Overcoming a fish block
April 7, 2008 4:07 AM   Subscribe

Help learn to like (or at least tolerate) fish! Recipes needed.

I've read this thread, and have always written fish/seafood off as something I'll never like. I've never, ever, liked any kind of food from the sea, but I'd like to give a valiant effort to trying to overcome my fish block. I eat pork, poultry, and beef, but I'd like to have some more options (other meats need not apply, I could barely choke down some lamb I made last night, but I'll save that for another question).

In recent years I've tried really high quality seared tuna steaks and a little smoked salmon- the tuna wasn't overly fishy, but the texture and the length of time it sticks around in my mouth for chewing really put me off. The salmon was so, so fishy, and again, the texture was off-putting. I'm not picky about veggies or spices, so any kind of preparation would be welcome.

I'd love some tried-and-true recipes that have helped to convert non-fish-eaters to fish-likers (or fish-tolerators). Please no seafood, though, I'm ok with the idea that I'll never eat lobster, clams, etc.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
For me, I got into fish via sushi. Sushi didn't taste fishy at all to me (if that is your problem.)
posted by k8t at 4:13 AM on April 7, 2008

I'm not a huge lover of fish either. I do like crab, scallops, shrimp, salmon and the one time I had skate, it was awesome. I think that crab is one of those things that even non-fish/seafood people can take to easily. Maybe try some crab cakes where the spices in the binder will mask some of the "sea" flavor a bit? (sorry I don't have a particular recipe)
posted by stefnet at 4:16 AM on April 7, 2008

Like you, almost any sort of fish or seafood dish makes me gag uncontrollably. The only exception to this is traditional fish and chips, which I love. Either go to the chippy, or cook your own battered deep-fried cod/haddock/pollack. Plenty of salt and vinegar, mushy peas on the side.
posted by Bodd at 4:19 AM on April 7, 2008

I'm with k8t. I simply won't eat fish at most restaurants (I can taste the fishy and hate hate hate it), but I'll eat sushi in a minute. That said, I'm still picky. I stick to the simple stuff like tuna and salmon, but do love the taste of unagi (eel).

Wander down to your local sushi place and try things, a few orders at a time. Many good places have happy hour specials, so you can even eat on the cheap if you check around.
posted by phredgreen at 4:19 AM on April 7, 2008

8 oz cream cheese
6 oz can tuna in olive oil
Juice of a lemon
Salt, pepper

Dump it all in a bowl (don't drain the tuna) then whip it up with a fork. Check the seasoning - it probably needs a little more salt. Spread on toasted slices of Italian bread. Tell friends it's called tonno alla amalfi, and that you made it from a confit of sea bass, imported French Crème fraîche and Limoncello. You can tart it up with some microplaned lemon zest, a sprinkle of chopped capers and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes I add a clove of garlic, sometimes not.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:39 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not the biggest fish fan and I used to think I'd always hate fish. It's mainly the fishy taste I can't stand, but I understand what you meant about the texture too. I think you've been trying the wrong kinds of fish though. I've taught myself to like a lot of kinds of fish but I still can't handle strong flavoured fish like salmon. Sushi on the other hand doesn't taste like fish at all, so I agree with the above users who recommend it. Bodd's suggestion of fish and chips is great too.

I'd suggest that you stick to white fish to begin with. They generally have a very mild flavour and many have a nicer texture. For example, cod, halibut, sea bass, snapper, monkfish, sea bream, haddock, tilapia etc. My absolute favourite is sea bass, which I genuinely love rather than just tolerate. Here are a couple of simple recipes for sea bass that I love (I've also tried substituting sea bream for sea bass):

Yan Kit's Steamed Sea Bass (it sounds simplistic and boring but it's the best fish in the world- you should also be able to get it at proper Cantonese restaurants)

Miso-glazed Sea Bass

Another recipe I really like is Jamie Oliver's Magnificent Roasted Monkfish (second recipe down). Monkfish is a very meaty fish so you might prefer the texture, and adding lots of other strongly flavoured ingredients like the sundried tomatoes and basil in this recipe can distract from the fact you're eating fish. Good luck with your fish quest- I've come a long way myself and I'm sure you can too!
posted by Kirjava at 4:58 AM on April 7, 2008

I'm fairly fond of lox, though I can't stand nearly any other fish. Try having a bagel and lox sometime.
posted by LSK at 4:59 AM on April 7, 2008

Tilapia when fresh isn't too fishy, but it might still have the texture thing going against it. I just pan-fry it coated in flour or breaded.
posted by that girl at 5:07 AM on April 7, 2008

Have you ever tried Scampi? It's basically prawns in batter and breadcrumbs, deep-fried. Very yummy and not that fishy either.

Also, it's a staple 80's classic, but you can't really go wrong with an old-school prawn cocktail.

(I'm quite fond of prawns, as you can see!)

If you're feeling more adventurous, you could always try something like this jerk red snapper recipe. Fresh or frozen snapper isn't as "fishy" (I know exactly what you mean by this) as something like salmon, and the seasonings would give it a nice spicy edge.

If you want to avoid the fishy taste, your best bet is to find a good fishmonger and get the freshest stuff he has and cook it that day. With fresh fish, I always find simpler is better. A nice fresh plaice or a bit of hake, fry off in a little but of butter, garnish with a little chopped parsley and lemon juice and serve.

You can't beat fresh.
posted by ReiToei at 5:20 AM on April 7, 2008

This coconut fish curry is really easy and delicious.
posted by oh pollo! at 5:39 AM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

The first fish I had that I liked was related to a Memorial Day fish fry that my family went to every year when I was growing up. Memorial Day corresponded with the opening of bass season in Michigan, and the menfolk would spend a day out on the lake catching small and large mouth bass enough to feed a hoard.

Prep was nothing more than a quick dredging in a pre-prepared fish coating and then pan frying in oil using electric skillets. Oh my it was good. Makes me want to go back to the fish fry if it weren't for the fact that when I grew up I began to realize that the fish wasn't worth dealing with the people. They were, shall we say, backwards-ass, extremely wealthy people with a strong tendency to racism, classism, homophobia and misogyny.

Maybe you can find a situation like that to try, minus the creepy company.
posted by Stewriffic at 6:14 AM on April 7, 2008

You remind me of my brother. He and I grew up together in the middle of Ohio, where the only fish was perch and walleye caught on Lake Erie, which I wouldn't recommend eating even if it were made of vegetables and fruit.

Our paths diverged in college, when I went to Chicago and he went to Boston, where you live. I started eating sushi. My brother didn't. Then I moved to California and started eating lots of kinds of fish (and shellfish) prepared in a variety of ways. My brother didn't.

We started off with the same aversions, but through experience I have developed a taste for fresh fish prepared well. He has had so few experiences, most of them terrible, that he won't touch the stuff. Even in Hawaii, where some of the best fish can be found!

Anyway, it sounds to me like you are eating the most fishy tasting fish, not prepared in the best way, and overcooked. Salmon and tuna get chewy when they are overdone. Fish is supposed to feel like butter in your mouth. Imagine filet mignon that you don't even need a butter knife to cut.

Start with milder flavored fish. Something white, like cod or mahi mahi. Eat it in a good restaurant with a reputation for cooking fish properly. Eat sushi. Start with spicy tuna, which has enough extra flavors to distract you from the fish. Soon you can try sashimi. Also, try fish tacos. They are the bomb.

Soon you will be eating uni and live shrimp. Well, maybe not too soon.
posted by billtron at 6:15 AM on April 7, 2008

I used to hate fish. I'd start with Haddock. I really like blackened barbecue catfish, which is really unfishy.

It's taken me a long time, but I can even enjoy Mackeral now, which is crazy fishy.
posted by sully75 at 6:17 AM on April 7, 2008

Tuna can sometimes get a bit dry. What I do is fry the tuna quickly on both sideswith some onions and herbs in a wok (any pan with a lid would do), then add white wine and/or chicken stock (just enough for it to sit in, not covered), put a little bit of paprika and soy sauce (trust me) on the tuna, put the lid on the pan and let it braise gently with no further heat for about 15-20 minutes. Don't let it dry out. I bet even a pesciphobe (? fish-hater) would love it.
posted by Phanx at 6:38 AM on April 7, 2008

I agree with Kirjava - salmon is a bit strong for a fish novice. Here are a couple of basic fish recipes:

- Flouder or fluke. Dip in egg wash, then italian bread crumbs. Cook in 1/4 inch of olive oil, medium heat, a few minutes, then turn, cook a few minutes longer. (I don't know what "a few minutes" is, I go by the look of the edge.) A nice dipping sauce is Trader Joe's Wasabi Mayonaise.

- Swordfish. Coat with a little olive oil, salt & pepper. Cook on the grill, 5 minutes each side. Great as is, but again, Wasabi Mayo.

- If you still want to try salmon, try poaching. I poached once in beer - yum!

Seconding fresh tuna - overcooked it can be dry. So I suggest carpaccio; take a block, sear each side. Should be rare/raw inside. Might be a bit of a challenge for you, though.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:03 AM on April 7, 2008

Contrary to billtron, walleye and perch is some of the best fish I've ever had. Mine doesn't come from Lake Erie, but from nice lakes in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada. They aren't really fishy (in my opinion), but have nice flavor- I suggest buying some fillets, a product called Shore Lunch (it's breading - the best) and frying it in peanut oil. I also agree with people that sushi is a great way to go, if you have access to it. It's fun, healthy, and this time I'm agreeing with billtron, something like a spicy tuna roll will really give your mouth something to think about besides the fish!
posted by whiskey point at 7:31 AM on April 7, 2008

Poaching is the best way to remove the fishy taste. That slow cooker recipe looks nice and could be accomplished on the stove as well. I like to poach in vegetable or chicken stock with carrots, celery and onion, plus a bay leaf or two, fine herbs (although with salmon dill is more traditional, but then I would probably skip the bay leaf), salt and pepper. The key is to leave the lid off and keep the temperature just below boiling. Chilled poached salmon with a cold sauce (such as a cucumber dill mayo type) is wonderful on a hot summer day. Even people who hate fish will like it.
posted by caddis at 7:40 AM on April 7, 2008

Oh, you also have to start with the very freshest of fish. Get you fish from the fish store, not the supermarket.
posted by caddis at 7:41 AM on April 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Kedgeree is an interesting relatively non-fishy fish dish. Traditionally something for breakfast, but now more usually eaten for dinner.
posted by edd at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2008

whiskey point, the fish I eat on canoe trips to the BWCA is also some of the best fish I have had. It wasn't really the walleye and perch that I was objecting to, but the marinade that is Lake Erie. Lest we forget the Great Cuyahoga Fire of 1969.
posted by billtron at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2008

Oh, you also have to start with the very freshest of fish. Get you fish from the fish store, not the supermarket.

So important, it must be repeated.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2008

Have you tried Shark? Texturally it reminds me of pork.
posted by HauteMama at 8:42 AM on April 7, 2008

What caddis said! I had friends on both Long-liners and Trawlers... My kitties and I have been spoilt ROTTEN!!

Mahi-Mahi (or Dolphin Fish) will blow your mind. Nothing is as delicious!

Tuna isn't really my scene, I tried it again and again. All different ways... Neh. Compared to Doli it's.. a bit rough. Cats like it though :)

Snapper is good too. Coral Trout. Any reef fish pretty much!
When it's fresh it has no smell. If you can smell it you shouldn't be eating it (if you are very spoilt). But yeah you might have noticed a stink (occasionally a stench) at the supermarket... DO NOT EAT THAT! Ick...

*Tin Foil
Cracked pepper
Capsicum (any or all colours)
Lemon pepper
**ect. ect. ect. - You know - all that kind of stuff but not tomatos...
Sundried is ok though.
*Open the foil over rice when cooked.

How To Crumb Something
*Plain Flour.
I use a plate and just one at a time swish and flip each thing 'til it's completely coated.
*Egg and dash of milk.
*Quality crumbs (no seeds and grains ect. in it.)
For the Egg wash I use a deep plate rather than a bowl.
Disposable gloves are cool :)
Someone handy to pour out more crumbs if needed is cool too.

Dip the portion in the Egg wash (Swiftly like splash-splash done.)
Then straight onto your pile of crumbs.
Burry it and press firmly (Count 1..2)
Flip and repeat. (Obviously if they're say chicken drumsticks you'll just have to like smush them with cupped handfuls of crumbs more than just ulilizing the plate.)

Unless you're real quick/on top of things/have help - crumb everything before you start cooking it.

Yum Yum!!
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:17 AM on April 7, 2008

If you are cooking at home, laying the fish in a milk bath while you set up your other ingredients will also help the fishy taste.
posted by legotech at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2008

I had a similar experience. For me, I think it mostly had to do with bones. I had to chew forever and filter out all the damn bones and by the time that happened, all the flavor of the fish was gone and what was left of vaguely fishy gum. Eccch.

At some point, I was exposed to fish that been properly cleaned and cooked and had far fewer bone experiences and the flavor grew on me. Sushi was definitely a gateway into enjoyment, as mentioned above.

One of my very least favorite fish to start is now one of my favorites: trout. With proper cleaning and cooking, the bones come out pretty much in one piece, leaving behind trouty goodness.
posted by plinth at 10:39 AM on April 7, 2008

IMHO, start with high-quality sushi as mentioned repeatedly above. Specifically ask for something harmless. If you can tolerate it, work through the various sushi options, and then proceed into cooked fish.

Why I say this: if you can't stand top-grade sushi, it's unlikely you'll ever be able to really like fish. I can taste some of the chemicals associated with the omega fatty acids, and consequently I cannot stand any fish regardless of quality. This also means I don't like pretty much any food that's rich in omegas, unless it's been spiced enough that I don't taste much of anything.

I spent a long-ass time trying to attune myself to fish; I thought I disliked the texture, I thought perhaps I wasn't eating good quality product, etc. etc. Eventually a biochemist I was having dinner with explained it to me.

The point being, this may be a long road. Find out if you can reach the destination before you set out or you may (like me) waste a great deal of time eating things that make you retch.
posted by aramaic at 10:43 AM on April 7, 2008

Halibut is the gateway drug of fish. Start there, and then work your way up to the fishier fish.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 11:19 AM on April 7, 2008

I absolutely agree with everyone who suggested sushi. I was in a very similar position to you before I started eating sushi. Go someplace with a very good reputation. If you walk in the door and it stinks of fish, walk out. Don't order rolls, even though they're a good price. You may like them, but if you don't , you'll never know if it was because of the fish or the seaweed or whatever else is in them. Try either nigiri (that's just a lump of sushi rice with a piece of something, usually sashimi, on top) or just sashimi (raw fish). This sounds very strange, but raw fish has to be so fresh that it rarely has that "fishy" quality that puts me off. I recommend tuna (maguro), salmon (sake, not to be confused with the alcohol), and yellowtail (hamachi). Other fish (mackerel, red snapper, etc.) have fishier tastes, so give them a shot if you're not horribly offended by the tuna and salmon. Raw octopus is far too chewy for me, but I recently discovered scallops, which were extremely slimy, but very tasty and not chewy or fishy.

When you move up to cooked fish, my advice is to eat fish that have been cooked by somebody else, and only on high recommendation from other people (especially someone who understands what you mean when you say "fishy taste"). If you can convince yourself that there's a type of dish you can enjoy, then worry about trying to make it yourself. It's hard to tell whether you screwed up the dish or whether you just don't like that kind of dish at all. But again, I emphasize that you only eat dishes from restaurants that other people highly recommend.

Why does quality make such a difference here? Here's my pet theory: I think most people who grow up hating fish are probably supertasters (they make up approximately 25% of the population, so this is not a stretch). (If you also find yourself sensitive to the taste of alcohol, coffee, and spicy foods, it's a pretty good bet that you're a supertaster.) It's not that everyone else likes that "fishy" taste, but rather that it just doesn't hit them as strongly. Foodies who aren't supertasters still prefer less fishy tastes, even if they're willing to tolerate such a taste. So you can still take advice from them, even if they don't share your apprehension for seafood.

On preview: As Aramaic says, it is quite possible that you will never like fish. That's why it's important to start with the best and simplest dishes possible. That way you can figure out just where your limits are. I don't think I'll ever come to terms with jellyfish, for example.
posted by ErWenn at 11:47 AM on April 7, 2008

Please no seafood, though, I'm ok with the idea that I'll never eat lobster, clams, etc.

I'm sorry for your loss. I say this in part because my better half was pretty anti-fish herself. It took some really awesome grilled cayenne-garlic shrimp skewers to begin changing her perspective. But, if you absolutely refuse the pleasures crustacean, I guess we'll have to start somewhere else.

Do you like pecans? Do you like butter? Of course you do! Do you like trout? Not yet, I know, but I think you'll find the combination delicious. It's a mild, flavorful way to ease yourself into fish, and it's dead-simple. Get four rainbow trout fillets, skin-on. Pat them dry, remove any pin bones that eluded your fishmonger's attention, then dredge them in a seasoned flour (salt, black pepper, cayenne). Melt about 3 T butter in a pan over medium-high heat and cook the fish for... gosh, 2 minutes a side, I'd guess, starting with the skin-side down. Remove them to a warm plate, wipe the skillet, melt another couple of T of butter and saute some chopped pecans until toasty brown. Squeeze a bit of lemon in, then pour over the fillets. It's mad easy, and there are countless variations of increasing complexity, because for some reason pecans go really nicely with trout.
posted by mumkin at 1:04 PM on April 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I don't want to mark a best answer until I've tried a bunch of these suggestions, but I'll come back and mark 'em once/if I hit on something that works!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2008

Nearly everyone I've talked to who has had a fish aversion had been fed fish that was either past its prime, overcooked, or both. Fish is a delicate meat. Too long out of the ocean and it gets that unpalatable fishy taste. Cook it too long, or in an inappropriate manner, and it turns to unappetizing mush.

I'd nthe sushi suggestion. Find a seafood lover and go to the best sushi restaurant you're comfortable with. You can order small servings of four to eight pieces at a time. Try a piece with as open a mind as you can. If you have a bad reaction, give the rest to your friend. Look to your friend for suggestions. Personally, I love salmon and tuna, they are both rich and delicious.

If you're not comfortable with jumping right to the raw stuff, get your fish-loving friend to recommend a good seafood restaurant. You should look for a place that has made and maintains its reputation on serving the best seafood around.

Re-reading my suggestion, I guess I'm saying that you should find yourself a guide, someone who can take you by the hand and lead you to the things that they love with the hope of being able to share it with you. That's part of How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb Fish.
posted by lekvar at 7:39 PM on April 7, 2008

Fish tastes fishier if you cook it too long, so that's something else to keep in mind.

If you have to go one way or the other, err in undercooking your fish. If it's a whitefish, it should flake away when you touch it with your fork. Once it's gotten to that stage it will still be palatable even if it's ever so slightly undercooked (and you can always pop it in the microwave for 30-45 seconds if it needs a tiny bit more time).

I'm going to disagree with people suggesting cod. I always associate it as having a chewier texture, which might be off-putting. I pan-fried a small perch a month or so ago that was absolutely delicious, and I think that's something you might enjoy.

At all costs, do not bake your fish. In my experience, this results in fishier flavor. The best results come from pan-frying or deep frying. You want really fresh fish..it might be a good idea to pick it out yourself. Don't buy fillets, buy whole fish and have the seafood person gut it, scale it, and cut it up for you. Good indicators for freshness are clear eyes, a fresh looking skin, and a firmish texture (shouldn't feel spongy or mushy), but above all the smell will tell you how fresh it is. If you don't at all like the smell of it uncooked, odds are good you won't like it cooked. It shouldn't smell like fish; it should smell like the ocean and nothing else (I think I might be plagiarizing a MeFite on that tip). Cooking the fish whole, with the skin on, may increase the fish smell somewhat but the fishiest fish I've eaten without question has always been fillets, for whatever reason. I think keeping the fish meat with the skin and bones somehow protects it while cooking or something; the most delicious fish I've eaten was always fish cooked with the skin and bones.

Also, not to be a Debbie Downer but certain fish are horribly, horribly overfished. I loved monkfish the times that I had it (ohhhh, and monkfish liver) but apparently Monkfish is something we really shouldn't eat. Since you already don't like fish very much, it seems a shame to eat a fish that you might hate anyway. I would check out the following list of seafood best choices and choose fish that is sustainable, since if you're going to be tossing a fillet of fish you can't stomach, or worse forcing yourself to finish it while holding your nose the whole time, it might as well be a fish that is plentiful. The bad news: a lot of the best choices are really, really fishy fish like mackeral and sardines. Which is fine for me, since I love 'em!
posted by Deathalicious at 1:04 AM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you can get ahold of some Cobia fillets, grill them with just a little oil and salt, then server them in a lemon/caper/butter sauce.


It's an amazing, non-fishy fish.

posted by Clay at 9:29 PM on April 15, 2008

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