The last time I ate fish, it was in fingers...
January 16, 2009 12:15 AM   Subscribe

After a decade of vegetarianism, I'd like start including fish in my diet. I live near my city's major fish market, but I have no idea what to buy or how to cook it. I would love to hear your favourite simple fish recipes.

What can I cook which is:

a) Practical to cook for one person.

b) Not too challenging to the palate of someone who has never really eaten fish.

I'd like to start out eating with fish that are relatively mild, but I am not brave enough to ask the local fish sellers "Um, hi...which of your fish taste least like fish?"

Despite my vegetarianism, I am generally an enthusiastic and adventurous eater. Strong spices, interesting flavour combinations and unusual cooking methods are all very welcome.
posted by [ixia] to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
i was vegan for a while and then i started eating fish.

my current favorite super-easy recipe is for tilapia filets. put em on a plate, sprinkle both sides with salt, let em sit for about 5 minutes. dredge through flour. fry in pan with a bit of butter or oil until golden brown and slightly crisp (a couple minutes each side). remove from pan, sprinkle with fresh parsley, black pepper and lemon wedge. yum.

you could also add any assortment of spices to the flour. curry is great.
posted by gnutron at 12:39 AM on January 16, 2009

My favorite incredible easy meal is a salmon steak, covered in this slices of lemon, salt & pepper, and if you want, some dill. Cook it in some olive oil skin side down, and if you cook it slowly enough you won't need to turn it. You can bake it instead. When done, press down on the tops with a fork and the lemon juice will spill all over it in a delicious manner. Mmmmmmmmm.
posted by ORthey at 1:04 AM on January 16, 2009

this slices = thin slices.
posted by ORthey at 1:05 AM on January 16, 2009

Set your oven at 375. Take a piece of salmon (about 4"X4") and sprinkle it with dill, salt and pepper. Take some tin foil and add a dash of olive oil. Put the salmon, skin down, in the foil - lay some lemon slices on top (and maybe a little butter), and close the foil. Bake in the oven for 5-7 minutes (or until it starts to smell good). Eat!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:12 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

a) The only impracticalities I'd worry about are portion size. Don't buy big, whole fish. Do buy fillets, steaks or small whole fish that you can conceive of eating yourself.

b) Generally, fish with white flesh tends to be very mild-flavored (cod, orange roughy, sole, trout, perch) while fish with a little color to the flesh tends to have a higher oil content and more flavor (salmon, tuna, shark). Flavor will vary, but none of it should taste fishy in the way that you fear; that's the taste of having sat around too long. Buy as fresh as possible.

As you're learning to cook, the main thing to learn is to recognize doneness, because it's easy to pass it by and go right on into overdone. Typically you stick a fork or knife tip into it; undercooked fish has a somewhat gelatinous character and hangs together insistently, while fish that is done becomes flaky and breaks apart easily. Overcooked fish gets unpleasantly dry very quickly. Fish cooks fast. A decent rule of thumb is that it takes about 10 minutes per inch of thickness, so a fillet 1/2" thick in the middle only takes about 5 minutes to cook using most methods (fry, broil, boil). Steaming and smoking are different stories, as are fancier recipes for things like thick crusted tuna steaks that are served with their middles almost raw.
posted by jon1270 at 1:17 AM on January 16, 2009

Salmon (alaskan and wild-caught, ideally, but I'm in the PNW so that's nearby) is one of my favorite dishes. You really don't have to do much with it: cook it in some olive oil, eat. Herbs and lemon are nice additions. However, it does have a flavor; that's why I like it!

Tilapia is an tasty but inoffensive fish, as is catfish. Maybe you could try some blackened catfish (sea kittens?) recipes to ease fish into your diet?

What part of the world are you in? Fish is best fresh, and it's worth learning what kind of fish are caught near you, and when, just like with fruit and vegetables.
posted by hattifattener at 1:39 AM on January 16, 2009

Speedy lightly fried fish for one:

Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic, 4 sprigs of rosemary and zest from one orange. (You can vary the herb you use, or add a bit of chilli, whatever you think will be nicely aromatic.) Heat olive oil in frying pan, add your rosemary mix, then add a white fish fillet or two. Cook on each side for two minutes, or until it's lost that raw, transparent look. Put the fillets to the side, then deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine or other alcohol if you like, then pour the wine/rosemary mix over your fillets again. Serve with a big salad, or small new potatoes, or noodles.

It should take about 10 minutes to make from start to finish, and if you want to serve two just double the amounts. It gets a bit fiddly if you want to
posted by harriet vane at 2:15 AM on January 16, 2009

::ahem:: if you want to make enough for more than two people, but can be done if you can cook the fish in batches and keep your early batch warm.
posted by harriet vane at 2:16 AM on January 16, 2009

I don't have a good fish market anywhere nearby, but I oven-poach tilapia fillets fairly often. They're firm enough to take it. They are also not particularly challenging taste-wise. Still tasty, though.

Preheat oven. 375F or so.

Use spray-stuff (Pam or generic) on glass baking dish, just to make cleanup easier. Add fillets, butter, lemon juice or lemon slices, dried dill, black pepper, white wine, and whatever else suits you. I've done a similar version with lime slices and some fresh thai basil. I've also used catfish instead of tilapia.

Put dish in oven. Check on it every 10-15 minutes until it's bubbling and done. Please see jon1270's comment above for checking doneness. I usually make this with frozen or partially thawed fish, and that takes longer.

I usually serve this with sauteed green beans (with soy and ginger) and a light fried rice with finely chopped carrots and green onions. It's a popular meal here. My two kids would eat all of the fish if I let them, even if I make 1.5 lbs, so we have to portion it out carefully. Spooning a little of the liquids from fish and bean pans over the rice is good for tying the meal together.

A good friend of mine who is very interested in sustainability, etc. once gave me some documentation about which fish and seafood could be eaten without harm to the environment. Tilapia was high on the list, as were mussels, which we also have pretty often with pasta. Both are farmed, but don't leave a big dent on the planet, from what she was telling me.
posted by lilywing13 at 2:27 AM on January 16, 2009

I like to steam fish. I usually get salmon, barramundi (I'm in Aus), snapper or shark fillets and steam them. If they have been frozen already I prefer to defrost by immersion in water rather than microwave. The microwave always cooks or burns part of my fish I have found.

To steam a fillet I just line my good ol' chinese bamboo steamer with lettuce or other leafy veg leaves (the clean outer leaves from a lettuce or spinach are perfect) to stop the fillet sticking to the vessel. I toss in some aromatic herbs (dill, thyme, coriander, basil, chervil) and put the whole thing on top of a pan of simmering or boiling water for 8 to 16 minutes. It takes less time than you think. You can use a stainless steel steamer the same way.

Once your fish is done, take it off the heat and discard the fishy water in the pan. How you make a meal is up to you. But you have cooked a delicious piece of protein in a gentle way.... add flavour and carbs to make a meal. Or just squeeze some lemon over and eat with oven fries... or mashed potatoe or crusty bread. Add salt and pepper at any stage.

It's not a cheap meal but it is sustainable. I treat myself once a week.
posted by evil_esto at 2:30 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Addendum: The difference between the 8 or 16 minutes is the thickness of the fillet... IMO 2 cm is = 8 minutes, etc. But please consult a reputable cook book, don't take my word for cooking times. I cook by smell and feel and live at sea level in a warm climate. Whole fish are completely different as are other cooking methods.
posted by evil_esto at 2:42 AM on January 16, 2009

I second just about everything evil_esto says. Here's a basics video on steaming halibut. She uses a metal steamer but a bamboo works the same. Fresh steamed veggies, a little lemon juice and a glass of wine - wonderful quick healthy meal. Lately I've really enjoyed quick little YT videos to get cooking tips.

great idea for a thread.
posted by dog food sugar at 3:52 AM on January 16, 2009

I gave my favourite fish recipe here. I don't know much about fish, so I usually just ask the fishmonger what's good that day, and it seems to work. I usually batter the fish with a little flour/salt/pepper too. You end up with a lovely sauce, and it's pretty hard to get the cooking time wrong as the steaming finishes it off.
posted by Emilyisnow at 4:43 AM on January 16, 2009

Any kind of pan fish (crappie are my favorite) fillets sprinkled lightly with lemon pepper and a small pat of butter, enclosed in a foil bag are outstanding.

I've made many a shore-lunch by throwing the foil bags onto coals.
posted by Hugh2d2 at 5:10 AM on January 16, 2009

Quick & Easy. Take a boneless piece of white fish. (cod!) Wash it, dry it thoroughly. Drag it through eggwhite, flour it. Take a small piece of ginger and a some garlic. Put these in a cold pan, together with some neutral oil. Let the oil cover at least the bottom off the pan and don't use a pan that's too big. When they start browning, take them out. Put the piece of fish in the pan. Try to flip it only once after a couple of minutes. Meanwhile take another piece of ginger and cut that into match sized batons. Lift the fish from the oil. Sprinkle the ginger over it, use some soy sauce to taste to season the fish. This + white rice + cucumber salad = heaven in 25 minutes (including the cooking of the rice).
posted by ouke at 5:23 AM on January 16, 2009

sushi? The basic rolls are pretty easy to make and you'd be introducing it in tiny amounts.
posted by ezekieldas at 5:41 AM on January 16, 2009

Nobody here has mentioned smoked fish yet. Smoked fish goes brilliantly well in a risotto or pasta sauce. In Britain they tend to use smoked haddock, but I've done this with smoked trout too. Grocery stores sell packs of smoked salmon "trimmings"-- the skinny, gristly bits off the edges? Ideal for this. (Not mackerel, though, because the flavour is too strong)

Here's how: [I'm assuming you're OK with dairy products?]

Saucepan on the stove, mediumish heat. Fry some chopped onions and [if desired] garlic in butter or olive oil until transparent and soft.
[If you're making a risotto, this is when you add the rice and munge it around so the grease coats it]

Pour in enough white wine to generously cover everything in the pot.

Break your smoked fish into chunks or shreds and simmer it in the wine until you can no longer smell booze in the steam. Uncovered is good, so the amount of liquid reduces. You can also add fresh dill and black pepper here.

[If you're making a risotto, this is the time to keep adding liquid till the rice is done]

When it's all cooked down to a fishy-oniony-winey stew, you may add some additional fresh fish or shrimp if you like. Or not.

Remove from the heat and stir in a little bit of cream. Use your own judgement here. If you're making a pasta sauce, this is the time to add the pasta and stir to coat.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and black pepper and serve.

Really the crux of it is the smoked fish/white wine/cream combination. It's been known to make grown men weep. Good luck and happy fishing!
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:44 AM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have never really experimented with the more complicated fish recipes but I can tell you I have eaten many perch, walleye, crappie, and northern pike by doing the following.

Pour a cup of flour into a bowl.
Scramble one egg (not sure how that fits into the semi-vegetarian) with a little milk, salt, and pepper.
Dip your fish fillets into the egg and then coat in flower.
Fry in butter.
Sprinkle with a touch of lemon. Enjoy.

As previously stated, don't overcook fish. If you are flying any of the above you can tell because they start to fall apart. I wish I could describe it (when fish are done) a little better but you will know if you overcooked it.
posted by Silvertree at 5:56 AM on January 16, 2009

Here's my salmon "recipe":

Take one serving of salmon (roughly 4-5 oz). Place it on a piece of folded-over tinfoil. Dress with olive oil, chopped tomatoes and halved garlic cloves. Maybe a bit of balsamic vinegar. Fold the tinfoil so that the salmon has a little tent. Poach at 350 until done, the aforementioned 10 mins per inch of thickness.

BTW, I think salmon tastes less "fishy" than most white fishes.
posted by lunasol at 6:10 AM on January 16, 2009

I was a vegetarian for my entire life and this summer starting eating fish. I would not recommend starting with salmon. What I've tried has had a VERY strong "ocean" flavor--I felt like I got a mouthful of the sea everytime I took a bit and I was not expecting it and didn't like it. Tilapia has been suggested to me instead, but I haven't tried it yet.

Shellfish was much easier for me to handle at first, particularly scallops and lobster, than actual fish. I like tuna sushi rolls as well.

My sister also started eating fish this year after lifelong vegetarianism, and she loves salmon from restaurants, but what she cooks gets overdone like whoa. If you do try to cook salmon, pay attention to the warnings above about overcooking.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:30 AM on January 16, 2009

If you're got a cast-iron skill, my favorite fish recipe is adapted from this this one by Mark Bittman, except we usually use catfish (which is another great mild fish and CHEAP!) I usually add ginger, too. (And lemongrass, if we've got it.)

Don't feel dumb asking for guidance from the fishmonger, and don't feel like you're wussing out by wanting to stick to milder fish!

I know it's commonplace to characterize the oiler/stronger-flavored fish as being more "fishy," but it's a bit of shame, as it does both mild and strong fish a disservice. It insinuates that strong fish is more of the essence of that which is fish (thus mild fish is watered-down or less legitimately fish) and runs up against the unfortunate fact that generally, to say something smells "fishy" is saying that it smells like spoiled fish.

Oh and here's your downloadable regional seafood card to help you pick sustainable fish.
posted by desuetude at 6:37 AM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you like spicy food, any mild white fish (tilapia, mahi mahi, etc.) is delicious with jerk seasoning. The jerk is incredibly flavorful (a little goes a long way), so it is a good way to mask any fishy flavor you're trying to acclimate to (on preview, not a spoiled fishy taste, but that yummy fresh fishy taste!). Just rub the fillet with seasoning and broil or bake until done. Serve with red beans and rice or a baked sweet potato.
posted by gatorae at 6:52 AM on January 16, 2009

Lemon Garlic Tilapia. Classic tilapia prep. You can substitute a lot of other basic spices and it is still delicious. Being from Louisiana, Tony's is perfect for me.
posted by quodlibet at 7:06 AM on January 16, 2009

Is it practical for you to try a few things at a restaurant to see what you like? I think blackened grouper is a good example of a mild fish dish that is tasty but not "fishy". Also cod, which makes an awesome fish and chips if you don't mind frying.

I like non-fishy fish like tilapia (which as mentioned above, takes spice well). Tilapia is also good in fish tacos.

desuetude is right I think; a good fish monger shouldn't mind you asking for something mild.
posted by pointystick at 7:26 AM on January 16, 2009

Picking up on what desuetude says, I would highly recommend Bittman's book Fish: The complete guide. Its really a great cookbook, that starts with the basics and goes through many of the (mainly though not exclusively) North Atlantic fish and seafood. It goes through each type and tells you about the fish and gives similar fish and recipes.

For me what was intimidating about fish is all the different types of fish (as opposed to say beef or chicken). This book really demystifies it all and has great recipes of all different types.
posted by alkupe at 7:30 AM on January 16, 2009

Gee, I'm saving this thread for the future!

Usually I'll bake/broil my chosen fish, but every so often I'll preheat a cast iron skillet with 1/3 cup of olive oil, season some catfish filets with salt and pepper, coat them in cornmeal and fry them up. I know it's done when the coating is a golden brown, which takes about 10-12 minutes, turning them once. It might not be Southern-fried catfish like my grandma would have prepared, but it's probably a great deal healthier!
posted by droplet at 7:37 AM on January 16, 2009

This might be a bit fishy-tasting for you, but it is delicious and ridiculously easy:

One tuna steak, about and inch and a half thick
One teaspoon sesame oil
salt and pepper
one lemon wedge

Season both sides of your tuna steak with salt and pepper.
Heat a non-stick pan over high heat for a couple of minutes. Once it's hot, add your sesame oil, swirl it around a couple of times, then wipe the pan quickly with a piece of paper towel. You're trying to get rid of most of the oil here, while leaving a sesame-flavoured residue in the pan. Don't worry if the oil that's left smokes a little.
As soon as you're done wiping, put your tuna steak into the pan. Sear it quickly on both sides. You can shuffle the pan a bit to keep the steak from sticking. How long this takes will depend on hot you can get your pan, but your fish should be starting to brown on the outside and still raw on the inside. The 'cooked' section of the fish should only really extend about 1/8th of an inch into the steak.
Serve the fish immediately, and squeeze the lemon wedge over it just before you eat it.
posted by Kreiger at 7:41 AM on January 16, 2009

I do the foil packet thing described above but with catfish or tilapia. You can really do any flavor combination as long as there's some moisture, but my standby is a Thai-ish formulation: fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar, lime juice, chopped chiles, thinly sliced onions or green onions, basil or mint or cilantro or some combination thereof, all thrown in the packet with the filet. Basically just seal up the packet and cook - I use a toaster oven at 400F for about fifteen minutes or so but it varies based on filet size. Then I just open it over some rice.

Another good flavor combo for this is soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and scallions.
posted by yarrow at 7:48 AM on January 16, 2009

Addendum: I was shocked, SHOCKED to find how much milder tuna tastes when raw in sushi.
posted by desuetude at 7:58 AM on January 16, 2009

My favorite easy fish recipe: get a piece of salmon, place it skin-side down in a shallow baking dish, brush it with your favorite raspberry vinaigrette dressing (or whisk some raspberry vinegar with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and use that), bake for about 15 minutes at 350, then sprinkle it with unroasted chopped walnuts and cook for 5-10 minutes more. It should be cooked just until it flakes easily when you poke it with a fork and the skin will peel off easily. If it has separated from itself without your poking it with a fork, it's probably been overcooked and will be dry.

Also, Alton Brown's papillote recipes for seafood are really very easy and delicious.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:55 AM on January 16, 2009

Poaching is a great way to make fish that tastes less fishy. Recipes abound, but you can not go wrong with a little vegetable broth with some sliced aromatic vegetables (celery, carrot and onion) perhaps a bay leaf and some parsley or a fines herbs blend, and some lemon slices. Poach fillets of salmon or other fish (steaks can be poached as well) submerged in the poaching liquid at a low simmer and with the lid off. For salmon you can make extra as it is excellent chilled with perhaps a bit of mayo and capers.
posted by caddis at 9:32 AM on January 16, 2009

Find a shallow oven-safe pan and line it with tinfoil. Get a bottle of cheap oil-based Italian salad dressing (Wishbone or whatever) and a tilapia, cod, or haddock filet. Pour the salad dressing into the pan and put the fish in. Fold the tinfoil over the top of the pan and bake at 375F for 20 minutes or until done. Goes great with asparagus, green beans, and some kind of rice dish.
posted by xbonesgt at 10:06 AM on January 16, 2009

Simplest is best. Get a fillet and it and pat it dry. Dust it lightly with flour to absorb liquid and make a crust. Put it in a pan with a pat of butter and a little white wine and cook it over medium heat until it's lightly browned. Turn it over and do the same on the other side, until the meat flakes. Serve with a little lemon juice.

White-fleshed fish is the mildest tasting. Red snapper, though expensive, is mild and very good. Other kinds of snapper are also good. Tilapia is very mild and a little dull. Catfish is mild and flavorful.

Avoid whiting at first, as it has a fishy taste and is usually the least expensive.

Dark fleshed fish has a stronger taste, but has more omega-3 fatty acids. I love bluefish.

I also love swordfish, but have it only once in a while because it it's a top predator and accumulates mercury.
posted by KRS at 10:19 AM on January 16, 2009

Surprised to not see this one yet (the simplest way to cook a fish):
Basically any fish (either whole or filleted) + salt + grill.
posted by General Malaise at 10:37 AM on January 16, 2009

oh wow, i love talking about fish! i was veg for a long time myself, and salmon was such a welcome addition.

my fave salmon dish -- because it's sooo good, but also is high in the "ooooh, special!" factor for when i have guests:

1. get some salmon fillets
2. get some raw sesame seeds
3. put sesame seeds on plate with some salt & pepper
4. coat the fillets by lying each side down on the plate
5. you should have beautiful sesame-encrusted fillets
6. put them in a med-hot pan with olive oil
7. cook until the seeds are toasty brown and the fish is almost done all the way through
8. flip and cook until done
9. serve that fishdish with a drizzle of maple syrup
10. chow down :)

and surprisingly, and very easily, these are just amazing:

seriously. i scoffed when my mom got them for me (pre-made? pshaw!), but i was soon converted.
posted by crawfo at 3:58 PM on January 16, 2009

take a salmon filet, salt and pepper it, lay a sprig of fresh rosemary over, and wrap in foil. bake that for 15-20 minutes at 375ish. heaven.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:44 PM on January 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your suggestions and recipes!

I went to the fish market today and bought the nicest looking white fish I could find: a thin fillet of locally caught ling. Cost me a grand total of $3.50.

In the kitchen, I kluged together the collective wisdom of MeFi with what happened to be in my pantry, and came up with: ling fillets, egged, floured and coated in panko breadcrumbs, fried in olive oil with lemon zest, garlic and red chillies from my garden. I ate it drenched in lemon juice, with a side of lightly fried potatoes and a giant salad. It was genuinely tasty, and eating it as a post-vegetarian wasn't as weird as I thought it'd be.

I'll keep experimenting with the rest of your suggestions. Unfortunately I suppose this means I am no longer a tolerant, adventurous vegetarian, but a newly minted picky omnivore. Ho hum...if other fish tastes this good I guess it's worth it.
posted by [ixia] at 1:18 AM on January 18, 2009

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