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Starting to Eat Fish

I have been a vegetarian since childhood. However, I now feel the need to try eating fish. What kind would be best to start off on? I was thinking of sardines. What is the best way to mask the taste while starting off?

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  1. I don't know your reasons for wanting to start eating fish, but if you want to but are concerned the flavor will be too strong or off-putting, you will probably be best served by starting with a mild-tasting fish and *not* trying to mask the flavor too much (sardines don't qualify; they are an oily fish, and oily fish are more strongly flavored). If you're going to eat fish, it should be because you enjoy the flavor, so work your way up to the types with meatier textures and stronger flavors. A delicate white fish like flounder or sole would be a good one to start with.

    1. Try halibut, haddock, sole, these are mild flakey white fishes. IMO, sardines may be too strong for your pallet.

      7 Replies
      1. re: cstr

        Those mild white fish are a good idea. Shrimp & scallops are sweet & mild too.

        You ask about the best way to 'mask the taste' of the fish. That's puzzling. Nutrition aside, if you're not eating for the flavor & texture what's left?

        1. re: FishTales

          Nutrition perhaps? In addition to those suggested I would add tuna, but not out of a can. A nice steak raw or seared rare.

          1. re: lynnlato

            I have some nutritional deficiencies and thats the reason I am looking to eat fish. Thanks for the suggestions above. However, I was recommended sardines specifically in my diet. Any ideas on ways to eat it?

            1. re: asubram3

              i like sardine sandwiches on rye bread with bermuda onion, tomato, lettuce and mayo.

              1. re: asubram3

                I still think you may need to "work up to" sardines, with their stronger flavor. (There are plenty of fish lovers who still don't care for sardines.) If you have never eaten animal flesh, strong flavors will be difficult.

                If sardines are being recommended for particular nutrients, such as B12, D, omega-3 fatty acids, etc., there may be other ways to get more into your diet as you acclimate your taste. I'm all for getting maximum nutrition through foods, but having to mask the taste of something you eat to be able to eat it is a negative check mark in my book.

                Why not try a mild white fish and see how you tolerate it before plunging in? I don't want you to feel disheartened by your first foray into eating fish.

                1. re: asubram3

                  Sorry, I'm of no help with the sardines. I wouldn't touch 'em with a 10 foot fork. I eat many of things, but sardines are not my food friend. They are too strong for me and I don't consider myself to be even remotely sensitive to foods.

                  Good luck! Let us know how you make out. :)

                  1. re: asubram3

                    I've always liked the taste of sardines, and eat them on crackers with or without chopped onions. However, a good way to mask the taste is to mix sardines into tomato-based pasta sauce and eat it over pasta; if you mash them up and cook together for a while, you may not even know they're in there, especially if the sauce is heavy on the garlic, and you should still get all the nutritional benefits from them.

            2. Mahi-mahi and grouper are both pretty mild in terms of flavor and easy to find if you're near warm water fishing grounds. If you can find them locally and in season, cobia and red snapper are also relatively mild if you're looking to splurge.

              1 Reply
              1. re: beachmouse

                I have to disagree. I'm a huge fish lover, and I find mahi-mahi (AKA dolphin fish, though they have nothing to do with the mammal) can be extremely strong and unpleasant -- but it isn't fishy. It's one of my least favorite fish by far.

                Snapper, yes. Also flounder, cod, sole, haddock, walleye or tilapia.

                After 17 years of vegetarianism, shrimp was my first foray back into resuming life as an omnivore. I worked into others very, very slowly and suffered no adverse effects.

                Good luck -- I believe strongly that you will be much healthier by broadening your horizons.

              2. Good God no, don't start with sardines as they have a strong fishy taste. Try catfish filet, which has no fishy taste at all, is very sweet, has no bones, and has no scales (because they skin it). This is the fish for people who are lukewarm about fish. I roll the filets in bread crumbs and put them in a hot oven 425* to bake quickly. The outside edges get a little crunchy. Because the fish is bland and sweet it goes well with a zippy sauce, for example sweet-and-sour pineapple (saute some onion and green pepper, add a whole can of crushed pineapple, add vinegar, sugar, and salt to taste, and thicken with a little cornstarch dissolved in cold water) and rice. OR, with a fresh salsa and rice, maybe some black beans too.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Querencia

                  Querencia, you're right -- as long as you're talking farmed catfish, especially the Asian varieties.

                  But if OP gets hold of wild American river catfish -- well, that's easily the strongest, muddiest fish I've ever tasted. It's absolutely not a beginner's fish. I can't eat it any way but fried in cornmeal, and even then it's sometimes too much for me.

                  1. re: dmd_kc

                    Yep, agreed. I thought I hated catfish because it tasted like a mouthful of mud. Then I had the farmed, and I love it. Very sweet and tasty.
                    If you're low on calcium, sardines may have been recommended because the bones get soft during the canning process and are edible and easy to eat, giving you a lot of calcium. I still wouldn't start with sardines, though. I like them but it took me a long time.

                    Try this- Beach Cliff fish steaks in a little sardine-type can. They're just about everywhere, I dont' think I've ever looked for them and not found them, and they have several different flavors (with hot chiles is my favorite) and they're milder than sardines. I do pull out the little piece of backbone in the middle but that's all.

                    Good luck with your reintroduction, I hope you end up loving it, since you need it!

                2. If you're after the Omega 3 fatty acids, I'm told you can get them most and consistently and reliably from Fish Oil capsules. The oiliest fishes are highest in these, and they also tend to have the strongest flavors. On this basis, I agree with the many posts here about white fishes. Get yerself a recipe for bronzed halibut and start there.

                  1. I think some of the best fish for people starting out are sea bass, Arctic black cod, and monkfish. None of these have heavy "fishy" tastes, but they all have great texture and flavour, and can be prepared simply (grilled, sauteed, etc.). Pricey, though.

                    1. Don't start off with sardines.

                      Start off with a mild white fish, like sole, cod, halibut or rock fish.

                      Then gradually move up to things like trout, tuna, and salmon.

                      Sardines, while very nutritious and environmentally friendly, are very strong flavored and for some people quite off-putting. Not something you want to begin with.

                      1. I had to do the same thing..... Yep its hard... but sometimes you have to do hard things. I actually felt nauseous the first couple times, but i'm pretty sure that was just psychological
                        :-P I started off with cod. Citrus does a chemical reaction i can't remember to take the fishiness out of fish. So I drizzle a bit of olive oil (or cooking spray) on the loin, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then zest a lemon or orange over it. Then i broil it til it flakes and squeeze the juice from the zested citrus over it. Voila, tasty simple un-fishy fish. If you have any questions or want any other ideas, just let me know. Good luck

                        1. If sardines have been recommended, I suspect their calcium content may be the reason. There are LOTS of different types of canned sardines. I find plain sardines packed in oil to have the strongest flavor, but I do like sardines, so it's not a problem for me. And don't laugh. I've even been known to have peanut butter and sardines on a saltine! (The rest of you, don't knock it until you've tried it.) Water packed sardines are a bit milder. And eating them on a cracker with butter and a bit of lemon juice tones down their flavor. But you can also find sardines packed in mustard, or in tomato sauce, as well as other flavors. Some swear by them. On occasion you can also find fresh frozen sardines, which are much milder than canned. If you can find them, I like to just toss them in a paper bag with a bit of flour, salt and pepper (and maybe a dash of garlic and onion powder), give them a good shake to dust them all, then plop them into a deep fryer. They cook quickly, and with the right temperature oil come out crispy on the outside and delicious on the inside. Sometimes fresh and fresh-frozen sardines are larger than those you get in a can, so the bones may not be edible. The point of canned sardines, and most likely the reason the calcium content in them is so much higher than other fish, is that with canned sardines, you DO eat the bones. And no, they aren't crunchy. You don't even notice them when you chew.

                          You know, taste is an individual thing. You just might love the taste of sardines. Or not. Who knows until you try them? Coming from vegetarianism, it's hard to say. For example, I'm a meat eater and always have been, and I love mahi mahi because it is so meat-like. And it's also a fairly mild flavored fish. But who knows how a vegetarian would find it? You might start out in a sushi bar with things made with cooked fish before trying the raw fish. Fish and chips in any restaurant, if you like fried things, is always a mild fish.

                          Whatever route you choose, good luck and here's hoping you like it!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Caroline1

                            to be honest, I guess I'd discounted the health benefits of sardines because i did not know of any. Thanks Caroline1 for the calcium info, I was completely unaware. But i do suspect it might be more than the calcium since the OP said vegetarian vs. vegan. But, to the OP, what exactly is it that the doctor recommended you get from sardines, if that's not prying too much?

                            1. re: kubasd

                              Thanks to all the above posters for their advice.

                              1. re: kubasd

                                Sardines are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, and are a great source of vitamins B12 and D. As Caroline1 points out, only canned sardines with bones (that you eat) are high in calcium.

                              2. re: Caroline1

                                Well put, Caroline1 (as is usual for your posts)

                                I'm another sardine fan, (and all fish in general.) I grew up eating them with a splash of plain ol white vinegar, hot sauce, chopped onion, and fresh ground pepper on saltines.
                                If calcium does happen to be the reason they have been recommended, you might also look into smelt (when in season in the winter/spring) and also things like soft shell crabs. I'm not sure of their calcium contents, but smelt bones are very commonly left in the tiny critters and eaten, and soft shells are eaten with the shells. Both are far, far milder than canned sardines IMO. Good luck!

                              3. fresh sardines (not canned) are the way to go. Ask your fishmonger. I get them at whole foods sometimes.

                                1. when I made the switch I tried to start off with smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel, but that didn't work out so I ended up with lobster bisque.

                                  If you feel you need to ease into eating fish again, I would suggest going with something like a tuna salad sandwich (tuna from a can), or something that you remember liking when you were a child, like fish sticks. Another good one might be a california roll.

                                  Then you can work up to the delicious big slabs of fish, and then you can do sardines :)

                                  1. Maybe you might want to try out with a fish taco? Grilled mild white fish (rubbed with ancho chili powder, salt, pepper,cumin, lime juice and a little olive oil), tangy cabbage slaw, diced avocado, pico de gallo, maybe a little "white sauce"? It's one of my favorite ways to eat fish and are a hit with my friends who are not too keen on seafood.

                                    1. My dear friend had been a vegetarian most of his life when his doctor told him he needed to start incorporating fish into his diet. Sushi was his gateway drug. He found that the rice and wasabi masked the fish flavors enough that he could slowly work fish into his diet. He moved onto fried fish and then grilled.

                                      It's been a few years and he still prefers the lighter white fish and tuna. He can't stand anything that looks like an animal or has a meaty texture. So sardines, shrimp, lobster and softshell crab are out. He does love crabmeat when it is out of shell (and he doesn't have to see it beforehand).

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: mojoeater

                                        So it seems like white fish are the safe way to start out. Thanks for the advice, everyone.

                                      2. Skate is a very mild and meaty-fleshed fish that would be a good introduction to seafood. With a beurre meunière, the flavor isn't so much masked as it is enhanced.

                                        1. Sardines may be particularly bad because you are actually eating the whole fish. Get something that has already been turned into filets, you won't have to deal with the food staring back at you.

                                          As far as what type of fish, we really have no idea if you will like or dislike the taste. Good fish should be very fresh, have no fishy smell, and have no sliminess. Lots of people here recommend white fish, and these do have a lighter flavor, but probably not as much of the properties you are looking for in your diet. For the most part the darker the fish the more the Omegas etc.

                                          I have no idea where you are, so i don't know what the availability of really good fresh fish is. As someone who disliked fish intensely for a long long time, I would recommend you start with shrimp that has been cleaned and shelled before you buy it, even if it is frozen.

                                          Because I am a carnivore, I much prefer a good piece of tuna (ahi) to mahi-mahi or some other whtie fish. I am still so-so on salmon which has a very strong flavor. I would definitely not start with anything canned, even tuna fish because somehow the canning process seems to intensify the fishy taste, at least to me. Whoever mentioned citrus made a very good point. squeezing lemon juice over any fish before you cook it, even letting the juice sit on it for a few minutes will make a big difference in flavor.

                                          Good luck.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                                            Thanks, I will start off with fresh fish and not canned ones.

                                          2. Sardines are a wonderful, affordable fish, and jam-packed with nutrition. The best is to get them fresh (grill your fishmonger) and pan roast/broil with oil and citrus and herbs, S&P. I don't think they are as "fishy" as some other fish.

                                            1. i'd suggest going right to the chow recipe for lemon-herb glazed swordfish. http://www.chow.com/recipes/13037
                                              trader joe's frozen swordfish is pretty good, if you don't have a good local fishmonger.

                                              or.... find a friend in florida that wants to fry you up some fresh grouper. ;-).

                                              1. I tried tilapia fish to start out and it was pretty good actually. Special thanks to the person who suggested using lime to remove the "fishy" taste.

                                                5 Replies
                                                  1. re: asubram3

                                                    welcome, glad to hear it's working out ok for you.

                                                    1. re: asubram3

                                                      tilapia, in my humble opinion, is one of the smellier fishes. i won't eat it. to me, it tastes "muddy"-funky. put grouper next to tilapia, and you'll know what i mean.

                                                      1. re: alkapal

                                                        Yeah, sardines are cleaner in taste.

                                                        1. re: alkapal

                                                          tilapia is like catfish, you have to let it swim in clean water for a while. The ugly buggers live in the stream in my back yard, and it is hard for me to pay good money in the store for them, but it is a whole different taste. maybe the ones you had weren't "cleaned out" long enough. And I'm sorry Karl, maybe I've never had sardines done right, but just the smell makes me want to run in the other direction.

                                                      2. When I met my wife she hated fish. Had bad memories of poorly prepare fish at home. I use to poach fish for her which IMO really removes much of the flavor except for salmon so I rarely ever do it now. But at the time it was a nice way to ween her into eating fish.

                                                        1. hmm. If you have never eaten fish, it might be that your body won't react to it very well. My vegetarian ex decided to live on smoked salmon and champagne once, and the fish reacted pretty badly. Well, she did, to the fish.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Soop

                                                            soop, "living on smoked salmon and champagne" is --- um, let's say -- *not* a good example of eating "fish". ;-). i'll bet she didn't have "champagne wishes and caviar dreams" *** if she overate all that smoked salmon. it's too rich. plus too much bubbly?! we're talkin' serious tummy trouble.

                                                            *** >>>"""Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is a television series that aired in syndication from 1984 to 1995. The show featured the extravagant lifestyles of wealthy entertainers, athletes and business moguls. It was hosted by Robin Leach....[who] ended each episode with his signature phrase, "champagne wishes and caviar dreams". <<< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyl...

                                                          2. I also don't like fish that has a 'fishy' taste, so I only eat mild tasting fish myself. Other posters have mentioned red snapper and grouper (although someone disagreed about the mild taste, but I find it mild), I would like to add striped bass and also Cream Dory fish(also called Jop/Job fish) . I mostly stick to these fishes and can't take others. The Cream Dory is my favorite of those for daily use, and it has a wonderful texture and no fishy smell at all.

                                                            Besides lime juice, another way to prepare fish to reduce fish smell is to marinade in vinegar and turmeric for up to 1/2 hour (no more than that or the fish will "cook" in the vinegar. You can wash off the vinager after if you want. Preparation will also reduce the fish smell. I find that battered fish which is fried tastes much less fishy than a steamed or poached fish or a fish that has been cooked in a gravy. Pan searing is also good but the fishyness level is still faintly there.

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: luckyfatima

                                                              Thanks, I didn't know of a fish called Cream Dory.

                                                              1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                luckyfatima, tell us more about the different dory fishes -- it seems two different kinds are being called "dory": http://images.google.com/images?clien...

                                                                one looks like a big catfish, and the others look like an ocean fish (zeus faber).
                                                                ah, my favorite wiki may shed more light on nomenclature, from true dory fish, to the asian "pangasius" species (a catfish) called cream dory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dory_(fish)

                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                  Alkapal: I have never seen the whole fish at our shops. It is a long large filet. Once I asked the guy at the fish counter where it comes from and he said Vietnam. I asked to see a whole one and he said they only get the filets. I just assumed this fish would be available in the USA but maybe not?

                                                                  Just googled: I am going to go with the pangasius. It seemed to be a type of carp. I really don't know much about it except that it tastes nice.

                                                                  1. re: luckyfatima

                                                                    Y'all are discussing Basa (the most common marketing name for Vietnamese river catfish, containing 2 species farmed and sold).

                                                                    These two fish have engendered political tarriff debates and litigation, and nomenclatural confusion. Thus, the searchable literature on Google will send you to a pro, or anti, perspective. The most evenhanded report I can find in just a few minutes of search is here:


                                                                    Basa is great as a whitefish: mild and innocuous and lends itself to many dishes. It is maligned in the same ways as is catfish or tilapia.

                                                                    1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                      aren't hatchery-reared basa subject to the same practices of heavy antibiotic usage as thai and vietnamese shrimperies?
                                                                      and catfish and tilapia are still tastin' like bottom-feeders, in my book -- even though the farm-raised ones are now "top" feeders. ;-). old prejudices die hard with me and catfish -- they tasted like crud when i had them occasionally growing up in florida. my mom likes them. i still can't stand tilapia's flavor.


                                                                      i must say the only catfish i have liked is served at thai pilin restaurant in falls church, and it is fried pieces, served in some basil-curry-coconut sauce. now *that* is *good*. here, it's on the right -- spicy crispy catfish http://www.pilinthairestaurant.com/

                                                                      1. re: FoodFuser

                                                                        Thanks for clearing that matter up.