How to Store and Prepare Fish

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Filed Under: Recipes, Substitutions and Tips
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Master these tips and make fish a bigger part of your diet

Fish is good food. In addition to being rich in protein, it is an excellent source of niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, iodine, calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and copper. Some experts say fish should be served as the main course in four meals a week; others recommend as many as seven.

Unfortunately, many people avoid fish altogether because they're not sure how to store and prepare it. Here are a few rules to follow that will help you maintain flavor and preserve the vitamins and minerals.

How to Select Fish for Purchase

  • The fish's eyes should be clear and not cloudy.
  • The flesh should have a bounce to it—that is, elasticity after you press it.
  • Skin should be shiny.
  • Color should not be faded.
  • Gills should be red and free of slime.
  • Odor should be mild, but not "fishy."
  • Cut fish flesh should look fresh—moist and bright, not dry and dull. There should be no traces of brown around the edges, and the flesh should have a firm texture.

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How to Refrigerate Fish

  • Place fish, if it's in small pieces, in a covered icebox dish.
  • If it's too large for an icebox dish, place it on a platter or in a glass baking dish and cover with a length of freezer paper.
  • Wrap the paper around the dish so that it will be as nearly airtight as possible. Do not wrap the fish itself.
  • Refrigerate at temperatures no higher than 40 degrees F (preferably 32–35 degrees) until ready to cook.
  • Cook the fish within one day of the time you purchase it from the market; two days at the most—but only if you have absolute confidence in your market. Often, a lot time is wasted in the store transferring the fish from the refrigerators or ice beds.
  • Cook the fish within two days if you caught it yourself. Wait absolutely no longer than three days. Fish tastes best the moment it comes from the water; every minute longer than that, the quality deteriorates.
  • The only safe way to store fish longer than a day or two is to freeze it—but be careful. Never freeze fish that you've not caught yourself unless you know when it was caught and you trust that it was handled properly. As a general rule, don't freeze fish you buy in a store.

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How to Freeze Fish

  • Don't freeze whole, uncleaned fish. Dress the fish first.
  • Glaze the fish before it's frozen. Use one of the following methods depending on whether the fish is lean or fatty:

For lean fish—

  • Draw enough water to completely immerse the fish and set it in the freezer until almost frozen. Then remove and, if necessary, transfer to a pot large enough for immersion.
  • Dissolve ½ cup of salt in every quart of almost frozen water.
  • Immerse the fish in the solution for one minute, then remove and place on lint-free paper towels for two minutes.
  • Immerse again for 30 seconds, remove, and wrap immediately.
  • When wrapping the fish, make sure that no openings remain and that there is no air space between the fish and the wrapping material. Tape securely and label with (1) date, (2) species of fish, (3) market form, and (4) fatty or lean.

For fatty fish—

  • Instead of salt, substitute 2 tablespoons of ascorbic acid powder per quart of almost frozen water and follow the above procedure step by step. (Ascorbic acid can be purchased in most drug stores.)

There you have it! Glazed and frozen, a lean fish will keep safely for six months, a fatty fish for three months.

Another quick freezing method is to fill a waxed milk carton with cold water, immerse fish and freeze in the water. As soon as thawed, remove the fish from the water. The drawback to this method is that it takes up more freezer space and should be used within 30 days.

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How to Serve Fish

The oil content of a fish determines whether it is a fatty or lean fish; however, in all fish, the oil content varies within the fish's body. Generally, there is more oil content near the head than near the tail. Or, in other words, there is more oil in the thick parts of the fish than in the thin.

Serve those in the family who should eat lean the portion near the tail, and those in the family for whom it makes no difference, the thicker pieces.

Fish is a clean, healthy way of eating. It tastes great, is conducive to entertaining, there are thousands of ways to prepare it, and it's economical. You can bake it, poach it, broil it, grill it, or smoke it, but please, please don't fry it! (You not only destroy the nutrients, but also destroy your health with more fried foods.)

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See more substitutions and cooking tips or browse all recipes.

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