Join the Cooking With Shirley Newsletter
Enter your name and email address:
Subscribe      Unsubscribe
This free monthly newsletter provides tips on food preparation, shopping for food, cooking tips, how to store and preserve food, information on herbs and spices, safety tips, healthy eating matters and more. We hope you find this information helpful, and we welcome your input, questions and suggestions on information for future newsletter inclusion.

All about Fish and Seafood

Here are some tips for buying and preparing fresh fish. The eyes are slightly protruded, bright and clear. The gills should be red or pink. A stale fish has eyes that are pink, sunken and cloudy; the gills are gray.

To get rid of odors while cooking fish, add 2 tablespoons of vinegar (any variety) to 2 cups of water; then simmer it in a small saucepan while the fish is cooking.

When baking fish, lay it on a bed of thinly sliced onions, parsley and lettuce leaves. The fish won't stick, it will have a savory taste, and pan drippings will have a wonderful flavor, also.

Fish should never be cooked to an internal temperature over 131ºF (55ºC). The formula is: Fish should be cooked at 375ºF (190ºC) 10 MINUTES PER INCH OF THICKNESS. This rule applies to fillets, whole fish, steaks, stuffed fish, fish with toppings or fish any way. Stand a ruler on end next to fish to be cooked; measure its height. If it is 3 inches thick, cook 30 minutes; if it's 1 inch thick, cook 10 minutes; if it's ½ inch thick, cook 5 minutes.

To eliminate fish odor from your hands, rub them with a wedge of fresh lemon. Or try washing with vinegar and water or salt and water.

Soak fish in ¼ cup vinegar, lemon juice or wine and water before cooking it for a sweet tender taste.

When baking or poaching a whole fish, wrap it in well-oiled cheesecloth. When fish is done, it can be lifted from baking pan without falling to pieces. To remove the cloth, slip a spatula under fish and slide cloth out after fish is on the platter.

Thaw frozen fish in milk. The milk draws out the frozen taste and provides a fresh-caught flavor.

If fish smells a little "fishy," place fish in a shallow dish; add enough milk, blended with a tablespoon or two of fresh lemon juice, to cover. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 1 hour. Do not leave the fish in the milk bath for longer than an hour, because the lactic acid in the milk will break down the connective tissue in the fish and it will tend to fall apart when cooked. Drain fish, pat dry on paper towels and use as desired. This can often salvage fish that you have kept a bit too long before using.

If you want anchovies to add flavor that's more subtle than salty, soak them in milk for 15 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels. Another way is to soak or rinse them in cold water. The longer the water is in contact with the anchovies, the more salt will be removed.

Clams and oysters will be simple to open if washed with cold water, then placed in a plastic bag and put in the freezer for an hour.

To clean oyster shells for future use, place shells in the sink under running water. Scrub vigorously, inside and out, using a stiff brush. Next fill the sink with water. Add enough bleach to make a strong solution. Soak the shells in the bleach solution overnight. Drain and place them in the top rack of the dishwasher. Run them through a full cycle. Each time you use the shells, merely scrape out the bits of food, and put them in the dishwasher.

Get rid of the canned taste in canned shrimp by soaking them in a little sherry and 2 tablespoons vinegar for about 15 minutes.  De-vein them fast with a crochet hook.

When purchasing live lobsters, there should be movement in the legs.

Mussels, clams and oysters should be alive when purchased in the shell.  Gaping shells should close when tapped.  Discard dead ones.  If they do not open when steamed, broiled or baked, they are dead and should be discarded. DO NOT EAT THEM.

The shells of cooked crab such as you see in the supermarket should be a bright red in color (not orange) and have little or no odor.  They should always be displayed on a bed of ice.

Frozen fish can be skinned easier than fresh ones. 

It was previously said that the safest fish are Aquaculture (farm) raised trout, catfish, halibut, turbot, skipjack, sole and Pollack.  Aquaculture is becoming a major protein food industry in the United States .  Many of the fish and shellfish caught in the “wild” come from waters that have become contaminated from sewage, industrial waste, mercury and other contaminants. However, they now say to buy and eat wild fish.  Like anything else, you really don’t know, but fresh or frozen is always better than pre-packaged, whether it is farm raised or wild.

To eliminate the fishy odor from a pan, try placing a small amount of vinegar in the pan before washing it. Baking soda and water will also work.

A small amount of grated onion added to the butter when cooking fish will add an excellent bit of flavor.

If you are planning a fish barbecue, use the high-fat fish; they won’t dry out as fast and will be juicer and more tasty

Most fresh fish and shellfish are never inspected as is beef, pork and other meats and poultry.  Make sure you buy from a quality fish market or supermarket.

Never keep a shellfish in fresh water as it will kill them very quickly.

Try not to thaw frozen fish completely before cooking or it may make them dry and mushy.

Do not marinate fish or shellfish longer than an hour or two as it will become tough.

When making clam chowder, add the chopped or minced clams during the last 15 minutes of cooking to avoid them from becoming mushy or tough.

Fry fish in unsalted butter and it won’t stick to the pan.  Salted butter doesn’t work well. 

When baking fish in tin foil try wrinkling up that foil before wrapping the fish.  This will cause the fish to brown better and it won’t stick to the foil.

The very best tuna is labeled “white” and is albacore.  Other types sold are namely “light”, “dark” and “blended”.  The darker in color the tuna, the stronger the flavor and usually the oilier.  These are mostly skipjack and bluefin.

Lox or smoked salmon is heavily salted unless you purchase the “Nova” variety.  Salmon used for smoking is usually raised on aquaculture farms and has never had a reported incidence of parasite contamination.  This is good news if you love Lox with Bagels and Cream Cheese.  Yum.

Fish are an important part of our diet; however, raw fish or seafood can contain roundworm and other parasites that can cause health problems.  I read where a pregnant woman should not eat raw fish or shellfish and should only consume real fish (other than canned fish) twice a week.

Most cooks know that the main use of unsalted butter is in baking recipes. Many seafood preparations can also benefit from substituting it for regular butter. Too much salt can mask the delicate flavor of many varieties of fish. Some seafood, like crab, already has a natural saltiness.  Always check the freshness date on unsalted butter as it has a shorter shelf life than the salted products.  Don’t forget, you can always freeze butter for a few months.  Put it in a freezer bag so it won’t absorb any odors from other items in the freezer.

You can achieve a lighter batter when preparing foods by using liquids with carbonation instead of the water or milk in many recipes. Beer is great for full-flavored foods because it also adds a little flavor of its own. Use it in batters for fish and onion rings. Foods like vegetable fritters are best when club soda replaces some of liquids in the batter.

A recent product developed for the home cook is the flexible chopping board. This reusable mat makes cutting ingredients safer and faster. Because they are flexible, the entire board can be taken to the pan and bent to allow the food to slide into the pan. For extra safety, many of these mats come in multicolor sets. This allows the cook to choose one color for use with only certain types of foods (for example red for meat, green for vegetable, etc.). This is a great help in preventing some foods from "cross contaminating".  They also go in the dishwasher for a good thorough cleaning which is especially good when dealing with fish odors.  Most kitchen stores have them.


Abalone.  The edible portion is the foot, which is very tough and needs to be pounded into tenderness.  This shellfish in a beautiful iridescent shell has been so over-fished or eaten by the sea otter that it is becoming rare.  The price is very high and is considered the delicacy of all shellfish.  Best fixed pounded thin, dipped in beaten egg, then bread crumbs or flour and sautéed in butter until golden.  It is absolutely fabulous and my favorite.

Clams.  Hard-shell are the most sought after clams.  Soft-shell clams cannot close its shell because its neck sticks out too far.  The largest soft-shell is the geoduck, which may weigh up to 3 pounds.  Sea clams are usually used for canning or in packaged soups.  If you dig your own clams, you must purge them of sand and debris before eating.  Allow the clams to stand 20 to 25 minutes in clear sea water.  The water should be changed at least 2 to 4 times to be sure they are free of residues.  Tender steamers are wonderful in stews, chowders and just plain in a broth.

Crab.  Blue crab is from the Atlantic and Gulf areas.  Dungeness is caught in the Pacific Ocean.  King and snow crab are caught in the north off the coast of Canada and Alaska.  Stone crab comes from Florida.  Crab is good just cooked, shelled and eaten, usually served with drawn butter or cocktail sauce.  However, it is wonderful in salads, sauces and many other dishes.  Check our Sumptuous Seafoods cookbook for recipes.  I absolutely love Florida’s Stone Crab.  If you visit there, don’t miss it along with some of their fabulous Key Lime Pie.

Crayfish.  Small freshwater crustaceans from Louisiana where they produce about 20 million pounds a year.  Similar to shrimp, all the meat is in the tail.  They are also called “crawdads.”  The locals just cook them, remove the meat from the tail shell and eat it.  Fantastic eating, but lots of work to get the tiny morsels of meat.

Langostinos.  This is a crustacean, sometimes sold as a rock shrimp.  Usually sold frozen and used mainly in soups and salads.

Lobster.  There are two kinds of lobster sold in the U.S.   They are Maine and Spiney.  The most prized Maine lobster is excellent tasting and more sought after.  The Spiney lobster has most of the meat in the tail and has smaller claws.  There are also large lobster tails from the Far East.  Lobster is expensive, but I need a “fix” at least a couple of times a year.  Dwight loves his Lobster Thermidor where the meat is removed from the tail and mixed with onions, white wine, butter, cream, etc., put back in the shell and baked, topped with a crumb/cheese/butter crunch.  It is good, but I’m a purest and love mine just plain with a little drawn butter. 

Mussels.  This shellfish in a blue-black, oval shaped shell is fast becoming a farming business.  They are raised on ropes which keep them from the silt sea bottom, thus making them cleaner and easier to sell.  Like clams, they are usually steamed for a very short time (3 to 5 minutes) and eaten with drawn butter or a light creamy sauce with some sherry in it.  It is also good in stews and chowders.  They are becoming easier to find in your local fish market or some supermarkets.  This is once of our favorites.

Oysters.  Oysters are now 50% aqua farmed and over 90 million pounds are consumed worldwide.  The flavor and texture will vary, depending on where they are harvested.  Olympia, Washington produces the little Quilcine oysters that are excellent eaten raw or as “shooters” as many call them.  However, they are good floured and sautéed in butter or fixed in casserole dishes.  I prefer mine raw on the half shell. 

Scallops.  A mollusk that dies very quickly when removed from the water.  They should not be overcooked or will become tough (just like most seafood).  They are usually shucked at the time they are caught and placed on ice or flash frozen.  That is why you usually find them frozen in the market.  There are the large sea scallops and the tiny bay scallops.  I use the larger ones in my Seafood Chowder or flour them and sauté them in butter.  I “cook” the tiny bay scallops in a lime juice marinade with some other ingredients for a couple of hours and serve them as an appetizer.  I don’t literally cook them; the lime juice does the job.  There are over 400 varieties of sea scallops.  Beware of fake scallops that are actually fish cut into scallop shapes and marketed here and there.

Shrimp.  There are over 250 varieties of shrimp.  They are classified as number of shrimp per pound.  The jumbo shrimp should average 16 to 25 per pound; large shrimp average 20 to 32 per pound; medium shrimp average 28 to 40 per pound, while tiny ocean shrimp can average over 70 per pound.  One pound of raw shrimp will yield ½ to ¾ pound after cooking.  Large shrimp are called “prawns.”  I usually buy the packages of frozen shrimp as they have already been deveined.  They are raw, but only take a few minutes to cook and are done when they turn a bright orangey pink.  Shrimp are good in gumbos, salads, stir fry, stews and chowders, or just plain with a dipping sauce.  Shrimp may have more cholesterol than any other shellfish, but are very low in saturated fat.  If shrimp has a slight ammonia smell, it is deteriorating.  Shrimp with heads are more perishable than those without their heads.  If it is fresh, try to eat it the same day and never refreeze thawed shrimp.  Frozen shrimp will thaw very quickly or you can literally throw it into the dish you are cooking frozen, and it will cook up soon.  Just add a minute or so to the cooking time to compensate for it.  If you need to shell it, I just run a little warm (not hot) water over it and it is thawed enough to shell.

Scampi.  These are usually found in high end restaurants and are huge shrimp that only come from the South China Sea.  They taste like a cross between lobster and shrimp and are excellent poached and then shelled and covered with a light creamy sauce.  Don’t overcook them.

Squid.  Squid is usually not thought of as shellfish, but I’m including it in this area as it isn’t a true fish either.  It is normally called calamari.  To keep it tender, don’t cook it for more than 3 minutes.  If stewing it, cook it for at least 15 to 20 minutes.  The whole body and tentacles are edible.  Squid has more cholesterol than shrimp.  I suggest you don’t attempt to buy a whole squid and clean it yourself unless you really know how.  It isn’t easy and is better left to those that know how.  Fish markets will sell you the tentacle rings which are the best for your cooking purposes.

Saltwater Fish

Anchovy:  The majority of anchovies gathered in Southern California waters (250 million pounds) are ground up and sold as poultry feed.  The average market size is 4 to 6 inches.  Commercially, they are sold rolled or flat and are cured in olive oil and canned.  They are eaten with crackers or used to make salad dressings, but some chefs have figured some creative ways to use them in other dishes.  They are very salty and fishy.  You will either love them or hate them.

Angler Fish: This category includes the Monkfish, Sea Devil, Belly fish, Lotte and Goosefish.  They are for the most part all low-fat with a firm texture and can weigh from 2 to 25 pounds and only the tapered tail section is edible.  It is said the taste is similar to lobster, but I can’t totally agree with that statement.  It is good, however.

Barracuda:  A moderate-fat fish that runs from 4 to 8 pounds.  The only variety that is best for eating is the Pacific Barracuda, which is said to have an excellent taste.  I haven’t tasted this fish.

Blue Fish:  Usually weighs in at 3 to 6 pounds.  This fish doesn’t freeze well.  When using, be sure to remove the dark strip of flesh running down the center.  This may give the fish a strong undesirable flavor.

Butterfish:  Also known as Pacific Pompano or Dollar fish.  It is a high-fat fish that usually weighs in at ¼ to 1 pound.  They are small fish that are usually cooked whole or smoked.  It is a very fine textured fish.

Cod:  This popular fish comes in three main types:  Atlantic Cod, Pacific Cod and Scrod.  They are a low-fat fish with a firm texture.  The Atlantic is the largest variety and the Scrod is the smallest (a young cod).  This fish is available in many cuts such as fillets, steaks, whole or dressed.  Cod is the most popular fish in the USA and England for fish and chips, but is becoming somewhat rare in English waters.

Croaker:  Varieties include:  Atlantic Croaker, Redfish, Spot, Kingfish, Corvina and Black Drum.  All are low-fat except Corvina.  Size varies from ¼ pound for the Spot to 30 pounds for the large Redfish, a popular chowder fish.  Popular in New Orleans for blackening and in their Jambalaya also.

Cusk:  A fish gaining popularity with a taste similar to cod.  It is a low-fat fish and excellent for stews and soups.  It weighs in at 1½ to 5 pounds and is sold as fillets or whole.

Eel:  A firm-textured fish that may run up to 3 feet long and has a tough skin that is removed prior to cooking.  It is more popular in Europe and Japan , but I had it a few years back smoked and it was excellent.

Flounder, also called Sole:  This is the most popular fish in the USA .  The varieties seem endless and all are low-fat with a fine texture.  Most are found from ½ to 3 pounds with some varieties weighing in at up to 10 pounds.  It is one of the best eating fish, especially for those that aren’t particularly fond of a heavy fishy tasting fish.

Grouper:  Can weigh in from 3 to 25 pounds and may be called Sea Bass (as it usually is in restaurants because it sounds better).  The skin is tough and should be removed.  It has a firm texture and may be cooked in almost any manner.

Haddock:  A close relation to the Cod and usually weighs 3 to 5 pounds.  Smoked Haddock is known as “Finnan Haddie.”

Hake:  Usually caught in the Atlantic during summer and early fall.  It is a low-fat, firm textured fish.  It usually weighs from 1 to 8 pounds and is very mild flavored.  I am not familiar with this fish.

Halibut:  A flatfish that usually weighs from 5 to 20 pounds.  It is a low-fat fish and is firm textured.  Alaskan halibut is extremely good and is my favorite fish.  Wonderful any way you want to cook it from fish and chips to stews and chowders or just baked and served with lemon juice.

Herring:  A small ¼ to 1 pound fish with a fine soft texture and is very high-fat.  It is usually used for appetizers and sold pickled or smoked.  Again, you either hate it or love it.

Mackerel:  This fish is sold under a number of names, such as Wahoo, Atlantic Mackerel, Pacific Jack, King Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel.  It is a high-fat fish with a firm texture.  It is commonly canned.

Mahi-Mahi:   It is also known as the Dolphin Fish or Doro do.  However, it is no relation to the Dolphin nor does it look like a Dolphin.  It may weigh up to 40 pounds.  It is an excellent eating fish and gained popularity for Americans in Hawaii.

Mullet:  The fat content will vary, but is usually a moderate to high fat fish with a firm texture.  It has a mild nut-like flavor. 

Ocean Perch:  This is a low-fat fish with a firm texture.  Most Perch is imported from Iceland .  It usually weighs from ½ to 2 pounds and is available fresh or frozen.

Orange Roughy:  This is one of the most popular fish sold.  It is imported from New Zealand and is low-fat with a firm texture.  It is available in 2 to 5 pound weights.  It is very similar to sole.  I love to fix this fish.  It can be prepared almost any way you wish.

Pollack:  This is a close relative to the cod with a firm texture.  Fresh it usually weighs in at 4 to 12 pounds.  It is best when sold as fillets.

Pompano:  If you see this featured in a restaurant, it will be expensive.  This is rated as one of the best eating fish of all.  It has a moderate fat level and a firm texture.  It isn’t readily available in your local supermarket, but a good fish market will be able to order it up for you.

Porgy:  This firm textured, low-fat fish weighs from ½ to 2 pounds and is primarily caught in the New England waters.  It isn’t readily available on the West Coast.

Red Snapper:  This fish has a very rose-colored skin and red eyes.  It is low-fat with a firm texture.  It is excellent for soups and stews as well as baking with sauces.

Rockfish:  This is available in more than 50 different varieties.  It is often sold under the name of Pacific Snapper and they have a firm texture and are low-fat.  Cook as you would Red Snapper.

Sablefish:  Also known as Alaskan Cod or Butterfish.  It is a very high-fat fish with a soft texture due to the fat content.  It makes an excellent smoking fish and is usually sold as smoked.

Salmon:  Red salmon is the highest in fat, but it is the good cholesterol.  Alaska Copper River is the most expensive and the highest grade.  The lower grades are the sockeye, Chinook or king and pink salmon is the lowest grade.  Three ounces of salmon contains 120 calories.  ½ cup of salmon contains more grams of protein than two lamb chops.  Salmon used in sushi gives you a 1 in 10 chance of consuming a roundworm from the “amisakis family” of parasites, according to the FDA in samples from 32 restaurants.  Smoked salmon (Lox) is heavily salted unless you purchase the “Nova” variety.  Salmon used for smoking is usually raised on aquaculture farms and has never had a reported incidence of parasite contamination.

Sardines:  These are actually soft-boned herring.  They are descaled before being canned and the scales used to make artificial pearls and cosmetics.  The Norwegian bristling sardine is the finest.  Maine sardines are almost as good and cost considerably less.  They are high-fat and best used for appetizers.

Sea Bass:  A moderate fat fish with a firm texture, it has a mild flavor and is a popular seller.  You can bake, barbecue, broil or fry it.

Sea Trout:  This moderate fat fish has a fine texture and is excellent either baked or broiled.  It is usually caught in the Southeastern United States.

Shad:  This is a high-fat fish with a fine texture.  It is a difficult fish to bone and almost always is sold as fillet.  The eggs (shad roe) are considered a delicacy.

Shark:  This low-fat, firm, dense textured fish is fast becoming a popular eating fish and is often featured in restaurants.  It is one of the most vitamin-rich foods in the sea.  There are 350 species of Shark.  In Asia, dried Shark Fins sell for $53 per pound and are used to make Shark soup.  In Hong Kong, a bowl of Shark soup sells for $50 per bowl.

Skate:  The wings are the only part that is edible.  The flavor is similar to scallops and are low-fat with a firm texture.

Swordfish:  The flavor is not as strong as Shark and is best served as steaks.  It is somewhat higher in fat than Shark, but has a similar texture.

Tuna:  White Tuna is from Albacore tuna and is the best grade of tuna.  Light Tuna comes from the other five species of tuna.  It is nutritious and usually tastes almost as good.  Tuna packed in oil has 50% more calories as water packed tuna.  There are several grades of tuna with the solid pack being the highest and is composed of the loins of the tuna with a few flakes attached.  Chunk tuna will include pieces that will have a part of the muscle structure attached.  Flake tuna has the muscle structure and a high percentage of the pieces are under ½ inch.  Grated tuna is just above a paste.  Watch the tuna label for the chemical pyrophosphate, a preservative that you should not eat.

Turbot:  This is a low-fat fish with a firm texture.  It is similar to flounder, a flatfish and is usually sold only as fillets.

Whiting:  This fish is a relative of Hake.  It is low-fat with a firm texture and is best broiled or steamed.

Freshwater Fish

Buffalo Fish:  This is a moderate fat fish with a firm texture.  It is usually caught in the Mississippi and the Great Lakes.  It weighs from 2 to 8 pounds.

Carp:  This is the first fish to be aqua cultured hundreds of years ago in China .  It is a scavenger fish which is only recommended for fishing.  It is a moderate fat fish.  Think of KOI, those beautiful “carp” you see in ponds.  Pretty to look at, but not for eating.

Catfish:  Approximately 70% of all catfish sold are from aqua cultured farms.  There are over 20 varieties of catfish.  They are low-fat with a firm texture.  This is another scavenger fish which is healthier and only purchased from the farms. 

Perch:  This small fish is usually best pan-fried whole.  It is low-fat, firm textured and excellent eating.

Pike:  Pike has been fished out of existence.  It is an excellent eating, low-fat fish, the most popular being the Walleyed Pike.

Smelt:  This very small fish is usually pan-fried and eaten whole (head and all).  Larger ones are usually cleaned and gutted in the usual manner and are high-fat with a firm texture.

Sturgeon:  This is the largest freshwater fish in the world.  They can weigh up to 1000 pounds.  They are high-fat with a very dense texture.  Their eggs (roe) are a favorite for caviar.

Trout:  There are three main varieties:  Lake Trout, Rainbow Trout and Steelhead.  All contain moderate to high levels of fat with a firm texture.  It is one of the best eating fishes with a delicate flavor.  All Rainbow Trout are presently from aqua cultured farms.  I was raised on Steelhead and grew weary of fish since my dad fished every weekend and usually caught one or more.  Mom didn’t much care for it so she wasn’t too creative in the cooking process.  However, I’ve grown to really like it with so many ways to prepare it now.

Whitefish:  This ranks as the best freshwater eating fish.  It is high-fat with a firm texture and is best when broiled or baked.