among them being that broiling produces much the same result as grilling for when the weather is bad, and that it’s an easy, no-mess way to get perfectly cooked fish just the way you want it.

En Papillote

French for “in paper,” this method requires you to wrap your fish in parchment paper before baking them. For more delicate fish or fillets without the skin, this is an excellent option, because when it’s done properly, it traps the moisture from the cooking process perfectly inside the parchment wrapper, leaving your fish moist and tasty. 

This is a good method to use with whitefish like pollock or tilapia, often combined with vegetables and a light glaze or marinade for added moisture. When these fish dry out during the cooking process, they lose a lot of the nutritional benefits that make them appealing, so be careful. 

Saute

Another French term, this time meaning “jumped.” Basically, sautéing is a careful pan fry without too much oil. This works well for stir-fries, medleys of fish and vegetables, and pan-searing skin-on fillets.

Sautéing is a particularly good method for cooking shrimp. For unpeeled shrimp, the inner flesh is cooked thoroughly inside of the shell, leaving the outer layer brown, crispy, and easy to strip off to reveal tender shrimp inside.

It’s also a good method for other fish including salmon and some whitefish. It’s easy to overcook with this method out of uncertainty, but don’t worry - if your shrimp are underdone, you can cook them for 1-2 minutes more to be safe, and salmon often benefits from being just the tiniest bit rare.

Grilling

There’s probably no more classic way to prepare fish than grilling, and it’s easily the healthiest option presented here. 

Grilling works best for fish with non-flaky flesh and, just like with broiling, plenty of moisture in it, especially in the form of oil. Salmon and tuna both grill wonderfully, and even shellfish like oysters can be cooked on open coals.

But with preparation, any fish can be grilled, so long as it’s protected by a uniform, heat-distributing layer like aluminum foil, and especially if something dryer like tilapia has been marinated overnight, allowing it to hold plenty of tasty moisture in while it’s cooking.

What to Keep in Mind

When cooking any type of fish, it’s good to know what you’re dealing with. For example, oily fish hold up better under dry heat, as do thicker cuts of fish. For thinner pieces, en papillote is a good choice to cook your fish gently and thoroughly without ruining the texture or the flavor.

Keep in mind the thickness of the fish, whether is skinned or not, and whether it’s whole, filleted, or in steaks.

In fact, there’s no better way to get an idea of how best to prepare your fish than to know exactly where it came from and what it is, and there’s often no better way to do that than to catch it yourself.

Below are a few of the places where you can catch some popular fish yourself and bring home the freshest of the fresh for your next meal.

References

A regional guide to fresh and local fish.

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