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I'm trying to conquer my fear of fish, any help appreciated!

So, for the longest time I have been afraid of cooking fish and I am now trying to overcome that fear. I love fish but am afraid I will totally ruin the fish by over/under cooking it. I am thinking of cooking a nice white meat fish or possibly salmon in parchment in the oven. Is this a good method for my first time cooking fish? And do any of you home chefs out there have a fool proof method of cooking fish? My hubby and I eat almost anything, but especially love Asian and Mexican flavors. Thanks!

P.S. We have a pretty good fishmonger in our area as well as a Whole Foods, so I think I am okay there, but would appreciate fish buying tips as well.

Edited to add: I will report back on my attempts with pics!

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  1. As I read your title and the start of your post, fish in parchment was exactly the suggestion I was about to make! :) Foolproof. I served fish this way at a dinner party, my first time ever cooking fish. I like it with a few olives, tomatoes, a little squeeze of lemon and some fresh herbs in the packets. This is so easy to prepare and tastes light and delicious. Good luck!

    Here's an epicurious recipe very similar to the way I've done it:

    1 Reply
    1. re: foxy fairy

      I was going to make a similar suggestion of "en papillote." Actually, Alton Brown has a good fish in parchment recipe on Food Network. I like onions, fennel, lemon, herbs, garlic, and white wine. You can also do an asian theme... layer wild mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, fish, chives, ginger, garlic, and drizzle with miso broth, then bake.

      You can also poach in miso broth, mixed with chives, garlic, soy sauce, then serve over white rice, steamed veggies and drizzle with leftover reduced broth (boil it after you remove the fish).

      I like to blacken fish (halibut, mahi mahi, sole, tuna), then broil and serve w/ lemon juice and/or salsa. A piece of sole usually takes 5 min or so, but a thicker cut will take a little longer to turn opaque. The only outlier is the tuna, which I broil only 1-2 minutes just to cook the exterior as I prefer mine essentially raw.

      If you're interested in salmon, the Dijon Baked Salmon on allrecipes.com is sooo easy, and always gets rave reviews from my father, a guy who doesn't often complain or praise food, so when he goes on about how good something is... I know it's a hit.

      One other foolproof fish preparation is ceviche... so many great recipes out there for this, depending upon what your tastes are.

    2. glaze, cooking fish is really easier than it seems, once you get the hang of it.
      As a basic rule of thumb, it is much more of a crime/tragedy to overcook fish, rather than undercook it. If you undercook it, the worst that could happen is you two don't like the texture of it and can tell it's been undercooked, and you can simply put it back to cook for a few minutes. If it's overcooked, you'll know - the whole house will smell, the fish will turn tough/leathery, and basically inedible! So when in doubt, cook a little less than you'd think (until you get really used to it.)
      Since you and your husband enjoy Asian flavors, I would really suggest getting a nice couple pieces of Ahi Tuna and searing them. Ahi is "the meat of the sea", and you can cook it almost like a piece of steak.
      At the fishmonger's, the 2 most important things to make sure of:
      1. Make sure the fish is fresh.
      2. Ask the fishmonger if you can smell the fish. Should smell faintly of the sea, if it's stronger, get some other fish!
      Once you get the tuna home, season it simply with cracked pepper. Sear it quickly on both sides - no longer than, say, 30-45 seconds on each side, depending on the thickness of the fish. It will be rare.
      Take off the heat, serve with soy sauce and wasabi for dipping and a simple salad, and enjoy!

      1. I don't care for salmon, but I will eat white fishes like flounder and sole. I recently tried jfood's Sole with Leeks and Tomatoes and it was very tasty and easy (thanks jfood!).


        1. I lived in Seattle for years and cooked a LOT of salmon. The best thing I learned when I first cooked it was--when in doubt, undercook. You can always put it back on the grill....in the oven....in the pan. It's not a bad rule of thumb for all fish. I live in California now, so I grill a lot. And I still always pull the fish sooner than I think I should. It will continue to cook....and again, worse case scenario, I cook it a little more. Sorry if this seems a little TOO overly simplified, but I've had a lot of overcooked fish at dinner parties at peoples' homes.

          1. Glazebrookgirl, if you are comfortable cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then cooking fish is going to be a breeze. You can basically do all the same things with white fish fillets that you do with chicken breasts, only it usually takes even less time to cook them!

            Since you like Asian flavors, you might start with a couple of sole fillets and some garlic and fresh cilantro. Get your sauté pan nice and hot and then put in a film of peanut oil. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on your fillets and Slide them into the hot oil. Cook face down for about 2 minutes, then turn them over, and add about a tablespoon of finely chopped cilantro and a couple of chopped garlic cloves. The whole cooking process won't take more than about 6 minutes, or your fish will be overdone. The thin fillets really cook FAST! You can do the same thing to halibut or cod, but then you'll need a lid and a bit of rice wine. After I add the garlic and cilantro, I add a little rice wine to the pan and cover it with the lid. In about 5 or 6 minutes, the fish will be cooked through.

            You can figure 10 minutes of cooking time for each inch of thickness of the fish.

            Happy Cooking!

            1. With the price of seafood what it is, you don't want to mess up your preparation of it that's for sure. A great and simple way to prepare fish is "in Cartoccio". You can search online for recipes, or just follow what foxy fairy has replied in this thread. Some other welcoming additions to fish fillets 'in cartoccio' are filetto di pomodoro, capers, white wine, and even dijon mustard if you like. This cooking technique is definitely worth
              a try, and the aromas in your kitchen will be simply incredible.

              1. This is a (cheating) winner for fish newbies:
                In a saucepan, heat spicy tomato salsa from a jar, pour it over white fish fillets and bake in a hot-ish oven for 10 minutes.
                Good with rice & green salad.

                1. Hi, GBG. My recommendation would be that you pick up a couple of pieces of firm white fish, such as cod (or any firm white fish: trust your fish monger!) that are each about the size of a deck of cards. Then I would suggest you saute/fry it in a pan on top of the stove in a little butter or peanut oil. So let me first explain why I'm recommending this, then talk about ways to serve it.

                  Since you're brand new to cooking fish, this stove top method (without a lid) will give you the greatest opportunity to observe the fish as it cooks. Without skin on one side or tucking it away en papillote, you will be able to see the way the bottom of the fish sitting on the hot surface turns from a translucent white to opaque, then watch the way the opaque layer thickens as the heat and stage of doneness travels up into the fish. It also alllows you to obseve the browning, as you can gently lift a corner to peep under to check whether it's still pale white or taking on a little color, as well as whether it's taking on color too fast. The objective is to have the fish a gentle brown when it's time to turn it over. If the fish doesn't brown, but stays white, that's okay. It will still taste good and this is a learning procedure. If you brown too fast, it will dry out the surface of the fish and better it stays the opaque white than dries out.

                  When the fish has turned opaque about half way up its depth, then it's time to turn it over to cook the other side. When the fish is opaque all the way through when you look at the side of it, then it's time to check for doneness by pressing in the middle with the bottom (flat side) of a dinner fork. The flesh should just begin to "flake" naturally into layers with no translucency near the center. It's done! Remove it from the pan to a warm plate and keep it warm while you do a fast sauce.

                  You can use any kind of sauce to top the fish that appeals to you, be it Asian or Caribbean or a simple butter sauce. If you choose a sauce that is complex, then make it before you cook the fish. A simple and sinfully easy one for this first effort calls for you to melt a tablespoon of butter in the pan you've just taken the fish out of, add about a tablespoon of white wine such as white vermouth (my favorite cooking wine), the juice of about a half lemon and allow to simmer very gently as you toss together a "slurry" of a half cup of chicken broth (canned is okay) and a teaspoon of cornstarch. Stir the slurry with your fingers until the cornstarch is suspended in the liquid, then add to the pan and stir gently until the sauce thickens and turns clear. Taste for seasoning and add a bit of Kosher or sea salt if it's not salty enough from the chicken broth. Mask this sauce over the fish and top with a scattering of diagonally sliced scallions or green onion tops and some freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

                  In my opinion, this is the best way for someone to have a maximum learning experience about how fish cooks by observing the process first hand, with an added bonus that it tastes good. From here on, cooking fish is all down hill and a lot of fun. Good luck!

                  1. Thanks so much for all your help, everyone! I really appreciate it. I am planning on going to the fishmongers and make something this weekend. Now I just have to decide which style to try. I will report back!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: glazebrookgirl

                      My family has this bread crumb combination that they use for breading and stuffing pretty much everything including sole, flounder and bluefish. Basically it is breadcrumbs as a base, parmesan or other grating cheese, minced garlic, chopped parsley, salt and pepper. With this basic combination you can bread fish, pork chops, chicken cutlets, veal cutlets, etc... You can stuff mushrooms, peppers, artichokes, etc. It’s kind of a basic thing for a lot of southern Italian cooking.