What kind of fish would you tell a fish newbie to eat?
February 23, 2012 10:59 PM   Subscribe

Fish newbie here. Tell me what to eat.

Most of my life, I haven't eaten seafood. A few years ago, an ex-GF introduced me to sushi rolls, and I've come to quite enjoy tuna and salmon rolls. I got adventurous, and now I occasionally sear a nice tuna steak at home. I'll have salmon dishes on occasion at restaurants. (One odd twist: Despite not eating seafood all my life, there's ONE exception -- I grew up eating tuna fish sandwiches on occasion, so I've always been able to handle that.)

I haven't ventured too much beyond that, though I'd like to. Once or twice, I tried a little bit of shrimp at a very, VERY nice restaurant here in town, one I felt I could trust, and it was pretty decent. (Kinda reminded me of chicken, oddly enough.) I've had crab cakes a couple of times, and they're OK, but they had just a subtly "fishy" taste to me. I had a rockfish entree recently, and a monkfish entree another time, and both were good, I thought. (Again, they were at high-end restaurants, where I felt I could trust them to do a good job.)

I have tried oysters once or twice, as part of a tasting menu at uber-fancy restaurants, but I found them just a bit too salty/"fishy" for my tastes (it kind of reminded me of swallowing sea water). Crabs, lobster, etc. kind of scare me just from an aesthetic point of view.

I live in Baltimore, so I almost feel obligated to eat more seafood. "Lake trout" is a local specialty, but I feel like that's way too hardcore for me at this juncture.

So . . . knowing what you know about what I've eaten (and enjoyed) so far, I'd like to get some recommendations about other kinds of fish (or seafood in general) that I can move on to safely.
posted by CommonSense to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Try swordfish or shark. They're very "meaty" fishes. You also might want to try the classic pub-style fish and chips, which is usually made with cod. If you have a good Mexican place, try fish tacos. They're usually tilapia.

Just curious, did you grow up in a seafood-less family, or did you just never try it?
posted by liamcampbell at 11:05 PM on February 23, 2012

Halibut and cod are both pretty bland.
posted by fshgrl at 11:15 PM on February 23, 2012

Definitely swordfish.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:15 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whiting also is pretty bland, but good and inexpensive.
posted by caclwmr4 at 11:20 PM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: A couple of notes I forgot: I've had ceviche a couple of times and enjoyed it (and I realize there are a million different approaches to ceviche). I've had fish tacos at a nice Mexican place and enjoyed that as well.

liamcampbell: I grew up in a seafood-less family.

(I'll try not to be too offended that people are recommending "bland" fish to me.) ;-)
posted by CommonSense at 11:39 PM on February 23, 2012

Scallops! Delicious little pillows of meaty goodness.

Mussels! Specifically moules frites: what could be better than a big platter of steaming mussels and some French fries? Especially with a good beer. Yum.

As for crab and lobster, let other people crack it and clean it. You can put crab meat on, let's see... everything. Pretty much everything. Scrambled eggs. A piece of grilled fish. A steak. Hell, a ritz cracker. Crabmeat is awesome and versatile. As for lobster, have a cold lobster salad or a delicious lobster roll.

Sole! A classic, simple filet of sole. Exquisite.

Oh, and fried catfish and hush puppies, of course. Can't forget that.

And hey, when you feel adventurous, buy a tin of sardines. Oil-packed brislings. Open it. Eek! What a reek! Now pick one up. Don't use a fork. Use your fingers. Pick one up. And eat it. The whole thing. Nom! Congratulations! That's the fishiest thing you will EVER encounter. NOTHING (except maybe an anchovy) will be that fishy ever again. You are now free to eat your way through the world of seafood, confident that you have experienced the epitome of fishiness.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:43 PM on February 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I suspect the typical entry point for eating crustaceans is batter-fried shrimp, which wrap a slightly unfamiliar texture and hint of seafoodyness in a pretty ordinary fried flavor. Batter-fried crawdads are about the same. Once the texture and sense that you're eating an arthropod is familiar, I don't think you'll find them or crab, lobster, etc. challenging when prepared in other ways.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:47 PM on February 23, 2012

I grew up in a seafoodful family, but was never really a fan. I enjoy tilapia quite a bit and tolerate salmon (and love it smoked!)
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 11:53 PM on February 23, 2012

Sea bass or tilapia. Oh god, the pleasures my mouth has enjoyed with a plate of steamed sea bass or tilapia with ginger and scallions.

As a seafood lover, I second all the suggestions above (sigh, what I would do for a lifetime supply of rock scallops), but definitely get on the sea bass or tilapia train (though I hear the Chilean Sea Bass is overfished... sad).
posted by jng at 11:56 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're up for battered and fried, calamari was my gateway to squid, and if you have a decent Japanese restaurant, tako no karaage (think chicken nuggets, but with octopus tentacles instead of chicken) have an awesome taste, and are only slightly chewy.

I'm definitely not a fish person (not big on fishy flavors or smells), so I stay far away from fish with red flesh (salmon, tuna, etc), but I've found flounder and aji (horse mackerel?) to be tasty/inoffensive. The king for me, though, is snapper. Great, yet mild taste, goes amazing with all kinds of cuisine (best for me was in Bali, though Mexican recipes for snapper are awesome too).

One thing, though, that is pretty unstoppably awesome, and possibly available at Japanese restaurants, is the grilled half-a-head-of-tuna (the collar, I guess). It's the section of the fish ahead of the gills, and there's a ton of meat there. If you can get it at a Japanese restaurant, it's definitely good order for a group of people (think izakaya, not sushi). Like I said, I'm not crazy about tuna, but I love the giant roasted tuna head. The cheek meat is particularly great.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:56 PM on February 23, 2012

Trout is not hardcore. Trout is closely related to salmon! There are lots of different types of trout and they all have slightly different tastes, but it's still a meaty fish that works nicely with lots of different flavors. If you have a favorite cuisine, like Mexican or French or Indian or Italian, try trout cooked in the way that cuisine would cook it.

Crustaceans are amazing but if you're just getting used to them, yes, let other people do the work for you. Think about it; all forms of meat come with packaging that has to be dealt with - bones, skin, bits - it's just that with crustaceans the bones are on the outside. So you're in Baltimore? Obviously there are many trustworthy places to get crab. Any crab shack worth its yelp reviews will have a "lazy" option, which will probably be crab that's been picked of its shell and mixed with some flavor and breadcrumbs and maybe some cream and baked until golden delicious. Or, try any version of the -roll, as in lobster roll, shrimp roll, whatever roll. That will be a tasty bread roll heaped with the relevant seafood, maybe a little mayo and paprika, and some lettuce. As it's in sandwich form, all the hard work will have been done for you.
posted by Mizu at 11:59 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

All fish is best when it's as fresh as possible: caught that day, ideally. Can you go to a market (or to the dock?) and buy a whole fresh fish?

Get them to clean it and scale it. Have them take the head off if eating something that looks at you will trouble you, but fish cooks best if you leave it whole.

Take it home, stuff it with herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary...whatever) & sliced lemons, drizzle oil all over it and stick it in the oven, in an open pan, at around 400 F for seven to ten minutes per inch of thickness. It is done when the flesh flakes when you prod it with a fork or toothpick. DO NOT OVERCOOK.

Eat as is, with lemon juice or garlic butter or whatever your heart desires. It's really hard to ruin fresh fish, except by overcooking it.

Trout is wonderful; really fresh halibut is a gift from the gods, and I will personally fight anyone who says it's bland; Tilapia is tragic farm-raised bland mush, as far as I'm concerned.

All shellfish (crabs, clams, mussels, shrimp, crab, lobster...) is proof god loves us and wants us to be happy.
posted by jrochest at 12:13 AM on February 24, 2012

I live in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. We have great seafood. It's wonderful when fresh. Fresh is the key with fish - it really is different.

Mussels. God, if I could only eat one food a pound of mussels in butter and a glass of good white wine or IPA is heaven. Mussels are freakin awesome. Don't get freaked out by the appearance - they have a subtle flavour and usually taste a lot like the sauce. Appetizer for sharing at a good restaurant is a good way to try them without too much committment.

If you're going to order fish and chips, fresh halibut is worth the extra cost. If you're going to order salmon, wild sockeye is the best.

Crab and lobster are very mild and just wonderful.

I'm a huge sushi fan. Go hard and order the sashimi. Stick to tuna and salmon - sockeye if you can get it.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:34 AM on February 24, 2012

Response by poster: posted by jimmythefish at 3:34 AM

Eponysterical . . . ?

Loving the replies. Thanks -- but do feel free to keep 'em coming! :-)
posted by CommonSense at 1:21 AM on February 24, 2012

I like seafood, but in my opinion pretty much no fish is as fishy as non-fish seafood is. So if you can handle shrimp and crab, you can handle almost any actual fish. No fish will be as fishy as an oyster. And when you do want to move into non-fish seafood, scallops are a safe option. They don't taste of the sea at all to me, more sweet and meaty like a crab. Mussels are more seaweedy. I love them, but they might be too close to oyster flavour for you right now.

A lot of how strong seafood tastes is to do with the manner of cooking more than the type of fish. You can batter just about anything and serve it with chips, mayo and lemon, and it will taste pretty bland (and good, when you're in the mood for that sort of thing.) Poach something lightly in milk, on the other hand, and it will taste more fishy. Grill it on the BBQ, and it's fishy, but somehow inoffensive as well. The charred bits help balance the rest.
posted by lollusc at 1:36 AM on February 24, 2012

Try swordfish or shark.

Sure, if you want mercury poisoning. http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/outreach/advice_index.cfm

I think halibut is delectable. Yes, it's mild, but it's not bland. I'd also second the suggestion to try fish and chips made with cod. The battered kind, not breaded.

And if you're in that Japanese restaurant trying salmon collar, you might also try Sablefish/black cod (though it's not really cod). Divine! It's very subtle and not fishy, but absolutely scrumptious.

Trout is inoffensive. I caught them as a child in Maryland. Not my favorite, but really, nothing to be scared of at all.

If you're still a beginning or intermediate seafood eater, I wouldn't go for the mussels. They can sometimes be fishy, and they also have... um, stuff.... in them. You will be eating what the mussels ate, and sometimes that's gritty, grassy, or just plain icky.
posted by parrot_person at 3:08 AM on February 24, 2012

This was me. Apparently, when faced with an offer of fishsticks at age 5, I told my great aunt that I was allergic, and I got out of having to eat the stuff. My parents tolerate this, maybe because I way lying to be polite, rather than throwing a tantrum. I ended up coming to believe the lie, and actually thinking I was allergic to fish. By college, I was the guy with the hot dog on the lobsterbake day, and I started to realize something was wrong.

I was on the far side of 30 by the time my dad told me that I wasn't actually allergic to seafood. Once I believed him, it was actually kind of awesome. At this age, you don't often get the opportunity to learn a whole new set of textures and flavors.

I'm going to go against the advice of the folks who say that you should start with the bland stuff. No no no no no. The point shouldn't be to find food that doesn't offend. The point (I think) instead is to find that whiz-bang-wow dish -- to have a reason to want to seek out new wonderful foods.

So, be adventurous, but whenever possible, trust your nose. You can push your boundaries, but a really strong visceral "no" reaction isn't something to ignore entirely.

This isn't always easy when you're ordering in a restaurant. But if you're doing sushi, or at someplace that serves things family style, and you have people who are willing to see you jump in, it's so much easier. My second day eating fish featured salmon roe at a sushi joint. It was amazing. But I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have others there to enjoy it with (or potentially, instead of) me. And, as you get a sense of what you already like, and your boundaries expand, it'll become much easier.

You can be really adventurous in the summer, with family and/or friends, once you've got your grill out. Head down to a local fish market that you like, where you know you can get *fresh* -- you're in Baltimore, so this shouldn't be a problem. So much will be good grilled with lemon and herbs. And you can have a little something prepared on the side if you don't like it (We're grilling Saturday! Snapper! But I'm also making a few turkey burgers!).

Finally, it's okay to accept your limitations. I'm learning that can't do the whole lobster ritual. The smell is too pungent. The cracking and slurping turns my stomach. I don't want to eat it. And I don't really want to be there when others eat it. And I don't like crab -- it's too sweet for me. So, I've tried crustaceans, and they're not for me. But that didn't 't rule out shellfish entirely: I'm good with clams, oysters, scallops, mussels (less so), etc. I wouldn't have known unless I just kept trying things instead of making hard & fast rules on snap judgements. Heck, snap judgements is how I spent 30 years without this stuff.

Good luck! You may find some things you wish you never tasted. But the taste won't last when that happens, and you'll find some new favorites too. It's exciting.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:35 AM on February 24, 2012

Trout is inoffensive. --- Baltimore Lake Trout isn't from a lake, nor is it trout. It's whiting. And the reason why you might find it a little hardcore is because it's cooked with the bones inside.

Tilapia is probably the mildest fish around. It has almost no fish flavor (or flavor at all, for that matter). Catfish is another mild white fleshed fish. It's good batter fried. Shrimp, either batter fried, or served lightly boiled with cocktail sauce, or in a fiery hot spaghetti sauce. Clam chowder, or any kind of fish chowder. If you're daunted by a whole lobster or crab, try a lobster or crab or shrimp bisque. Or go for a lobster roll -- all the great taste of chunk lobster without the work.
posted by crunchland at 3:37 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm going to instead offer advice about where you get your fish -- if you can find a place that sells it to you after pulling it out of the water only a few hours prior, it's going to be far better. The fresher, the less likely it's going to taste "fishy."

I grew up in a family that not only was a seafood-full family, it was "seafood-that-we-caught-ourselves". Then when I've tried seafood elsewhere, it's tasted rather different -- because it's not as fresh. Clams I ate at a street fair in New York tasted way "fishier" than clams that we dug on the beach in Cape Cod.

In the absence of being able to catch things yourself, others have offered good advice; I also find that mussels tend to hold up well and don't read as "fishy/salt watery" even when they're not as fresh as caught-it-yourself. But if you can find a fish market where the stuff's REALLY fresh, or someone offers you something they caught that day, try it - that may make a big difference taste-wise, no matter what kind of fish it is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:31 AM on February 24, 2012

Wait... you live in Baltimore... and you've never been to a crab feast? Like where you get a whole basket of crabs that have been steamed and just go to town on 'em?

Do this. In your area, you can probably chuck a rock in any direction and hit at least two appropriate restaurants.
posted by valkyryn at 5:47 AM on February 24, 2012

For me, "fishy-ness" is all about how fresh seafood is cooked. Fresh crab meat is usually steamed and packaged, and it smells wonderful when you open the container. When you mix it in with breadcrumbs, peppers, onions and make a crabcake, and throw it on the griddle, that's when the fish stench comes out. I can only take fish when it's been cooked once, correctly. Second cooking, reheating, blecch. No thanks.

Grouper is wonderful. Grilled shrimp and lobster are pretty damn good. Scallops I could eat every day. Snapper will do fine if I catch them myself.

Wait... you live in Baltimore... and you've never been to a crab feast?

That's borderline sacrilege. Go down to the bottom of the Eastern Shore, and work your way back up the Bay. Do it now while the water is still plenty cold.

I avoid all freshwater fish; it tastes amphibian to me.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:29 AM on February 24, 2012

Right now, in Baltimore, go to Frank's Seafood Market in Jessup and buy some local yellow perch or striped bass. Both will have been harvested within the last day or three in the Chesapeake Bay. Get them filleted on the spot. Take them home and prepare them simply. Baked, broiled, or fried with minimal seasoning (e.g. just a bit of Old Bay). You really can't go wrong, both are amazingly good.

Fish is a bit unforgiving for a chef. Cooking them through, but not past that point, is important. Lucky for you, this could not be easier with fish. They start out sort of translucent, but become opaque when cooked. Just keep checking them...
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:50 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh! I also have a tip for simple broiled fish fillets; it involves preserved lemon, which you can either buy in some of the fancier food shops or make yourself. In fact, preserved lemon is really easy to do yourself, and it comes in handy as a basic pantry staple, so lemme hit you with that recipe:

You need a clean pint-size mason jar, a good amount of kosher salt, and about 6-7 lemons. Quantities are going to be approximate here, because a lot of this is eyeballing and "it depends. What you do is: quarter about 3 of the lemons. Then put a layer of lemon quarters on the bottom of the jar; you may only need about 3. Then sprinkle a couple tablesooons of salt on top of the lemons. Then add another layer of lemons on top of that - press down a little to start gently squeezing the juice out. Then add another layer of 2 tablespoons of salt. Keep alternating lemons and salt like that, gently pressing the lemons in each time to squeeze juice out, until the jar's just about full (quarter another lemon or two as you need it) Add one more layer of salt. Then, juice enough of the remaining lemons to make enough juice to cover the lemons inside the jar. Put on the lid and just leave it out on your counter for a week or so - give things a shake a couple times a day to make sure the salt and lemon juice circulates through everything. Then put it in the fridge. Presto.

Now -- what you can do with those preserved lemons for fish is: you'll need a couple of fish filets, a little oil, and a sheet pan. Preheat your broiler, drizzle a little oil on each filet, and lay it in the pain. Fish a quarter of lemon out of your preserved lemon, and mash it up (if you've had them for a while, it'll be easy; you can scrape the pith out of the rind and throw the rind way, or just use the whole thing). Spread that lemon-mash on your filets. Broil it for just a few minutes. You're done.

I actually find this works especially well for bluefish, which has a repuation for being "fishy" - the lemon and salt counters that nicely. (Getting really fresh bluefish helps with the "fishy" bit too, of course.) But it could work with just about any mild fish as well; the lemon and salt is simple enough, and that's a seriously easy preparation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also have a wonderful fish recipe that can be made en papillote with parchment paper, or if you're lazy like me, in tin foil pouches.

Take a lovely piece of white firm fish, preferably a sustainably caught one, and place it in the middle of a huge piece of tinfoil. Sprinkle it with sea salt, a few drops of tabasco, and top with thin lemon slices and slivers of garlic.

Place some julienned bell peppers and sliced mushrooms on top in a heaping pile, and season with salt again. Dab the whole thing with butter, and seal the foil tightly.

Bake for about 15 minutes at 350, and serve on rice to catch the fantastic juices.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:03 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tuna steaks. Salmon wildcaught. Cod is nice and very plain tasting and the traditional fish stick filler but very nice in not stick ways too. The most important part if fresh, what ever you eat needs to be fresh, older fish tastes and smells fishy. I'm from Australia so I would recommend Barramundi as an amazing eating fish, so yummy not very strongly flavoured, I have seen it in the US from time to time. Pretty much any shell fish or crustacean is delicious. Raw oysters are supposed to taste like the sea and that is why I love them (but it's not for everyone), cooked oysters on the other hand have a lovely creamy texture and flavour like most other shellfish.
posted by wwax at 8:56 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Lots of helpful replies here. Thanks!
posted by CommonSense at 8:35 PM on February 25, 2012

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