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Success with Fish: Frugal Tips and Advice on Prepping and Cooking Fish and Shellfish, from the Experts (with Video Demos)

By Vicki McClure Davidson


Buying, preparing, and cooking fish and other seafood properly can be tricky. It's not difficult, but there are a number of tricks you need to know to do it well. Many of us don't live near coastal or lake areas, so we aren't as knowledgeable about cooking times, marinades, herbs, and everything necessary to cook an outstanding fish or seafood dish.

A badly cooked fish dish can be... well, really bad. You'll save money if you can learn the basics and avoid ruining a fish dish.

Preparing fish is not difficult, but you need to be sure to cook it correctly, or you'll lose money and time by ruining the dish. | Photo credit: MS Clips

Preparing fish is not difficult, but you need to be sure to cook it correctly, or you'll lose money and time by ruining the dish. | Photo credit: MS Clips 


Success with Fish Directory

Buying Fish and Seafood

Prepping and Cooking Fish and Seafood

Videos: Cooking Methods & Recipes for Fish and Seafood

Extra Tips: Flavorings, Accompaniments for Fish and Seafood


Many Americans are afraid of cooking fish at home. Americans eat, on average, only about 15 pounds of fish per person per year, but eat twice as much fish in restaurants as at home. So it's not that we don't like to eat fish... we simply don't have confidence in cooking it at home.

With every food dollar being precious, cooking fish properly is important. Kids will squawk about eating badly prepared fish, especially if it's undercooked, too dry, or too "fishy" tasting.

Avoid family squabbles and save money by following the cooking secrets and tips from expert chefs and cooking professionals to prepare fish and seafood dishes beautifully. There are also key things to look for when buying fish or seafood.



Buying Fish and Seafood

Frugal Fish Tips"Any really fresh fish will never smell—look for clear eyes, shiny scales, and red gills. And always trust your instincts. If you can't get to the fish because it's behind a counter, have a look at the way it's presented. If the tuna has been badly or unevenly cut, or if the cod is broken open as it has been dumped in a pile, or if the scallops are sitting in a puddle of fish juice or defrosted ice, then you know that the people behind the counter are not very knowledgeable or passionate about what they do. If, however, everything is neatly proportioned and arranged and nothing's sitting in murky water, then the chances are that you are in safe hands."

Source: Oliver, Jamie, Jamie's Kitchen: A Cooking Course for Everyone, Hyperion Press, Inc., NY, 2002.

Frugal Fish Tips"Guidelines for fish are hard to give here, since people vary widely on how they like their fish cooked. Usually, when fish turns opaque, it is cooked through. (I like it when it still has a touch of translucence, except in the case of very meaty fish, such as tuna, which I like seared on the edges and rare in the center.) Try to take the fish out of the pan a few moments before it's done, as it will continue to cook on its own."

Source: Colicchio, Tom. Think Like a Chef, Clarkson N. Potter, Crown Publishing Group, NY, NY, 2000.

Frugal Fish Tips "Buy your mussels from the best fishmonger you can find. They should smell as clean and briny as the ocean, without even a suspicion of fishiness or ammonia. When you get them home, transfer them at once from their packaging to a bowl, cover with a damp towel, and refrigerate."

Source: Puck, Wolfgang, Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy: Delicious Recipes for Your Home Kitchen, Rutledge Hill Press, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, 2004.

Frugal Fish Tips "Florida mullet is available year-round, but the harvest is at its peak in November and December. A firm, full-flavored fish, mullet is a favorite in Southern cooking and is often served with hush puppies and cheese grits."

Source:, "Seafood Cooking Tips," (

Frugal Fish Tips"When you buy oysters, make sure that they smell fresh, not fishy, that the liquid that they're in is clear, and that they're all pretty much the same size."

Source: Food Network website cooking video, Giada De Laurentiis, "Everyday Italian: Easy Fried Clams and Oysters," 2006.

Frugal Fish Tips"When at the butcher's or fishmonger's, ask them to fillet and bone what you've bought—it's good to watch them do it."

Source: Oliver, Jamie, Jamie's Kitchen: A Cooking Course for Everyone, Hyperion Press, Inc., NY, 2002.

Frugal Fish Tips"Clams and oysters (molluscan shellfish) should be purchased alive. Shells of live clams and oysters may open naturally but will close tightly when tapped, indicating that they are alive. Discard any dead ones.

Never store live (in the shell) oysters or clams in air-tight containers. Place them in a container with a lid that is slightly ajar and refrigerate for no more than five days. Oysters and clams will naturally open during storage. Tap the shell lightly. If it does not close, it is dead and must be discarded."

Source:, "Seafood Buying, Storage and Handling Tips," (


In this full video, unconventional British chef Jamie Oliver demonstrates in the first episode in 2002 of Oliver's Twist how to buy fresh fish and how to prepare it for authentic British fish and chips at home.

Oliver's Twist, 101 Fish & Chips At Home - Full Episode


Prepping and Cooking Fish and Seafood

Frugal Fish Tips"The basic principle of the Canadian rules for cooking is that fish is measured at its thickest point—its depth, not across the fish—and that it be cooked, no matter how, at exactly 10 minutes per inch. This applies to fillets, whole fish, and steaks, and it applies to baking, broiling, braising, sautéing, frying, poaching, steaming—every sort of preparation of fish. When cooking rolled fillets, measure the diameter of the fillet after you have rolled it. When poaching fish, wait until it reaches the simmering point after you put it into the boiling water, then count your 10 minutes per inch. In sautéing or frying, measure a fillet or a fish, and give it 10 minutes per inch or any fraction thereof. In baking, bake it at 10 minutes per inch in a 450-degree oven. In braising, do the same thing. And in pan frying or broiling, follow the same rule. The Canadian cooking theory does not apply when cooking shellfish or crustaceans. Elsewhere, it works like a charm and is completely foolproof."

Source: Beard, James. James Beard's New Fish Cookery, Warner Books, NY, 1954.

Frugal Fish Tips"Everyone gets a little bit nervous cooking fish because they think it's difficult. It's not. The most important thing to remember when you're cooking fish is STOP touching it. Leave it, leave it in there to cook. Turn it once, and once only, and use a fish slice [i.e., narrow triangular fish server]. That's all. Nothing complicated in that. You can always tell when your salmon's cooked because you can actually see the difference in the color... and when that gets to two-thirds of the way up there, it's time to turn the salmon. That's not rocket science, is it? Just watch the color in what you're cooking, keep an eye on it, time 4-1/2 to 5 minutes, and flip it over."

Source: "Crispy Salmon Recipe" included on DVD that supplements book: Ramsay, Gordon, Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy, Quadrill Publishing Ltd., London, 2005.

Frugal Fish Tips"The smaller the soft-shelled crab and the earlier it is caught in the molting process, the tenderer and the better flavored it will be. Usually soft-shelled crab is bought already cleaned at the market, but here is the process in case you must do it yourself. With the aid of a small sharp-pointed knife, fold back the covering at the points of the back, and remove all the spongy bits your find there. Turn the crab over and remove the small apron on the front. Two or three soft-shelled crabs are usually ample for one portion. There are, of course, some people with hearty appetites who can eat a dozen at a sitting."

Source: Beard, James. James Beard's New Fish Cookery, Warner Books, NY, 1954.

Frugal Fish Tips"[For many dishes,] mussels can be substituted for clams or used in addition to clams."

Source: More of the Best of Bon Appétit, The Knapp Press, Los Angeles, CA, 1984.

Frugal Fish Tips"There are two Japans: old Japan and new Japan. Old Japan is what I follow here at Sushi Yasuda and focus more on traditional sushi making, with special attention paid to the rice and to correct portion size. Here at Sushi Yasuda, rice is very important and I make and season my own rice, like they used to in Japan... Big cuts are seen as a positive thing in this new sushi world, which is not necessarily true. Also, people think that the fresher a fish is the better it is. This is generally true, but some fish are actually better after a day or two of preparation. Old Japan is standard. I am standard. You see nothing extraordinary here."

Source: Livadiotis, Christina, Sushi Chef Secrets: Naomichi Yasuda, Zagat website (, June 11, 2008.

Frugal Fish Tips"Whether you are going to poach your fish in water or milk, or in any of the court bouillons, timing is exactly the same. Bring the water or milk to the boiling point; place the fish in it. When it returns to the boiling point, begin timing the fish. Allow 10 minutes cooking time per inch thickness for fresh fish, about 20 minutes cooking time per inch thickness for frozen fish."

Source: Beard, James. James Beard's New Fish Cookery, Warner Books, NY, 1954.

Frugal Fish Tips"The only painless way of opening oysters I know of is to pick out each oyster at the market yourself. Choose only those with just enough of a gap at the hinge end so that you can take a beer-can opener, pointed end up, and just be able to force it into the gap. To open the oyster, you hold it curved side down on your work surface with one hand, force the beer-can opener into the gap with the other hand, bear down hard on the opener's handle, and up pops the hinge end off the top shell. Then take your sharp little knife and scrape down the inside surface of the top shell. Twist it off and loosen the oyster where it is attached to the bottom shell."

Source: Child, Julia. Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000.

Frugal Fish Tips"In Britain, sardines are regarded as the poor man's fish. Yet, in places like Roses, which is a town two hours outside Barcelona, sardines caught locally are the absolute king fish, the jewel in the crown. The nice thing about cooking and eating sardines (grill them, as they are oily) is that everything is self-contained. They have a very high protein value, so I like to eat them around running time—whether I'm training for a marathon or just out jogging. We serve sardines at the Boxwood Café and it's a nice way of eating something which has maybe been a bit forgotten about. Don't waste your time trying to pick all the bones out—they will be so soft that they will just disintegrate."

Source: Ramsay, Gordon. Kitchen Heaven, Penguin Global/Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2005.

Frugal Fish Tips"Fresh Florida stone crab claws are back in seafood markets... The stone crab season is open from October 15 to May 15 each year. These delicacies are perfect for fall football gatherings and holiday parties, and they are especially easy since they can be purchased cooked and ready to eat. To enjoy the delectable, sweet meat, just crack the shells and dip into melted butter or your favorite sauce. The claws are cooked immediately after harvest and sold fresh-cooked or frozen in seafood markets. To eat, crack the shell using a crab cracker or the back of a heavy spoon. Carefully remove the cracked shell pieces (they can be sharp) leaving the meat attached to the moveable pincer. The meat can also be picked from the claws and used as an ingredient in other recipes. Approximately 2.5 pounds of cooked stone crab claws will yield 1 pound of meat."

Source:, "Stone Crabs," (

Frugal Fish Tips"If the notion of eating raw oysters from the shell doesn't appeal to you, then try them marinated—the best of both worlds."

Source: Ramsay, Gordon. In the Heat of the Kitchen, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2003.

Frugal Fish Tips"Fish stock can be prepared several days ahead and refrigerated, or frozen for up to 2 months."

Source: More of the Best of Bon Appétit, The Knapp Press, Los Angeles, CA, 1984.

Frugal Fish Tips"Monkfish—it's quite a difficult fish to get right because it's a little watery fish. [Sprinkle on the fish] curry powder and salt... the salt starts to extract the water, so when we come to roasting it, it doesn't boil. We get a really nice color on there."

Source: Ramsay, Gordon. The F Word, BBC, season 1, episode 2, "Monkfish with Curried Mussels," aired November 2005.

Frugal Fish Tips"Scallops, clams, oysters, and shrimp become opaque and firm when fully cooked. Don't overcook, as this will result in loss of moisture, which affects texture and taste. To boil, place shrimp and scallops in a large pot of boiling water (4 cups of water per pound of meat) and simmer 3 to 5 minutes. [When broiling], scallops and peeled and deveined shrimp will be cooked in 3 to 5 minutes. Rock shrimp cook in about half the time of regular shrimp, so watch closely. Shucked clams and oysters will be cooked in 3 to 5 minutes. Seafood with lower fat content -- like shrimp, scallops, clams, and oysters -- should be basted when cooked with a dry heat method, such as broiling or baking. "

Source:, "Seafood Cooking Tips," (

Frugal Fish Tips"Never use salmon bones and heads for fish stock. The fish is too fatty and strong-tasting."

Source: Puck, Wolfgang. Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy: Delicious Recipes for Your Home Kitchen, Rutledge Hill Press, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, TN, 2004.

Frugal Fish Tips"Do not overcook this dish. Most seafoods... should be simply threatened with heat and then celebrated with joy."

Source: Smith, Jeff. Bay Gourmet website, (

Frugal Fish Tips"The sturdier and fattier fish, including grouper, salmon, tuna, swordfish, and shark, grill beautifully. Make sure that your grill is very clean and oil it lightly before adding the fish. Then leave the fish alone! If the grill is properly preheated and prepared, the fish will develop a nice crust and will release when cooked. "

Source: Larsen, Linda,, "Busy Cooks, How to Cook Fish," (

Frugal Fish Tips"The problem many people have with grilling fish is that it falls apart. To avoid this, be sure to oil both the fish and the grate. Take the fish off the grill when the center is just opaque—it will continue cooking once it's off the grill."

Source: Bon Appetit website, "Grilled Fish," (

Frugal Fish Tips"Fish is most responsive to flavoring during the actual cooking process."

Source: Beard, James. James Beard's New Fish Cookery, Warner Books, NY, 1954.

Frugal Fish Tips"To clean [soft shell] crabs, place on back and remove triangular apron. Lift flaps on each end and remove spongy lungs, exposing cartilage. Using scissors, cut off head just behind eyes. Squeeze body to release sack and discard."

Source: More of the Best of Bon Appétit, The Knapp Press, Los Angeles, 1984.

Frugal Fish Tips"Brill bones and turbot bones are the most sought-after in any kitchen. That will make the most perfect fish stock."

Source: Ramsay, Gordon. The F Word, "Brill in Red Wine Sauce" episode, BBC, season 1, episode 4, first aired November 2005.

Frugal Fish Tips"Be careful with canned or bottled clam juice: be sure it tastes fresh and fine, remember it is naturally salty, and use it in diluted form. When you need 1 quart of fish stock, for instance, use 1-1/2 to 2 cups of clam juice and add plain water; start with the smaller amount of clam juice and add a little more if you think it is needed."

Source: Child, Julia, From Julia Child's Kitchen, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY, 1982.

Frugal Fish Tips"Most whole fish are prepared with the head and tail on the fish, but scale and with the fins run. For ease in handling, wrap the fish in cheesecloth. Leave long ends on the cloth to serve as tabs at each end of the fish and grasp these when you lift it."

Source: Beard, James. James Beard's New Fish Cookery, Warner Books, NY, 1954.



Video Help: Demonstrations on Several Cooking Methods & Recipes for Fish and Seafood

There are so many economical ways to prepare fish and other seafood. This is an eclectic selection of videos to give you fresh ideas on fish and shellfish meal preparation.


Grilling Fish: Canadian House & Home Magazine Food Editor Claire Tansey: Tips and Recipes for Grilling Whole Fish, Fillets, and Steaks


Cuca Brazuca: How to Make Muqueca, Brazilian Fish Stew


Gordon Ramsay: Crispy Salmon with New Potatoes


Cape Cod Times: How to Make a Championship Clam Chowder


BBQ Pit Boys: BBQ Shrimp with Crab Meat Stuffing


RV Cooking Show: Morro Bay, CA & Easy, Elegant Rockfish


Extra Tips: Flavorings, Accompaniments for Fish and Seafood

Frugal Fish Tips"You put in about three-quarter of a cup of olive oil, it depends on how much the quantity you're making. The idea is when you make a pesto, you make sure that there's enough olive oil to create a really nice paste. ...Pesto is wonderful to put on chicken dishes, on pasta dishes, I put it on fish, I put it on pizza, I put it on everywhere! I have it in my freezer. Whenever I need it, I take it out. ...Keep it in your freezer, and put it into ice cube trays. You need a little sauce in two minutes, you can add it to chicken. Sauté up some chicken breasts, put a little cube of pesto in there, a little bit of chicken broth, and you have a phenomenal sauce."

Source: "Chef Jean-Pierre's Gourmet Minutes - The Perfect Pesto,", 2006.

Frugal Fish Tips"Trout and other small fish are easy to poach in wine: you arrange them in a baking dish, pour wine and water over them, add aromatic flavorings, and the cooking takes a mere 10 minutes. Serve them hot very simply with melted butter and lemon, or be elaborate with one of the great French fish sauces. On the other hand, let them cool in their poaching liquid, and their delicate flesh will reabsorb its own juices plus the flavor of the wine and seasonings. Then serve them forth cold, with a sour cream dressing or a homemade mayonnaise, or, for total elegance, dress them in aspic for a beautiful cool summer's meal. Too few of us take advantage of cold cooked fish, and we should since it makes an easy first course or a delightful main-course luncheon dish."

Source: Child, Julia, From Julia Child's Kitchen, Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY, 1982.

Frugal Fish Tips"Caramelized onions have a really high sugar content, they're so good... What I love about caramelized onions is how versatile they are. I'm going to put them on my little pizzette, but you can put them on bruschetto or top chicken or fish with them. Now I'll put them in my pan. We're going to cook them for an hour and forty-five minutes, so it's kind of a slow process. I know it looks like a lot of onions right now, but it's going to shrink down to very little. ...They're going to cook until they're golden and almost as sweet as candy. Yup, they will be."

Source: De Laurentiis, Giada. Food Network website cooking video, "Everyday Italian: Hearty Proscuitto Pizzettes," 2007.

Frugal Fish Tips"What's the secret to perfectly cooked tuna with a crisp crust? Start with the right tuna: Yellowfin is the top choice in the test kitchen. And give the crust some help by adding sesame seeds—they pair well with the tuna and brown beautifully. Just rub the fish with oil to help the sesame seeds adhere."

Source: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," April 17, 2009.

Frugal Fish Tips"Shellfish with bacon is a classic combination. The sensation of salty, briny clams with slightly sweet pancetta is one of my favorites."

Source: Colicchio, Tom. Think Like a Chef, Clarkson N. Potter, Crown Publishing Group, NY, NY, 2000.

Frugal Fish Tips"Marinating fish adds flavor and moisture to the flesh, but any marinating should be very brief. If fish flesh sits in acidic ingredients for more than 30 minutes, the acid will begin to denature the delicate protein, and you'll have a mushy fish when it's cooked. Even richer flesh of salmon and tuna should only be marinated for about an hour."

Source: Larsen, Linda,, "Busy Cooks, How to Cook Fish," (

Frugal Fish Tips"Noilly Prat is one of my secret flavorings. This classic vermouth, with its hint of sweet aniseed, is perfect for enhancing fish and shellfish. I often use it in combination with a little Cognac. Like sherry, it is a fortified wine, so once opened, it can be kept in the pantry."

Source: Ramsay, Gordon. In the Heat of the Kitchen, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, 2003.

Frugal Fish Tips"A glaze is a stock that has been cooked until much of the water has evaporated and the volume reduced. You can make a glaze with meat, fish, or fowl because the natural gelatin from the bones gives the stock the glutinous quality it needs for successful reduction. The best way to store glazes is in ice trays in the freezer. When preparing a soup or sauce, add one cube of glaze to the stock already in the recipe, and the flavor and texture will be enhanced dramatically."

Source: Lagasse, Emeril and Tirsch, Jessie. Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking, William Morrow Cookbooks, NY, 1993.




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