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May 19, 2011 02:07 PM

Beginner needs help cooking fish!

I love fish, but haven't had much success making it myself. I've mostly tried the cheap/frozen fish that I've found at Trader Joe's or other local grocery stores- usually bake and am displeased with the resulting taste/texture.

I need some advice on what kinds of fresh fish I should buy and some easy methods of preparation. I'm looking for something affordable, easy to find (live in Chicago), and relatively easy to prepare, and not too fishy-tasting. I'd also love any tips on better ways to choose & prepare frozen fish.


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  1. what do you like? if you don't like scallops, say, or mackerel, it's kinda pointless to write how i make them isn't it?

    is there a decent fishmonger near you?

    i live in boston, so pretty much never buy frozen fish (occasionally shrimp, but that's it) so can't offer help cooking the frozen stuff.

    make sure it's super-fresh, and start simple. pan-searing or baking in the oven and take care to not over-cook.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hotoynoodle


      Would you mind sharing the name of your fishmonger? I'm in Boston too and have been searching for a good one!


    2. I would take this question straight to the market where you plan to buy your fresh fish. I don't know what fresh fish is availabe in Chicago now. But don't buy anything until you've smelled it. If it's fishy or smells like ammonia, choose another fish or a different market.

      If you buy a filet, all you'll need is a little olive oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Bake 10-12 minutes at about 400, depending on the thickness. If you've got a fatter filet, you may need a few more minutes. In any case, your fish will turn opaque when done.

      Another delicious preparation is to sprinkle your fish with lime zest, salt, pepper and a little melted butter, then bake and serve with a sauce of melted butter, lime juice, garlic, lime zest and salt. (Blend sauce in blender for a nice texture.)

      My family's favorite sauce for mild fish is to mix up some tahini and lemon juice until the mixture becomes very stiff, then thin with water, salt to taste and spread that over the fish and bake. This makes a delicious, nutty-tasting fish that most people I have served it to really enjoy. I use this on cod mostly (we call it tahini cod), but have also used on tilapia and haddock.

      I don't like the way frozen fish comes out, either, so I can't help with that.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Isolda

        if the op is cooking a filet of sole, 10 minutes and the piece would be ruined. this sounds like a lot even for something thicker like salmon, unless you want it well-done.

        1. re: hotoynoodle

          I wasn't thinking sole, but that's a good point. And I do like my fish well done, but not too dry, or else it should be completely raw. (Dishes like seared tuna just aren't my thing.) However, I have cooked many types of fish for 10-12 minutes and they were just barely done. I'm pretty sure my oven temp is correct, because I do a lot of baking and stuff usually comes out well.

          So maybe it's the pan I use (usu a pyrex dish)? Or my idea of cooked is other people's idea of overcooked? Or the pan is more crowded than it should be?

          1. re: Isolda


            Is the pan hot or room temperature when you place in the oven. If it is room temperature only the top is taking advantage of the heated oven while the bottom half is waiting for the 70 degree pan to catch up to 400 degrees. I always found it better to preheat the pan for better consistency..

            1. re: nobadfoodplz

              Can i preheat a pyrex dish? I'm always afraid of shattering it. ETA: I do have older pyrex (20 years +) so it's not the scary new stuff you always hear about in the news, but because I like it, I don't want to wreck it.

              1. re: Isolda

                I've done it a few times. I would recommend placing it in the oven when you turn it on so it does not have the sudden temperature change.

                I agree, never place from fridge / freezer directly into pre-heated oven.

                1. re: Isolda

                  I wouldn't use pyrex at all for this. Putting the cold wet fish into the hot pyrex could cause it to shatter as well.

                2. re: nobadfoodplz

                  I heat my pan (Le Creuset roaster or au gratin pan) in the oven or (watching constantly) on top of the stove before I put what I'm cooking in it. Usually I cook potatoes and/or other veg in the oven (S & P & EVOO), then put a piece of fish in when I have 10 minutes to go. I go by the 10 min. per inch rule, but generally take it out sooner. I like salmon rare, bluefish cooked all the way. It just depends. Roasting has turned out to be my favorite way to cook fish indoors (I like most pan-fried fish, but wanted to cut flour out of my diet).

                  My rule for cooking fish is buy the best you can afford, at a good fish market. Stuff from most supermarkets convinced me over the years that I no longer liked fish, and then I discovered a great fish market (Penn Avenue Fish Company in Pittsburgh PA).

                  1. re: Jay F

                    I think I may switch to a metal pan. Love roasted veggies with the fish in the same pan. This will give me another use for my fabulous new All-Clad roaster. Got it for Christmas and can't believe how superior it is to my old crappy no-name one.

                3. re: Isolda

                  It's very simple on the stovetop cook 10 minutes
                  pe r icnch of tickness on low to medium heat.. ThisSo for filet of sole, it's just 5 minutes
                  per inch. This is perfect. If you don't like this, well, you may just not
                  like the texture of fish.


                  this is not rare, it is perfect. If you don't like this, well,


              2. re: Isolda

                hotoynoodle is correct. At 400 degrees you are bake 8-10 per 1" of thickness (not tuna, different preparation).

              3. Not that I would suggest using frozen fish unless you have too. If you do have to after thawing-wash with lime juice or lemon juice. That will help kill that fishy smell. As far as texture, choose a firmer fish like salmon or tuna, or halibut. Thinner fish tends to become mushy.
                after defrosting try to bring up to room temperature for faster cooking and broil it.

                1. Go to the FishGuy or Dirk's. FishGuy (Elston/Pulaski) has $10 Tuesdays - a number of his fresh fish offerings can be had for $10/lb. See what they have, ask for advice based on your tastes and they'll sell you something you'll be able to prepare. It's a good start and a good resource. Dirk's is also very good but can get pricey.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ferret

                    The other two recommendations in Chicago are Isaacson and Stein fish co.and Whole Foods. Isaacson and Stein is located 800 W. Fulton Market and is a wholesaler/retailer with the largest selection of seafood and good prices.

                  2. Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of "Fish Without a Doubt" by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore. I love fish, been cooking it all my life, have at least five fish cookbooks, and this book taught me super-simple techniques I'd never heard of before and now use on an almost weekly basis.

                    The book was Cookbook of the Month in March of 2009 and if you follow the links in this thread you'll see reviews of many of the recipes as well as some pix posted by those of us who tried them.

                    I wouldn't necessarily recommend that someone who was looking for a single recipe buy a book. But you say you love fish, which makes me assume you'll want to cook it often once you know how. This is a book you will be using for many years to come--and you can buy it used on for less than half price:

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: JoanN

                      Oooh sounds interesting- I will definitely check that out. I remember Rick Moonen being the fish expert on Top Chef Masters.