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White fish is BLAND. What to do?

I've pretty much abandoned white fish (i.e. flounder or cod) because to me it is an almost completely tasteless protein, like tofu. That means it's pretty much just a conveyor for whatever flavor you can add to it. Last night I followed a recipe that called for drizzling it with extra-virgin olive oil, parsley, garlic, and grated lemon rind and baking it in a hot oven. It tasted like extra-virgin olive oil, parsely, garlic, and lemon and nothing else. Imagine mixing those 4 ingredients, heating them up and eating them. Not a memorable meal.

So, what to do with white fish to make them delicious? Any suggestions? Nothing that calls for half a stick of butter please!

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  1. I saute a bunch of sliced onion for about 5 min in butter flavored cooking spray. in the meantime I sprinkle my fish filets with cajun seasoning. lay the fish on top of the onions, add sliced tomatos and some chicken broth (fish broth or white wine would be great too). cover and cook about 10 minutes until the fish is done. delish! My DH, who does not care that much for fish, eats leftovers of this recipe. :)
    I've used cod, orange roughey, tilapia for this recipe, but our favorite lately is turbot.

    2 Replies
    1. re: jujuthomas

      A really fresh whole flounder is a true taste treat. Do nothing to it other than a pan saute, oil/butter in the pan salt pepper and a touch of fresh thyme. We occasionally catch a "Flattie" or 2 and serve them that night, one whole fish per person. The taste is slightly sweet and nutty; and if you are lucky there will be the egg sack in the gut which you should saute intact.
      In retail markets there is a lot of mislabveling of true flounder,; whiting, pollack is often passed off as flounder or fluke.

      1. re: ospreycove

        Of course - I forgot about this very simple cooking method - yes, it does do a decent job with bland white fish - the oil/butter and browning do add good flavor. Thanks for reminding me.

    2. My quick and easy everynight dinners with white fish (which I disagree with you about on the blandness):

      Lay fillets on oiled tray. Spread tapenade/black olive paste on top of fish. Press on fresh breadcrumbs mixed with chopped parsley (I just whizz them together in the processor) and some Parmesan. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil. Bake at 450 for 10-15 minutes.

      Mix up some tomatoes (cherry, chopped whole, whatever you have) with some minced garlic, olive oil, black olives and basil (or whatever herbs you want). Put fish fillets in oiled baking dish, top with tomato mixture and bake at 450 for 10-15 minutes.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JaneEYB

        These both sound really good, Jane - thanks. Despite the fact that you disagree with me about blandness, your suggestions sound like just what I was looking for - good flavor-adding recipes.

      2. First of all, get a more substantial type of fish. Cod is light and flaky, flounder soft. Get a good solid fillet of wild striped bass, or a whole fish like black sea bass or grouper. These are much more substantial fish and have some real flavor of their own. Not strong, but enough to have plain. Broil or bake the fillets, steam, bake, or grill the whole fish. Sea bass and grouper in particular are great steamed, either Chinese or Thai style.

        1 Reply
        1. re: EricMM

          Thanks for the suggestions, Eric - I can't remember ever cooking sea bass or grouper - I'll give them both a try.

        2. Living in coastal Massachusetts, well 2 miles inland as the crow flies... we get very fresh seafood. The cod and flounder are quite flavorful. The secret is very fresh seafood. Here are some links to reports of various fish recipes from the book, "Fish Without a Doubt" some of us cooked when that book was COTM:
          Poaching, Steaming Boiling:

          Broiling, Grilling, & Smoking

          Baking & Roasting, Searing & Sautéing, Frying

          Here's the master list if you'd like to see other methods of preparation...

          2 Replies
          1. re: Gio

            Lots to mull over, Gio - thanks so much. One that caught my eye was reference to James Paterson's baked whole sea bass over sliced potatoes (with thyme, garlic and olive oil - can't go wrong with that), topped with chopped tomatoes and olives. That sounds good to me.

            1. re: jerrys88

              Jerry -- I used the baked whole sea bass recipe last October with whole striped bass that we had just caught off of Montauk - and it was the best fish I've ever had by far! I would highly recommend it!! (But I haven't been able to re-find the link to that recipe -- do let me know where you found it! Striped Bass season is early this year and we're going fishing next week!)

          2. I don't think anyone can help you here honestly. People are going to keep spewing recipes that they think are great, but they won't help you. If you think white fish in general is bland and simply absorbs flavors that are around them, then a recipe won't change your mind.

            Frankly, I tend to agree with you. Fish in general is a very mild protein, and does not have a distinguishing flavor aside from being mildly fishy. This is evident in the stories of sushi restaurants swapping out low end Asian catfish for higher priced fish in a (very successful) effort to fool customers and make a higher profit.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Shaw Oliver

              I'm not ready to give up, Shaw. Even though I find white fish bland there have got to be ways of preparing it that transform it into flavorful dishes. I've gotten some good suggestions here.

            2. No doubt that a lot of white fish has a pretty subtle flavor. As others have noted, starting with a fresher specimen of a species that's more flavorful is a good start. Don't know where you are located, but right now the halibut are biting in Northern California, and IMO there isn't a tastier white fish out there.

              Since you want enjoy the flavor of the fish, I'd keep the recipes as simple as possible. Try just sauteeing a fillet in a little butter. If the fish is good, it doesn't need any more than that.

              1 Reply
              1. re: alanbarnes

                I live in New Jersey and know not to expect the best-quality fish at my local supermarket. The cod I made came from an Asian fish market that appears to sell very high-end fish (the fish always looks very fresh, the store never smells "fishy," and the prices are high!) I'm going to venture into some other varieties if I find they're not insanely expensive.

              2. Fish & Chips with homemade tartar sauce?

                1 Reply
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Good example of a way to transform bland white fish into something great (if well done). Unfortunately I don't deep fry at home - this is an occasional restaurant meal for me!

                2. I dredge white fish (usually haddock or cod) in seasoned flour and pan-fry it, then serve it with my patented spicy remoulade. Just mix the following:

                  1/2 cup top-quality mayo
                  Juice of 1/2 lemon
                  1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapeños
                  1 tsp or to taste of your favorite hot sauce (I like Melinda's XXXTra Hot Habanero)

                  Serve on the side and let people add as much as they like. If you want to cut the calories, just broil the fish instead of pan-frying it. I guarantee you this sauce will liven things up - it could even make tofu tasty!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: BobB

                    Sounds good, Bob - although I would probably prefer a traditional tartar sauce myself - I'm not terribly fond of spicy food.

                  2. I suppose one person's "bland" is another person's "delicate". I like white fish. Cod, haddock, hake, whiting, coley, bass, bream,pollock, monkfish - I like them all and want to cook them as simply as possible, without other strong flavours interfering.

                    But I'm also partial to the gremolata topping that the OP doesnt like.

                    Not much help, I'm afraid.

                    1. Out of curiosity, what kind of seafood are you getting?

                      ie - are you buying fresh or frozen? If you are buying fresh, do you live near an ocean that is producing the fish in question in season?

                      With seafood in general, quality matters. If you can't get very fresh, local, in season seafood it's really better to buy frozen instead, as a lot of the freezing is now done on board ship, making it much fresher in the end than buying fresh fish inland or out of season.

                      I will admit that I'm not a huge cod/flounder fan, because I also find it bland unless the quality is excellent. I'm afraid I can't help very much on which fishes I do like, because I have no clue what most of them are called.

                      One flavorful fish topping is a citrus salsa. Dice a mixture of lime, orange and grapefruit, add diced onion, cilantro and salt, and some sliced hot pepper, and use as a topping for broiled fish.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                        When it comes to white fish it doesn't seem to matter how high-end I go in terms of flavor, but that may be because unless you live right on a coastline you're never going to be buying "right-off-the-boat" fresh.

                        Yeah, thanks for reminding me - a good home-made salsa is always one way to enhance otherwise bland white fish. Yours sounds good! Broiling rather than baking sounds like a good suggestion as well - more potential for bringing out flavor by browning - may have been my first mistake.

                      2. For "flat fish" varieties:
                        Lightly brush with toasted sesame oil, simple salt & pepper, let stand in the fridge for 1/2 to 1 hour, then pan fry on high heat until then thin edges crisp up.

                        1. On a completely separate issue....no one here has mentioned salt cod. I actually find high quality salt cod to be preferable to fresh cod...much firmer, better texture, and more flavor. A 24 hour soak with frequent water changes will get the salt out of it. The key is high quality. Should be a thick fillet of actual cod...not a skinny strip of dried up whiting or pollock.