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The Many Ways to Cook Fish (Part 1)

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

Fish is a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids plus loads of vitamins and minerals. It is among the healthiest foods one can find; with many health benefits supported by research. Nutritionists recommend eating fatty fish at least once or twice a week to boost omega-3 requirements, crucial for optimal body and brain functions. In addition, consuming fish is linked to a reduced risk of certain diseases.


Nutritionists advocates that fish be included for a balanced and healthy diet


Eating fish is probably the easier part, but cooking it is sometimes met with less excitement. So, let’s talk about ways to cook fish – more importantly, to prevent dinner from being boring and to add some spark to the conversation at the table. There are numerous ways to cook fish, and I will discuss a few here. More will be in the next post.


Steaming retains all the natural juices in the fish, and is a popular choice in Asian societies


ONE: Chinese-style steamed fish is a favourite among restaurant goers, and certainly one method commonly used in homes in Singapore and Malaysia. Essentially a whole fish – head to tail – is steamed. Connoisseurs stand by this technique, that it helps retain the flavour of the fish; and for fish lovers, this is a big deal.


Generally, all white-flesh fish is suitable for steaming. While most believe that only freshly slaughtered fish is suitable, the truth is: I steamed frozen fish that I got from here, and it works. Once the fish is scaled and gutted (butterfly-cut is even better), the rest is a breeze. There are numerous recipes for steamed fish out there, and it’s one of the simplest ways to cook fish, in my own opinion. You can add in any condiments, herbs or a bit of sauce either to steam with the fish, or pour over after. I love to douse heated cooking oil over steamed fish just before serving to bring out the fragrance.


Grilled fish is simple and a delicious choice


TWO: Grilling fish over high heat and an open flame is another common way to cook fish. There are precautions to take though: thaw your fish first to shorten the cooking time, and avoid putting it directly over a flame since this has been linked to the formation of undesirable compounds connected to heart disease, cancer, etc when food is burnt.


When grilling fish, leave the skin on for added texture, and use a mild marinate for taste. For convenience and in case the fish breaks up during handling, put it between a grill grate, and brush the grate with some oil prior to putting it over the fire. Overcooking is a definite no-no, and ensure that the grill grates are clear from burnt residues. Whole fish, steaks and fillet cuts are good choices for grilling.


Baking fish with a variety of vegetables make a wholesome meal


THREE: Baking, according to some sources, is one of the best ways to cook fish. This method helps retain all the vital goodness of the fish – like omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients – plus it’s fuss-free. Most fish will bake in under 10 minutes, so this option is great for a quick meal or for busy nights. Bake fish in the oven using 180 to 200 degree Celsius. Remember, the fish can become dry so some liquid or marinate is recommended. The rule of thumb on baking – in a preheated oven, about five minutes for each half-inch of thickness to the fish. Also make sure to thaw the fish completely and wrap it in parchment paper or foil for a succulent dish.


Broiled fish is another popular choice for those who prefers less oily food


FOUR: Broiling, somewhat like grilling, is also rather simple. The difference is: the heat is at the top, in an oven. Broiling is generally considered one of the healthier ways to cook fish, as there is no added fat and calories from oils. A simple sauce or marinate may be used so oil can be avoided.


Broiling takes under 10 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the fish, and that’s a time-saver too. If a fatty fish is chosen, the fat that cooks out in the tray is all there is in your diet. If fillet under one inch of thickness is chosen, there is no need to flip the fish.


Poaching involves cooking food by submerging it in a liquid, usually at a low temperature


FIVE: Poaching is one other quick and easy way to cook fish, ideal for lean fish like swordfish and bass, and it takes only a few minutes. Simply bring a pot of water to boil and simmer your fish until it starts to turn translucent. The downside: poaching in water is boring. Try using vegetable broth, meat stock or other liquid with some flavouring. Experiment!


For a quick meal, microwave-cooked fish may be a good choice


SIX: When it comes to kitchen gadgets and gizmos, a microwave is right up most people’s alley. I used to frown upon the idea of cooking fish in a microwave, but a girlfriend of mine proved me wrong. You might want to give it a go.


Steaming fish in a microwave oven takes just about 5 minutes, and since fish already comes with lots of liquid, it’s quite easy. Put the fish on a plate or dish, with seasonings and sauces you like, cover it and let it cook. In addition, you can see the fish cooking, so you can determine if it needs another minute or two. Selected veggies may be added to cook with the fish so you have it all in one dish.


Deep frying uses more oil, and fried food should be eaten sparing

The amount of oil or fat is more controlled in pan-frying


SEVEN: Fried fish is a safe bet, in terms of taste and texture. Frying involves using oil or fat in a pan: shallow frying (or pan-frying) uses a small quantity of oil that is sufficient to cover about half the thickness of the fish, while deep-frying requires immersing the whole fish or fillet in oil in a deep pan. Of the two, pan-frying is a healthier option than deep-frying.


Fried fish may be delicious, but it’s also linked to an increased risk of heart ailments due to high saturated fat, which contradicts the desire to eat healthily. Frying apparently increases the amount of fat intake and lowers the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your fish. In fact, research shows that if a person eats fried food twice a week, the risk of heart disease is significantly increased.


Fish is done when the flesh turns from translucent to opaque (white). Test the fish at the thickest part by prodding it with a fork. The flesh should “flake” readily. Don’t be tempted to “give it a moment or two longer” as it is very easy to overcook fish.


In a nutshell, fish is delicious and easy to prepare. Fish can be cooked in a number of ways, and incorporating it in your diet bring numerous benefits, including brain health, lower risks of heart attacks and strokes, prevent depression, reduce autoimmune diseases, protect vision in old age, improve sleep quality, etc. (Source) Do share how you like to cook your fish with me.


And before we go, below are some tips to success:

  • Don’t overcook fish as the texture will dry out, become coarse, and the flavour will be destroyed.

  • Don’t over spice fish as it has a delicate flavour so go easy with herbs and spices.

  • Keep fish moist and preserve the natural juices by using a moist cooking method or baste frequently during dry cooking.

*Basting is a culinary technique for moistening the surface of roasting meat, poultry, or other foods with pan drippings, stock, butter or some other liquid. In addition to contributing moisture, basting using condiments or sauce adds flavour to the surface of the meat. (Source)


A final tip to keep your home from smelling like fish: wrap fish in foil when baking or broiling, or soak your fish in milk before cooking. I have not tried the latter method but it certainly sounds interesting. It seems that milk will cause a chemical reaction that removes a fair bit of the fishy smell.




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