Fear of Fish

One thing that a lot of budding cooks are afraid of cooking is fish and seafood. I have met people who have only eaten fish by Mrs. Paul or the cute Gorton's Fisherman. While there is a time and place for "freezer fish", there are so many quick and easy dishes you can do with fresh fish and seafood that is a shame to let your fear get the better of you, especially now when we know how good fish, particularly cold water fish is for you. Even if you are not that adventurous, there is lots you can do with a can of chunk white tuna or some smoked salmon and you can work your way up to a whole fish as you gain confidence!
One of my fish memories growing up was a fish called butterfish that my mom used to make. They were really bony but they had this great buttery taste, that I will never forget. I have never made butterfish as an adult because my husband inherited from his father a fear of fish bones. In all fairness. if you had a beautiful filet of fish, my father-in-law could find the one tiny bone in the whole platter! Somehow my husband has inherited this and so there are only some fishes that he will eat.

In our area, stripers and bluefish are very popular, but even if you don't live near the coast you can get flash frozen salmon or mahi-mahi filets. So you have a chunk of fresh fish and now what do you do with it? Well, the simplest thing I do that almost anyone likes is to put the fish in a greased pan, slather the top with mayo (light is fine) and then sprinkle with a seasoning mix like jerk seasoning, Season-all, lemon pepper, or any of the great combinations you can buy from Penzey's Spices. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes or broil until the fish flakes easily. Believe me, the mistake that most people make in cooking fish, or any seafood, is cooking too long. If you take your fish out too soon you can always put it back under the broiler to finish it off, but if you cook it too long... well, that's the reason that many people have bad feelings about fish to begin with.

What else can a beginner do with fish that will impress even their mother-in-law? I am including a couple of simple dishes that look great, and taste even better, as well as a surprising tuna surprise recipe that is light, low carb and delicious!

Smoked Salmon Appetizer

1/2 cup of smoked salmon pieces (you can sometimes buy them this way or if you get the Costco fillet, cut it in bite-sized pieces)

Juice of 1/2 -whole lemon (depending on how much lemon flavor you like)

2-3 tablespoons of capers

1/4-1/2 tsp dill weed

Gently stir all ingredients together and chill. Serve with crackers or belgian endive.

Thai Sweet Hot Salmon

1 pound of fresh salmon, cut into 4-6 ounce portions

1/2 cup Thai sweet red pepper sauce

Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray and place fish portions on sheet. Brush fish with Thai sauce. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until fish is moist but flaky.

Jim's "Even My Kids Will Eat It" Salmon

This is a recipe that Jim, a friend from work, gave me for salmon. Every time I make it, people ooh and ahh (after they eat up every bit!)

1 lb salmon filets or salmon steaks
1 large sweet onion (Vidalia or Maya)
Your favorite BBQ sauce
Havarti-dill cheese in thin slices (or other mild white cheese)
1/4-1/2 tsp brown sugar (I use brown Splenda)
4 tbsp butter

Slice onions. Spray large skillet with PAM (not non-stick- read my post on Good David's PAM warning). Prepare the salmon by coating with your favorite BBQ sauce. Saute onions in 2 tbsp of the butter with brown sugar until translucent and onions are caramelized and set aside. Put other 2 tbsp of butter in pan and add salmon. Cook over medium heat, turning once, allowing about 2 minutes each side. When salmon is done, top with onions and then cheese slices until cheese melts. Serve over long grain and wild rice and collect the compliments!

Grilled Whole Fish with Herbs

It took me awhile before I was ready to buy a whole fish, but it is a dramatic meal that tastes great and good for you. Look for a fish without a strong smell and eyes that have not sunken. I usually have it gutted (what a lovely word) and the head taken off.

1 whole fish (3-4 lbs) - I like bluefish, spanish mackeral, trout.
1 lemon sliced (or any other citrus or combination
A handful of herbs of any combination of the following (dill, chives, lemon balm, rosemary, celery tops, fennel tops, fresh basil... or any others you like)
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
Coarse sea salt and pepper

Spray large piece of aluminum foil with PAM (large enough to wrap the fish) and lay fish at middle of it and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle inside and out with coarse sea salt and pepper. Stuff citrus and herbs in the fish cavity and wrap fish tightly. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or cook on preheated grill over indirect heat) until fish flakes with a fork.
Surprising Tuna Surprise

This was a recipe I made up when we were on the Atkins diet, but we continue to prefer this over traditional tuna casserole. It is easy light and delicious, not to mention healthy. You won't miss the noodles at all!

1 large can of chunk white tuna (picture of Jessica Simpson's favorite, left)

2 1/2 pounds of zucchini

1/3 -1/2 jar of prepared alfredo pasta sauce

1/2 - 1 can french fried onions

1-1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

2 tbsp butter or olive oil

Wash zucchini off and, using a vegetable peeler, make ribbons of the zucchini into a colander working your way around the zucchini until you reach the seeds (discard the seeds). Do this for all the zucchini and salt lightly and let stand for about 15 minutes. Rinse off zucchini and drain well. Melt 2 tbsp butter or olive oil in saucepan and add zucchini ribbons, and saute lightly (1-2 minutes) until just cooked. Add sauce and stir in tuna. Put mixture into a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish or 9x9 pan and top with onions and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and cheese is melted (about 20 minutes). Enjoy.


Kristen said…
Lots of great ideas and recipes here Deborah! I love cooking fish, and luckily I have a family that loves to eat fish.
Susan said…
My father, who ate just about anything without complaint, always approached white fish with trepidation after nearly choking on spiny fish bone when he was young. My mom, who has been cooking for him for 40 years, still approaches cooking such fish with trepidation, lest she miss a bone. Thanks for the lovely recipes; they sound like company pleasers.
I hate fish but love cooking it. I usually wait till spring/summer so I can cook it outside seeing how I cannot stand the smell of it. Does that make me weird ? I'll have to try some of these recipes for my family this summer.
Deborah Dowd said…
Kristen- You are lucky to have a "fish family"!

Susan- I knew that I must not be alone in having family members with fishbone-a phobia!

"Chicken"- I can't blame you for not wanting your house to smell fishy- the herb fish recipe is great on the grill!
I agree with Kristen, what a great resource with all of these incredible recipes! And I completely agree with the fear about fish. It seems so fickle because you can easily overcook it into a tough, rubbery fillet and yes, the smell can be overwhelming at times. But with your recipes (especially the cheesy tuna casserole without carbs) sound doable and delicious!
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