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Reintroducing Fish

So every one in my family always loved fish and seafood except me. I am allergic to shrimp, I never liked oysters or clams. I do remember liking scallops somewhat and Shad Roe when I was a kid, and then also cracking crabs, but other than that it was strictly breaded fried fish with tartar sauce and that was pretty much my limit. Maybe a tuna sandwich with extra mayo. My doctor has encouraged me to add fish back to my diet. I tried tuna and didn't love it even with the extra mayo. So I need a primer - I will be cooking only for myself, so therefore I will not be buying whole fishes or large quantities, so even if it's expensive, it's fine. What fish doesn't taste fishy? What's the best place to buy it? What are the best ways to cook it without the addition of a ton of butter, mayo or breading? I live in the suburbs of DC in Montgomery County. I regularly pass by Safeway, Giant, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Food Lion, and sometimes I go to Wegmans. I also go to Costco some as well. (HOWEVER I generally try to hold my breath when passing the fish/seafood areas in supermarkets because I can't stand the smell) I am willing to go to a fish market, but I would prefer it not be too far or down in DC because if I am going to eat fish regularly I would want it to be more easily accessible. I would also be willing to try a few different kinds in restaurants around here if anyone has recommendations, but I don't know where would be the best place to go.

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  1. Perhaps, there are a few exceptions but virtually all fish sold in markets will not be fishy - otherwise people wouldn't eat it.

    Being a fish lover it's hard to say which fish would be better for someone that doesn't like fish. However I find the mildest tasting fish to be tilapia, sole or flounder, cod, and sea bass. For the most part, white meat colored fish are the mildest. With that said, I think rainbow trout is pretty mild yet on the darker side.

    By the way, a good sauce may help you initially past the fish taste. And probably the best fish to eat is wild salmon but it has a distinct flavor - not fishy just different than almost all other fish.

    Good luck.

    1. it's good you mentioned your locale. Whole Foods, Wegman's and Teeter's probably are the best choices among the 'big' markets for fresh. there is a truck North of Chevy Chase once a week or so that brings in New England goods.

      I heard a tip recently about soaking frozen fish/shellfish in salt water for a while before patting dry and cooking to remove that 'fishy' smell - have yet to try but makes sense.

      I dunno hit a restaurant that does it simple like a Hank's or Blacksalt and take notes and then research similar for recipes.

      1. My ex was like you. We could never go to a seafood restaurant because she hated thesmell. I got her to try a grilled tuna steak. She was shocked ate the taste. She assumed it would taste like canned tuna. Believe me, you won't need extra mayonnaise.

        4 Replies
        1. re: wadejay26

          even at that, canned tuna can vary wildly in quality and flavor.

          to those of us who like it, "fishy" connotes being off or not-fresh. as mentioned it should simply smell briny and of the sea.

          if your doctor is advising you to eat fish for improved health, there is little point in eating farmed fish like salmon or tilapia. the nutritional profiles are utterly corrupted by their industrial feed and unnatural living conditions.

          wild fish is more expensive but far cheaper than a restaurant meal. experiment at first with mild fish like haddock, cod, sole, flounder. these also cook quickly and just a bit of butter and a squeeze of citrus is really all they need. you can make a quick pan sauce with a bit of butter and wine.

          i buy wild salmon in cans at trader joe's for the convenience factor of always having it around for over a salad or making patties.

          do some googling for asian or mediterranean recipes and look for flavor profiles that appeal.

          if you liked shad roe as a kid, you may have a more adventurous palate than you are willing to admit.

          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I will second the suggestion of the TJ wild salmon. Also, for fresh fish, I like to grill it, so as to not get a fishy smelling house. Often I just put the fish on a piece of foil, with olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs and put on the grill... I cook over direct heat, but you essentially bake the fish.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              While wild maybe superior in omega 3, farmed is still a better choice than not eating fish

              1. re: scubadoo97

                i disagree, but each can make up their own mind.


                although, lol, if the op is looking for fish that doesn't taste like fish, farmed may indeed be the better choice for that.

          2. There is so much happening in the seafood world these days that instead of giving you my own opinion I'm referring you to the recipe page from the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch. The categories are easy to navigate and you have a choice of recipes using the best fish to buy or you can start by browsing a grand list of well known chefs.


            I've been a seafood lover all my life and thankfully not allergic to anything. We've been eating fish 2ce a week years. There is no need for any fish to smell fishy. Fish should smell clean from the ocean. When you are at the market the best way to get a piece of fish you want is by asking the seafood manager what s/he suggests that's the freshest that day. If you're not familiar with the fish mentioned, ask for an explanation and even how to cook it. Good luck w everything and I hope you get to enjoy seafood from now on...

            1. Tilapia and sole are fairly mild and are quite good if dusted with flour, sauteed in a little butter or olive oil, and served with a squeeze of lemon.
              Salmon has a little stronger flavor, but if you see wild caught salmon at Whole Foods, give it a try. Get a filet, dust with a little Old Bay and broil.

              2 Replies
              1. You seem to have enough layers of reluctance that I'd ask your Dr. about just taking fish oil pills instead.

                When I lived in Alexandria, I frequented an Asian market with tons of fish, many alive in tanks, which can be ordered as you like for taking home. Maybe you have an option like that? Fresh fish does not have the smell issues you'll encounter in older fish at places with low turnover. (Although there might be juices on the floor at a busy place which could smell later in the day.)

                If cooking for yourself, explore some of the ways of steaming fish and also, believe it or not, microwaving it (in a sealed environment, which is, effectively, steaming. If any snob tells you that it's impossible to cook fish well in a microwave, brush 'em off. But you do need to get the technique down. It's similar to the fussier approach of wrapping filets or what not in sealed parchment paper. You can put some lemon, herbs, shallots, whatever in there and infuse the fish with whatever flavors you like. No frying needed. Tilapia, cod, sole, and (if you can afford it, halibut, preferably Alaskan for environmental reasons) are good bets.

                I do suggest you steer clear of ocean perch, which I have found to be quite smelly even when fresh. That's less true of lake perch.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Bada Bing

                  oh right! the suburbs have HMarts! shop carefully but you can find good cool stuff.

                  1. re: hill food

                    And even more so than the fish, I miss the amazing array of greens and other veggies at that market. A whole panoply of insanely nutritious stuff ranging from the leafy to the slightly cruciferous to the bulby. It's such a shame that food so cheap and fresh and wholesome is largely unknown to mainstream America.

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      I can lose hours in places like that.

                      1. re: Bada Bing

                        I am fortunate to have an H-Mart just two miles from home. I love that place. The array of fresh produce is amazing...never knew there were so many different varieties of choy. Besides the great variety and freshness of produce, the prices are ridiculously reasonable.

                  2. Stop in at Trader Joe's and pick up a box of the Premium Salmon Burgers. They're frozen patties of salmon already cooked with mirepoix and salt, and you need only heat them up (sauté, microwave, grill, whatever). No hamburger roll eeded, I just eat them with a fork. If you don't like these as much as I do, you're only out $6 or so, and if you dislike them, thaw them and feed them to the cat. :-)

                    Also from Trader Joe's are several frozen breaded fish products - "lightly breaded reduced fat" fish sticks, breaded cod fillets, battered halibut, another whose name I forget but is in nuggets. The white fish used - cod, pollock, etc. - is neutral tasting and of course when frozen has no smell at all. Do them in the toaster oven, and the only smell in the kitchen will be the toasting breading or batter.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: John Francis

                      sorry, i tried those salmon burgers and they went right in the trash after a bite of one. cat turned his nose up too.

                    2. Some people possess an "ick" factor about it, but calamari (squid) is very mild and almost sweet. You should be able to find squid steaks in the frozen food section. Just don't cook it too long, it gets very tough and then your only option is to cook it a REALLY long time until it gets tender again.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: EWSflash

                        a squid! great advice! my local asian grocers often sell just the tubes. those can be stuffed and baked.

                      2. I would recommend reenforcing what you are comfortable with and then taking baby steps into new horizons.

                        1. Start with haddock (preferably fresh; but in good markets where they thaw the fish properly, thawed "previously frozen" can be almost as good - the good markets have improved a LOT in the last decade in this regard). It tastes like an omelet.

                          You may have a choice of skin-on or getting it without skin (any decent place will skin it for you). Skin adds texture and minerals, and can help keep it together; but if you are going to store the fish for more than the day, skin can add to sliminess in extended storage. De gustibus.

                          First and foremost: keep it on ice in the fridge (use a freezer pack for this purpose). Fish is best kept close to the freezing mark; the more typical temperature of the fridge is too warm. This is where most people go wrong with fish without realizing it. A good market will often even pack your fish with some ice (some places have skimped on that since the current depression hit, sadly). Take it home, wrap it in some paper towels and then butcher or wax paper, and keep it on ice. When ready to use, pat it dry.

                          You can season it with some salt and pepper. Dredging lightly in flour (or flour and cornmeal) is optional, but it will add a nice texture without adding too many carbs if you keep it simple.

                          Heat up a non stick pan over medium heat with fat of your choice; you can wipe out most of the fat if you prefer (but you do need some; non-stick pans are NOT supposed to be used for dry cooking and don't perform well that way). Place the filet down on the side where the skin is or was. Timing depends on the side of the fish. It can help to segment filets into thick ends vs thin ends, so you can flip at different times.

                          Lemon/lime juice get added after cooking. Garnish with minced green herb of choice (parsley, chervil or tarragon are classic) if you like.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Karl S

                            I really like Trader Joes Breaded Cod filets.

                            Cod or sole are great fish to start with and easy to cook. Adding lemon and butter together are good on almost any fish.

                          2. I can't STAND salmon. It's sooooo fishy and oily and generally disgusting. I'm not a big fan of canned tuna either. Real fresh fish tastes far nicer than canned tuna unless you get the super-expensive deluxe solid white albacore. Fresh fish should not smell OR be slimy. Fresh tuna is nothing at all like the canned stuff. It's delicious if you sear the outside and leave the inside super rare. The more you cook it, the more 'fishy' it gets.

                            How about buying frozen fillets? Thaw them in a bowl of cold water (it takes about 30 minutes) and then quickly pan-fry them with a little oil and seasonings.They cook very quickly. We buy a lot of basa - it's a kind of catfish but it's very UNfishy. Tilapia is okay but it can be a little muddy tasting.

                            1. Go to Costco and get the honey smoked salmon. Eat a chunk plain or on a piece of buttered bread with fresh ground pepper.

                              A salmon hating friend of mine was stunned when I gave this to her "It tastes like bacon!"

                              Not it doesn't, exactly, but smokey, sweet, salty - all those yummy tastes.

                              2 Replies
                                1. re: sweetpotater

                                  smoked or cured salmon, mmm - while the thin slices make a better presentation, most places also sell the unsliceable chunks at a steep discount. not as pretty, but the flavor is there.

                              1. in my opinion, if it smells fishy, it is probably bad fish. also, most people tend (IMHO) to overcook almost all fish. i like my fish somewhere between raw and medium rare, usually tending toward raw. this might be helpful to you.

                                how about trying something like ceviche? it brings in a lot of flavors (lime, lemon, chili peppers, sugar, salt, etc) for basically no calories. it also doesn't heat the fish (i find this can cause even fresh fish to go a bit fishy-tasting...), and consequently also won't leave your house smelling of cooked fish.

                                if you choose to cook fish, i suggest ahi tuna seared RARE, or steelhead, trout, or salmon. all of these also do well on the grill if you want to avoid heating up the house and/or getting "fish" smell in it. i like to cedar plank my salmon on the bbq, stuffed with lemons, limes, a few pats of butter, salt, herbs and s&p to taste. i usually make quick stovetop pickled red onions to go with.

                                i'd second squid, and add (if it's available and you're adventurous) octopus. have you considered exploring crab or lobster? not cheap by any means, but tend to have a delicate, sweet taste. i also like eel, which can be purchased in most asian markets already cooked kabayaki-style with a sweet glaze.

                                1. May I introduce you to one of my addictions? Ensenada-style fish tacos. Strips of mild-flavored fish battered and fried until golden brown and crunchy, served up in a soft tortilla, wheat or corn, with shredded cabbage or lettuce, a creamy salsa. Maybe some pico de gallo. And a squeeze of lime. Pure heaven.

                                  You're allergic to shrimp, but squid and octopus also work very well here.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Soul Vole

                                    This was my first thought too. I am not a fish lover for many of the reasons OP states, but I love fish tacos. I make some at home with cod or tilapia that are grilled instead of fried and I still like them.

                                    OP, If I'm at a seafood restaurant and need to order fish, I usually will get mahi mahi or halibut. They're mild and don't taste like fish :) On the rare occasion I make at home, I bake it, less smell that way. My mom does hers outside on her foreman grill a lot of the time to avoid the smell. Ahi tuna is good too, but I prefer the white fish better. I can't stand salmon (yes, even the "good" kind).... too fishy.

                                  2. I'm going to have to disagree with a lot of the other posters here are about using salmon to reintroduce yourself to fish first. I love salmon but it is one of the strongest tasting fish there is. May I suggest another course of action, which is, not to try cooking it at home first. Let me tell you how I "trained" an exBF to like seafood. Every time we go out to eat at a great restaurant, I would order a seafood dish and ask all of other friends to other order one too. He gets to taste my dish and our friends' dishes and eventually seafood didn't taste bad to him. I would suggest you do the same. Go to great seafood restaurants with friends/family who like seafood. This way you can try lots of different types of seafood and decide what you like. It's really important to eat seafood when it's cooked well. And the best way to do it is to go great seafood restaurants to eat the best version that you can. I would not attempt to try cooking at home until you feel less grossed out. If the smell of seafood in grocery stores grosses you out now, you will not like smelling it when you're cooking it at your house. Once you've developed a better tolerance, try grilling it outside the house. Eventually, you will love seafood. I agree that ceviche is a great way to start. When I was visiting DC, I loved going to Hank's Oyster Bar. I hope this helps.

                                    1. I like grilled Ahi tuna, which I buy frozen in packs of about 3 at a time.

                                      I try to stay away from fish from China or Indonesia.

                                      I like canned salmon, and there are at least a couple varieties to try. Costco has a canned white salmon that I like to put over a salad. It tastes like fish, but not fishy. And I like the old fashioned canned salmon, which is salty. I make that into patties and fry quick. Very good with boiled potatoes and a little mayo based sauce.

                                      Canned tuna from Costco is also quite good. You do have to get used to the dry somewhat sharp taste, but I like it in a salad.

                                      Be sure to search for Italian tuna, which is packed in oil. If you drain off the oil and rinse it, you will still have a really interesting taste. You could eat it with pasta and whatever sauce you like.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: sueatmo

                                        personally I don't drain the oil or if I do I reserve it and work it into the dressing for a salad.

                                        I love canned tuna in a nicoise-y vinaigrette rather than (ok sometimes instead of) the usual whitebread deli mayo version.

                                        1. re: hill food

                                          Good idea! Someone who needs to add fish to her diet has the perfect excuse to search out imported, and pricey, tuna.

                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                            like anyone needs more of an excuse... (smirk)

                                            1. re: hill food

                                              Since it is more pricey, some might need a real reason (excuse).

                                              1. re: sueatmo

                                                yeah it's definitely on the 'treat' list these days for me.

                                                but regular old S-K or BB or CotS packed in oil (olive if you're lucky) is pretty good too.

                                        2. re: sueatmo

                                          My Super Target here carries an excellent, sustainable line of canned tuna from the brand Wild Planet. You can read up about the sustainability aspect. In terms of processing, they're distinctive for using NO water: their cans are pure tuna with natural tuna moisture. Which is why even though the cans coast more, the actual amount of tuna is competitive with cheaper, over-processed brands.

                                          WIld Planet also offers one or two varieties packed with olive oil.

                                          Now I'm hankering to go to that Super Target, a store I normally never go to, although I have to say they do have an impressive grocery and good store brands.

                                        3. I generally cook for one and am very weight conscious. I eat fish several times a week.

                                          One of my go-to concoctions starts with putting some good quality olive oil in a pan (you don't have to use gobs) and then a couple of chopped tomatoes (if I'm lazy I'll use canned or the Italian tomatoes that come in cartons), one red or yellow bell pepper (once I tried green bell pepper, but the green color bothered me), salt, pepper, some spices (I vary it, but I usually throw in a dash of turmeric and a pinch of saffron and maybe some za'atar seasoning) and lots of green chilies (which you can omit if you don't like spicy things). You can throw in some paprika if you like, or a very cool seasoning you can order online called piment d'espelette (omit if you are using hot fresh chilies as it is kind of spicy, although not nearly as spicy as hot chilies). Sometimes some celery goes into the pan as well. Maybe a clove of garlic. I cook down the tomatoes and then throw in a lot of fresh cilantro (you could try parsley if you don't like cilantro).

                                          After about 15 to 20 minutes when the pan looks ready, I throw in the fish. I have found that tilapia works best (and tilapia is usually pretty inexpensive near me), but have also tried it with thicker fish like cod. I cook the fish until it flakes - never more than 10 minutes.

                                          I usually make about a pound of fish, because I like to have food in the fridge, and I find that in an airtight glass container, this will last about 7 days. Then during the week when I want a quick dinner, I will either reheat the fish on the stove or in the microwave. I like to serve with corn tortillas -- I make kind of a fish taco and the delicious sauce seeps into the tortilla.

                                          I think tilapia works best for this because it is thinner than other fish and kind of bland (sort of like the tofu of the fish kingdom) so it readily seeps up whatever sauce you cook it in.

                                          I try to watch my carbs, so the above is much better for me than breaded fish. (And though I do serve it with a corn tortilla, I limit myself to a single smallish tortilla)

                                          My other go-to quick fish meal is salmon in the pan (I hate to use my oven, especially in summer). You pat the salmon dry (no moisture) and then press some good cracked ground pepper and good sea salt on both sides. For this one, I prefer the neutral flavor of rice bran oil over olive oil (and there is the bonus that rice bran oil is dirt cheap). Rice bran oil can be kind of hard to find, but my local Trader Joe's carries it.

                                          Heat the oil and when it looks ready, in goes the salmon, skin side down. A trick I read that really works is that the whole time the salmon is cooking (about 6 minutes, or until you can flip the salmon easily -- i.e., it isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan) you hold a fish spatula over the top of the salmon. Yes, holding the spatula is a hassle, but it is only 6 minutes. Then you flip the salmon and sear the other side for about one minute. Do not overcook salmon -- it is gross when overcooked. I personally prefer sockeye to king salmon.

                                          Happy cooking.

                                          1. I can relate, my Mom was the same way. She'd have some shellfish, and also tolerate some fish recipes where the flavor of the fish was disguised. But she falt did not like the taste of fish. That said, I'd suggest giving halibut a try. It has mild flavor that you may tolerate. It lends itself to a lot of techniques as well. The only caveat I can give is don't over cook it. I'd cook it to medium at most or you will wind up with a dry texture.

                                            1. First, as others have said, fresh tuna is nothing like canned or packaged. I recommend it seared or very rare as others have.

                                              Second, fish that smells fishy is probably old. I know the markets have a distinct odor -- one I love and you and others may not.

                                              Third, I have a bit of an offbeat suggestion. I like fish cooked different ways and I like fish raw (hear me out). I helped a colleague learn to like fish by talking to a sushi chef and asking him about non-fishy cooked preparations for the friend. Then we had him try the raw fish. He loved it all. Some sushi chefs are good at making a small taste so you can see what you like. If that is too bold to start, try a Spanish Tapas bar. Some have "non-fishy" fish dishes -- just tell them no shrimp. I like the two in Old Town Alexandria, but that may be too far. The Spanish restaurant in Rockville may have some dishes you'd like too. I haven't been there in a while but they used to be very good.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: travelerjjm

                                                You know, I was just thinking to suggest sushi. The fish is so fresh that it's quite odorless, the seasoned sushi rice is delicious, and then you can dip it in soy sauce. The rolls are fine too.

                                              2. Some excellent suggestions here.

                                                I could eat fish for every meal and luckily I live a few blocks from the Atlantic !

                                                My 2 cents

                                                When you say "fishy" and others say that "fishy" fish is old, they are right. But there are mild tasting fish like haddock and stronger tasting fish like bluefish. I would start with a mild white fish. Haddock, Cod, halibut...

                                                ALWAYS smell your fish before you buy it. Just ask the fishmonger. Don't be shy, they are used to it. If it smells at all "fishy" don't buy it. Don't buy pre-packaged fresh fish.

                                                Almost all of the frozen Tilapia sold in the US comes from Asia where it is often farmed in very questionable -- if not unsanitary -- conditions. Your doctor would tell you never to eat it. Make sure any farmed fish like tilapia or salmon is from the US.

                                                I am one of the 5 US citizens that is not enthralled by Trader Joes, but their frozen fish sticks rock. Given the tilapia advice above I'm gonna check on the source of the fish

                                                Marinades! If you are just getting back into fish, you might consider marinating it in something before you cook it. I usually eat my fish with salt pepper and maybe lemon but a teriyaki marinade works great. Also if salmon is too strong for you a teriyaki marinade might make it more pleasing.

                                                Similar to marinades, look up recipes that add other flavors to the fish, like a yucatan baked fish or something Caribbean.

                                                The sushi recommendation was excellent. A good sushi place will allow you to sample the freshest, best quality fish around. It's definitely not fishy. Very tasty and healthy. Plus they offer tasty and healthy sides, like edamame and seaweed salad. A friend of mine who "never" ate fish went out with us to a sushi joint intending to eat shrimp tempura got totally hooked on sushi when we dared him to eat one. He said that it didn't taste like fish.

                                                Good luck!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                                  TJ's fish sticks are made with pollock, not tilapia. The package says "Product of USA."

                                                  1. re: C. Hamster

                                                    At least in the Boston area, tilapia in the display cases (rather than in the frozen fish section) almost always comes from Ecuador or Costa Rica (I think with American parent companies involved), and is of fairly high quality. The stuff I've had from Costa Rica was particularly delightful, and made me reevaluate my former contempt for tilapia. YMMV.

                                                  2. My wife who is now an avid fish eater would not touch it when we met. Something to do with childhood memories of poorly prepared and poor quality fish at home.

                                                    Anyway I was able to introduce fish by gently poaching it. Used many varieties and they all were accepted pretty well. Poaching IMO removes a lot of flavor in fish. I am personally not a fan but it worked to get her to try a number of varieties. Now she eats a lot of fish, cooked many ways as well as raw

                                                    1. others have mentioned this, but i really suggest you go to a fantastic seafood restaurant that does a tasting menu. i don't know your area enough to suggest anything, but i'd think DC would have at least a couple great places.

                                                      if you ever happen to get to NYC and don't mind spending the $$$$ to go to Le Bernardin (Eric Ripert's seafood restaurant) for their tasting menu, you won't regret it. I've only done the tasting once, but he didn't serve "fishy" fish. i can't imagine anyone leaving that place NOT loving the meal, and with the tasting, you'll get a good sense for which fishes you like and what preparations you like. then you can go home and make much simpler (and cheaper!) versions yourself. i think a tasting like this by you would help a lot.

                                                      i also agree with the sushi suggestion, although again please find a good spot to ensure you get fresh fish!