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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.

            1. These are great suggestions everyone, please keep them coming! I wish I could afford to eat the awesome omikase at our best local Japanese fusion restaurant, because it also happens to be one of the best (if not the best) restos in my city. Unfortunately I don't have $150 right now to splurge eating there. The plan is to get comfy enough w/seafood so I can go there for my bday (a couple mos. away) so I can enjoy the full tasting menu and not just miso soup and veggie sushi/entrees. I hope it works out!

              There is, however a very good traditional Japanese restaurant near to me that I enjoy, and I would consider it the "second best" and also much more affordable. I think i will take the suggestion to get the chef's choice sashimi and go there this weekend. Although I am a bit scared of "chef's choice" in this case I wil try to be a true Chowhound and embrace the adventure.

              I appreciate the suggestions re: the ahi, the Alaskan hal, and the flounder, as well as the advice aboutt "cooking to mere suggestion" I have always known that one should never ever over cook seafood but I really enjoy the eloquence of that phrase. I live near to a very good gourmet market, and the seafood section is wedged between the produce and the wine, so you know I've passed through there a few times ;-) My problem is I don't like looking at all those dead fish bodies in the display and the lobsters in the tank, bleah! I know, I know, I need to get over it. The bf is a chef, actually and I've thought about asking him to go and select something for me, but this is really something I want to do on my own. Hopefully one day I can work my way up to those mussels in white wine that I've heard so much about my whole life. And to gourmanda's sentiments about the overfishing, etc., yes this is something I've considered. I also have been trying to weigh the pros/cons of the "health benefits" of seafood diet compared to the risks of mercury and other pollution issues. I am still wrestling with this, and I will consider myself a seafood eater on a probationary basis for a while. I will have to see if I feel healthier eating it, do a bit more research on risk/benefit factors, and also just see if I can learn to like it. Thanks to all.

              1 Reply
              1. re: femmenikita

                Salmon is lovely, but be sure what you buy is "wild caught." The farm raised stuff is vile and not healthy.

              2. i agree that the sashimi platters are a way to start. raw fish has a much milder taste than cooked fish, so it would probably be a good way to start. the texture of a sushi role with a strong fish taste may be a bit much, sashimi is simpler.
                fried fish of course is great.
                how about fish and shellfish dim sum, are you near a place that serves?
                also ny-style smoked salmon on a bagel or bread with cream cheese, or whitefish salad on same.

                i would stay away from squid and any fish cooked in butter or oil at first. note: the crustaceans and scallops are served w/out the intestines full of feces, clams and mussels contain them unavoidably. -- something to keep in mind.

                1 Reply
                1. re: fara

                  Lots of good advice in here. I agree that probably something like shrimp tempura is a great way to start, then something like shirmp scampi. Good shrimp has a very delicate flavor. Not only that, but almost anything drowned in butter and garlic (scampi) or battered and fried (tempura) can't be all bad right?

                  I also agree that IF you can find good FRESH fish, sashimi or sushi is the way to go. Some good Ahi properly prepared is not at all "fishy". Finally freshwater fish generally tastes fishier than saltwater. Stay away from the trout and catfish for now.