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Everything About Fish: How to Choose, How to Store, How to Cook?

Everything About Fish: How to Choose, How to Store, How to Cook?

The wide variety of fish on the market allows the cook an abundant choice. However, different types of fish have different characteristics, and it is helpful to be aware of appropriate substitutes. Because fish is a highly perishable food it is also important to know the best methods for storage and handling. Fish lends itself to many cooking methods and its delicate texture means that microwaving can be an ideal treatment.

How to Choose Fish?

The first rule when buying is to select fish that looks fresh. Luckily, a fish in impeccable condition is easy to spot. Look for the following features:
  1. Fish should smell fresh and clean, without a strong or unpleasant “fishy” odour.
  2. For whole fish, the scales should be intact and shiny, the eyes clear and full with no cloudiness, and the gills should be bright pink or red, not dull or brown.
  3. All fish should feel firm and resilient, not soft or spongy, when pressed with a fingertip.
  4. Fish fillets should not be dry or discoloured, nor should they be wet or watery. The flesh should have a bright, translucent clarity.
Everything About Fish: How to Choose, How to Store, How to Cook?
Everything About Fish: How to Choose, How to Store, How to Cook?
TIPS: “A fish that has been cut into steaks or fillets deteriorates more rapidly than a whole fish because the exposed flesh is more vulnerable to bacteria. For this reason it is better to buy fish from a fishmonger who prepares portions on the spot rather than buying pre-cut fish steaks and fillets. Better still, purchase whole fish and cut fillets yourself, because whole fish will remain fresher longer.”

Fish Groups

  • Fish is almost the only remaining food that is caught mainly in the wild rather than being farmed. As a result, supplies are unpredictable, varying enormously in type and quality from season to season and area to area. Therefore when you shop for fish, you may not always find the fish you want. It is important to know which fish can be substituted for others, and suggestions for alternative fish áre given in each recipe. Salmon and trout are farmed, so you are more likely to find them on a consistent basis.
  • Most important for cooking fish is an understanding of the differences in taste, texture, and bone structure among the various types. A fish with oily, rich flesh is as different from a white-fleshed fish as duck is from chicken. Texture is another important characteristic: the coarse flesh of cod differs from the fine texture of sole and neither could be confused with the firmness of tuna or the delicate pink flesh of salmon.
  • When you substitute one fish for another in a recipe, it is important to keep the following groups in mind so you can choose a fish that is most appropriate in texture and flavour for the given preparation.

Cod Family

Cod, haddock, hake, and pollack are all members of the same family and form almost half of the world’s commercial fish catch. Usually too large to sell whole, they are most often cut into steaks or fillets. They resemble one another in many respects, with white, firm flesh which produces large flakes. Not only are these fish abundant, but they yield full-flavoured, thick flesh that is highly adaptable. Fish in the cod family are excellent grilled, sautéed, steamed, baked, or deep-fried with any number of sauces and accompaniments. You can substitute one for another without hesitation.


Most types of small flatfish (plaice, sole, dab, and flounder) look very alike and can be easily substituted one for another. Flatfish, as the name suggests, are flat, with a lateral bone structure and spine that produce four fillets, unlike the two fillets of all round fish. Many flatfish weigh 375-500 g (12 oz-1 lb) and are ideal as an individual serving on the bone; they can be pan-fried whole or simply scored and baked in the oven with parsley, a little butter, and some white wine. Halibut and turbot are the only large flatfish that are commonly available. They are sold as steaks or fillets. The flesh of all flatfish is delicate and fine-textured, best left to simple preparations such as poaching, baking, and pan-frying.

Firm White Fish

Many popular fish have flesh that is white in colour and mild in flavour. Red snapper, grouper, and Hawaiian mahi mahi (also called dolphin fish) are among the fish from this varied group that offer succulent firm flesh with an excellent flavour. The size of these white fish varies enormously, with some species being small enough to cook whole, while others, are sold only cut in fillets and steaks because they are so large. Their firm flesh makes them appropriate for all cooking methods.

Meaty Fish

Two well-known fish, tuna and swordfish, highlight this category, and are interchangeable in many recipes. Tuna is a rich fish that must be eaten as fresh as possible, particularly darker types. Albacore, the only white-fleshed tuna, is preferred for canning. Swordfish, also white-fleshed, is always sold in steaks, while depending on the variety, tuna comes as steaks or in big pieces resembling a cut of meat. Grilling and barbecuing are favourite methods for cooking both of these meaty fish, with roasting and pan-frying as alternatives.


This fish, also called anglerfish, has a huge unattractive head and gaping mouth, so you will find only the tail meat on sale, either whole, in fillets, or in steaks. The flesh is mild, slightly sweet, and chewy, and does not overcook easily. Another advantage for the cook is its straight spinal cord: the fact that it has no lateral small bones makes it easy to fillet. Baking and sauteing are good uses for monkfish, and its firm flesh is ideal in fish stews. There is no direct substitute although there are possible alternatives in individual recipes.

Salmon And Trout

These fishes look alike and are closely related. Salmon has a deep pink flesh and delectable flavour. It is sold whole, weighing from 2.25-6.75 kg (5-15 lb), and in fillets and steaks. The most familiar variety of trout is rainbow, which is often farmed and sold whole as a single portion (weighing 375-500 g/12 oz-1 lb). Salmon trout has the pink flesh of salmon with the firm texture of trout. The rich flesh of all these fish is ideal for baking, poaching, and sauteing, not to mention barbecuing.

Oily Fish

Fish in this group, such as mackerel, herring, and sardines, tend to have a characteristic flavour. Their flesh is soft and flaky and holds its shape well. Most fish weigh under 500 g (1 lb); sardines are small enough to need several per portion. Absolute freshness is a prerequisite for all oily fish because their high oil content oxidizes and turns rancid rapidly. Despite their richness, they are good pan-fried, since this seals in flavour, and they are also good grilled, baked, or cooked over an open fire. Acid flavourings, such as lemon and vinegar, help to balance their richness, as witness the international popularity of pickled herring.

How to Store Fish (Storing Fish)

Store fresh fish for as short a time as possible. To some extent, shelf-life depends on the type and quality of the fish. A reliable fishmonger is important, so you can be sure of the age of the fish before deciding how long it can be stored at home. Temperature is the key to maintaining quality. Spoilage occurs twice as fast at 4°C (40° F), the usual temperature of a home refrigerator, than at 0°C (32° F), which is the ideal storage temperature for fish, so fish should always be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Freshly caught whole fish keep longer if they have been gutted because this eliminates the enzymes in the stomach that accelerate decay. Fish fillets and pieces should be used within 24 hours. In general, oily fish, such as mackerel, spoil more rapidly than white fish, such as cod and sole. Fish stored in a home refrigerator should be wrapped tightly in polythene and covered in ice. Note that cut fish should not come into direct contact with ice because this will discolour the flesh and draw out its juices. As the ice melts, take care to drain the water to keep the fish from deteriorating.

Freezing Fish & Thawing Fish

Freezing fish at home must be done very carefully. Home freezers chill food more slowly than commercial machines, allowing the formation of ice crystals, which penetrate the cell walls of the fish, damaging the flavour and texture. If you must freeze fish, make sure the freezer is set at its lowest temperature. Clean whole fish, and wash it thoroughly, handling it as gently as possible, then wrap it in freezer wrap. Steaks and fillets can also be frozen, carefully wrapped. Rich fish, such as salmon, and firm-fleshed white fish, such as cod, freeze better than delicate ones, such as plaice. If carefully frozen, fish can keep up to 3 months in the freezer. It is best to thaw frozen fish slowly in the refrigerator before cooking, to maintain texture and minimize moisture loss. Allow a few hours per 500 g (1 lb) of fish. Some cooks like to cook small frozen fish fillets without thawing them; cooking times must be increased accordingly.

How to Make Fish Stock?

Fish stock is an indispensable ingredient in many sauces, soups, and chowders. Bones, heads, and tails of lean white fish, especially flatfish, such as sole, are recommended for stock. Avoid rich fish, such as mackerel, that can make stock oily. Fish stock keeps well up to 2 days if it is kept covered in the refrigerator, or it can he frozen.
  • Makes About 1 litre (1 ¾ PINTS)
  • Work time: 10-15 minute
  • Cooking time: 20 minutes
Shopping List: metric/imperial 750 g fish bones and heads 1 1/2 lb 1 onion 1 250 ml white wine or juice of 1/2 lemon 8 fl oz 1 litre water l 3/4 pints 3-5 sprigs of parsley 3-5 5 ml peppercorns 1 tsp
  1. Thoroughly wash the fish bones and heads. Cut the bones into 4-5 pieces with a chefs knife. Peel the onion, leaving a little of the root attached, and cut it in half through the root and stalk. Lay each onion half on a chopping board and cut it vertically into thin slices.
  2. Put the fish bones and heads in a medium saucepan with the onion slices, wine or lemon juice, water, parsley sprigs, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes. Skim the stock occasionally with a large metal spoon. TAKE CARE: Do not simmer fish stock too long or it will he hitter.
  3. Strain the stock into a bowl. Let cool, then cover and keep in the refrigerator.  “I never season stock with salt and ground pepper at the time of making, because it might he reduced later in individual recipes and the flavours will intensify.”

Serving Sizes

Fish range enormously in size, but when you are buying fresh fish, a few simple guidelines will help you decide how much to buy. For large or individual fish, such as salmon or trout, and small flatfish, such as sole, that are to be served whole on the bone with the head intact, allow 375-500 g (12 oz-1 lb) per person. If the fish is to be served on the bone but with the head removed, count on 250-375 g (8-12 oz) per person. Other factors that influence the size of portions are the leanness of the fish, whether the fish is stuffed, cooked with other ingredients or served with a rich sauce, the role the dish plays within the meal, and the size of appetites. For fillets and steaks that have little or no bone, 175-250 g (6-8 oz) per person is the usual portion.

Benefits of Fish (Fish and Your Health)

Low in fat and high in protein, fish has always been a star as far as healthy cooking is concerned. Fish lends itself well to low-calorie methods of cooking, including poaching, steaming, grilling, and barbecuing. Steamed Fish Plaits with Warm Vinaigrette is a recipe that is low in fat; you can eliminate the added fat altogether by omitting the warm vinaigrette and serving the fish with a simple squeeze of lemon juice. Grilled Tuna Steaks with Salsa has a minimum of added fat, as does Oriental Halibut in a Paper Case, and both incorporate a healthy fresh vegetable accompaniment. Poached Salmon with Watercress Sauce is yet another healthy choice, served with a yogurt sauce. The richness of other recipes can be reduced by leaving out accompaniments. Omit the sauces from Roast Monkfish with Garlic and Chilli Sauces and enjoy the plainly roasted, herb-coated fish; likewise serve Bouillabaisse plain, without the chilli sauce. Cook the Tuna and Bacon Kebabs without the bacon; the grilled marinated tuna will be delicious on its own, and lighter without the meat And don’t forget, when frying and sauteing, butter can be replaced with olive or vegetable oil, or with polyunsaturated margarine.

How to Cook Fish in Microwave?

Cooking fish is one of the great strengths of the microwave. The speed of the microwave ensures that the naturally delicate flesh of fish stays moist, but also cooks evenly. The texture and flavour of fish are also better preserved than with most conventional cooking methods. For example, you will find that Steamed Fish Plaits with Warm Vinaigrette can be cooked more quickly in a microwave than in a steamer, with the same if not better results. Poached Salmon with Watercress Sauce cooks in a microwave perfectly – the fish can be curled into a circle for cooking if necessary. Turbans of Sole with Wild Mushroom Mousse is yet another recipe that is ideal for cooking in the microwave oven, though don’t try to reheat the butter sauce in the microwave once the butter has been added, and make sure the turbans are evenly spaced, and not touching, so that each cooks in the same time. Soups and stews, including Spicy Fish Stew and New England Cod and Mussel Chowder, can be made veiy successfully in the microwave.

Fish in Microwave?

Many other dishes in this book can be adapted to a combination of microwave and conventional cooking. Sauté tile monkfish pieces for Monkfish Américaine on top of the stove, then make the Américaine sauce in the microwave. Boil the lasagne noodles for Seafood Lasagne conventionally, then cook the assembled dish in the microwave; just before serving, it may need cooking briefly under a hot grill to brown the top. Fisherman’s Pie can be partially prepared in the microwave, including preparing the sauce and making the mashed potato topping, but do not hard-boil the eggs in the microwave because steam will build up in the shells making them burst. The assembled pie is best baked in the conventional oven. Here are a few tips to remember when microwaving fish: • Place thicker fish parts towards the edge of the dish and tuck under thin ends. • Shield delicate or thin parts of fillets and whole fish with small pieces of very smooth aluminium foil. • Whole fish, particularly large ones, should be slightly undercooked, then left to stand, covered, because they will continue cooking in their own heat. • Rotate whole fish or fish fillets during microwaving to ensure even cooking. • Turn over thick pieces of fish halfway through cooking or the juices that collect in the dish will distribute extra heat to only one side of the fish, cooking it unevenly. • Excess moisture from microwaved fish can be absorbed by lining the dish with paper towels. • Do not reheat fish in the microwave; fish cooks so quickly that the flesh will dry out too much.
Course Cooking 101, How To


  • 1 Fish
Keyword Fish recipes, Practical Tips