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Introducing myself to Seafood, or hi, how do you do?

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I have been, for the most part, vegetarian for 11 years. The thing is, I really want to try eating seafood regularly. I know that it is a healthy, lean source of protein, high in omegas, etc., and for some reason I don't feel too badly for fish (anyone who has owned them knows they are not the brightest of creatures), so I think I'll give it a whirl. Problem is, I haven't tasted much seafood since I was in my teen years. With the exception of some fish flakes in asian soups/dressings, and bites of sashimi at some local fine dining restaurants, I am pretty much a seafood dunce. My family was just not one for seafood. They prepared things like salmon, or tuna or shark steaks, and we had smoked ciscoes and anchovies, for example, but I have never in my life tasted (nor seen anyone in my family eat) shellfish or a wide variety of fish. So bottom line is, how do I ease into seafood? Is there a list of "gateway" fish out there? Any vegetarians out there who have also decided to incorporate fish? I love Japanese food, so non-threatening Japanese suggestions would be great, but I am open to pretty much any seafood in any preparation, either prepared at home or ordered at a restaurant....with one exception: I don't think I am ready for crustacea... I hate to not have an open mind, but to me these are "roaches of the sea," bottom feeding scavengers, I figure that other seafood is probably healthier for me anyway. Mollusks are ok. Is this a tall order? Suggestions from seafood lovin' chowhounds much appreciated.

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  1. In my family introduction to seafood begins with Flounder. It is a light, buttery tasting fish. Its pretty unoffensive and can be cooked a variety of ways. Salmon is a very healthy fish and pretty popular.
    I am a big fan of seafood so I encourage you to try whatever is available.
    A couple of tips:
    Beware of bones.
    Don't cook your fish to death, my favorite line for seafood is "cooked to the mere suggestion" When you overcook seafood there is no saving.
    Buy from the best. Find out when the seafood is delivered to the store and buy as fresh as possible.
    Always make sure they clean the tray the fish is weighed in. Most stores don't and you must be careful of cross contamination.

    1. Nikita,

      There are lots of good ways to ease into seafood. First caveat, though, is that there is a lot of bad seafood out there. As you like Japanese, I'd recommend starting with a nice mix of tempura, including some tempura shrimp (if you can get away from your crustacean aversion). They have a nice flavor, and usually an accessible texture. Sushi & Sashimi are another good choice. Have a friend who likes Sushi recommend a good place, and go with you. Try some tuna or salmon tatake (lightly seared fish in a citrus sauce) while you're there.

      Linguini with clam sauce is a nice dish, too, though if the clams are overcooked, they'll have a texture similar to rubber.

      From there, I'd move on to steamed fish, which is usually tender and less "fishy" than some other preparations. You'll probably find the best examples at Vietnamese and Chinese places, though they can show up in almost any seafood eating culture.

      When you're ready, try raw oysters, fresh grilled scallops, and muscles in white wine and butter with a nice crusty bread.

      1. This could sound odd to some, but since you've been vegetarian and favor Japanese food, I'd highly recommend going to a good Japanese restaurant (really Japanese, not Korean or Vietnamese doing Japanese), and get the chef's combination sushi selection, and/or sashimi. At a good place, the fish will be very fresh, lovely to look at and not too reminiscent of the living creature, and "clean" in a way your vegetable-oriented palate should appreciate.

        For cooked fish, I agree with dream of giusti that quality is very important and a delicate touch in cooking fish essential. There's another thread here somewhere about a fish novice; many people recommended Jamie Oliver's fish preparations which are simple and very good.

        1. I would say that Dreams' answer is on the money. Ask your chowish friends where they buy seafood in your area; freshness is the one key you can not overlook. Try to find a place that buys as much as they can whole or whole sides of the fish...it stays fresher that way and they can filet it as necessary. I agree with flounder being very mild; you might want to try breading it as an easy entry dish. I respectfully disagree w/ the suggestion of salmon as I generally find it rather over-powering. Another mild tasting fish, to me, is Alaskan halibut; easy to do on the grill and serve perhaps with a Thai chili sauce or roasted red pepper sauce.

          While fish may not be the brightest of all creatures, you may want to note that a lot of science indicates that there is severe overfishing going on and some fish populations are in danger of being wiped out. And fish farms are not necessarily the answer. It's just something to think about since your post indicates you care about animal welfare.

          1. I was actually a vegetarian for about ten years as well, and my transition back to fish was interesting. I found that sashimi is a good choice because it accentuates the flavor of just the fish, without diluting it (so you can remember what the fish itself tastes like before adding to it). Although there are lots of other fun, less threatening fish things to try.

            One of my personal favorites, you can make this at home, is making sesame crusted seared Ahi. Again, this brings out the true flavor of the fish. My suggestion here, as the others have said, is to get really fresh fish, and sear it at a really hot temperature. This creates a nice crust around the outside, and wonderfully moist fish on the inside (I prefer mine very rare). You can eat it as is, or put it atop a salad with some sort of asian dressing.

            Also, something I found that I really missed, perhaps because of my upbringing, is lox and cream cheese on a bagel (with red onion if you choose). Speaking of salmon, poaching it in white wine is easy and tasty. And you can put that over a salad, or serve it with all sorts of sauces.