Scared to Cook Fish? Discover Seafood’s Splendor

From locally sourced eggs, meats and dairy to plant-based proteins such as legumes, nuts and seeds, the popularity of and interest in sustainable protein sources is ever-growing — including the wide variety of seafood options. A good source of lean protein, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, seafood provides many health benefits, such as lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke, decreasing triglyceride levels and reducing blood pressure.

The American Heart Association recommends eating seafood, especially fatty fish, at least twice a week to reap the many health benefits these underwater protein sources provide.

Many perceive cooking seafood at home to be a challenge, which is one of the reasons why about two-thirds of all seafood is consumed at restaurants. Tweet this Armed with a few simple tips on how to properly purchase and prepare the vast array of options can help transform any home cook into a seafood connoisseur.


The two general types of fish are lean and fatty. Lean, or what is commonly known as "white fish," tends to have a mild flavor and delicate texture and includes varieties such as haddock, tilapia, pollock, catfish, flounder and halibut.

Fatty fish have more of a steak-like or meaty texture and carry a bolder, more "fishy" flavor thanks to their abundance of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These include salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and trout.

Fresh, whole or filleted fish should have a mild seawater or cucumber odor, with firm flesh and no signs of browning or discoloration. If you’re buying whole fish with scales, the scales should lie flat and close to the skin without a dry or ruffled appearance. Frozen fish should be solid without any signs of ice crystal formation, which is an indicator of thawing and refreezing. Never thaw frozen fish at room temperature or refreeze it. Instead, thaw it in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag with cold water or in the microwave if it will be cooked immediately.

Fresh fish can be cooked many ways. Some of the most popular methods are grilled, baked or pan-fried. Whole fish requires the longest cooking time, using the guide of 10 minutes per inch. Measure the thickest part of the fish for reference and flip halfway through the cooking time. Fish fillets or steaks take about eight to 10 minutes to cook, and all fish should reach an internal temperature of 145°F. It's important to remember to grease your grill grates or skillet with a high-heat cooking oil, such as sunflower or peanut oil, and cook fish over medium-high heat flipping only once. This will help keep the fish from sticking and lock in the flavor and moisture.

More delicate and flaky white fish varieties pair best with mild flavors and sauces made with citrus, fresh herbs or butter-based sauces. Fattier fish can withstand bolder or stronger flavors, spices and sauces, including blackening spice mixes, jerk seasoning, Asian-inspired glazes and fresh fruit salsa toppings.

In terms of sustainability, look for varieties that are caught in the U.S., with some of the most sustainable choices being catfish, tilapia and Pacific troll- or pole-and-line-caught tuna.


Live crustaceans such as lobsters, crab, shrimp and crawfish should appear active in tanks to ensure freshness. If purchasing frozen, the meat should be frozen solid. If buying prepared, the meat should have a mild scent and opaque color, and be sold in the refrigerated aisle.

Steaming or boiling is the most popular cooking method for crustaceans, with whole lobsters taking the longest at about 18 to 20 minutes. Live crabs require about 10 to 12 minutes to cook, while shrimp and crawfish require about four to six minutes.

Cooked crustaceans should have bright red shells and flesh should be opaque in color. Once cooked through, additional cooking methods such as grilling or a quick sauté can be used to add more depth of flavor.

Lobster and crab have a softer texture similar to white fish and can be seasoned in the same fashion. Shrimp and crawfish tend to have a firmer texture and can withhold bolder flavors like those paired with fatty fish. The most sustainable varieties of crustaceans include King, Snow and Tanner crab, and U.S.-raised lobster, shrimp and crawfish.


Shellfish such as clams, mussels, scallops and oysters are generally sustainable seafood options. If purchasing fresh, they should have closed shells with a mild sweet smell. If shells are open, give them a quick tap, which should cause them to close shut. Discard any shells that remain open. Shellfish should be kept refrigerated in a dry, open pot or bowl until ready to use.

Scrub and rinse shells to remove any grit, and soak mussels and clams in fresh water for 20 minutes prior to cooking to expel any additional sand that may be inside.

Of all seafood, shellfish take the least amount of time to cook and are most often steamed. They generally take about four to eight minutes to prepare. Shells should open when cooked, and any shells that remain closed after cooking should be discarded. Shucked fresh or frozen shellfish can be quickly sautéed with olive oil or gently simmered in a tomato or seafood stock-based sauce. Serve over cooked pasta with sautéed vegetables or fresh bread for sopping up all the delicious sauce, and top with freshly chopped herbs.

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Emily Cooper
Emily Cooper, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in central New Jersey. Read her blog, Sinful Nutrition, and connect with her on Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram.

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