Seafood is an essential component of any healthy diet; it’s rich in vitamins and nutrients, genuinely delicious, and naturally low in fats and sugars.
Unfortunately - and despite the known benefits of eating seafood - many at-home chefs exclude it from their menus. Arguably the biggest reason for this is one of fear. Seafood can go “bad” incredibly quickly, requires special preparation methods in order to consume safely, and can be finicky to get right. As a result, many people decide it isn’t worth their time, and omit it from their home-cooking endeavors.
However, seafood genuinely is a natural wonder food, and one that can play a starring role in your home cuisine. Yes, there are challenges you will have to overcome when preparing seafood, but unless you’re trying to make sushi these are no more substantial than you will find when preparing standard meat. With the right information and practices behind you, you should be able to introduce seafood into your repertoire in a safe, reliable, and - most importantly of all - delicious way. Here’s what you need to know.
#1 - Shelf-life is an issue
One of the major issues with seafood is its short shelf-life, which is an undeniable fact. The shelf-life of fish and items such as prawns can be somewhat limiting, but there are ways and means of overcoming this.
The more important thing to keep in mind is the fact that shelf-life can be an issue, and to schedule effectively to accommodate this. When you buy meat, it’s easy enough to pick up a packet at the supermarket, assuming you will use it at some point in the week. It’s more difficult to do this with seafood; instead, you have to plan your menu, buy fresh fish from a reputable vendor who practices excellent safety and hygiene practices, and then cook it as soon as you possibly can. While this may sound inconvenient, this is a schedule adjustment that is well worth making: the fresher fish and other forms of seafood are, the better they taste, and the more enjoyable your meal will be as a result.
If you can’t cook seafood the same day it is bought, freezing is by far the best method of storage.
#2 - Make the right rinsing choices
If you are particularly concerned about cooking with seafood, it may seem sensible to give it a quick rinse prior to cooking.
In some cases, this is a good idea: mussels, clams, and prawns can all benefit from being rinsed with water prior to cooking.
Other seafood, however, is a different… kettle of fish, if you’ll pardon the pun… in this regard, and shouldn’t be rinsed prior to cooking. There are two reasons for this: first and foremost, it’s largely pointless; no item will be truly “cleaner” for having been rinsed under water . Secondly: rinsing fish - and other meats - can actually make it more likely that you will spread bacteria across your kitchen, where it is far more harmful. If you cook fish correctly, this should kill the bacteria, so washing is an unnecessary step.
#3 - Opt for fillets if concerned about bones
One of the reasons people shy away from seafood is concerns over finding bones in their meals. While it’s generally considered safe to swallow smaller bones, worries regarding fish bones can lead to extra stress for home cooks, who feel the need to diligently spend hours carefully filleting prior to cooking.
If this is an issue you struggle with, then there is a simple solution: ask your supplier for fillets rather than whole fish. This will ensure your food is ready to cook, and you can focus on creating a wonderful meal without the worry of hunting down every single bone that the fish contains.
#4 - Be cautious with cooking times
Judging when a meal is cooked is always difficult; you have to find that sweet point between “cooked enough” and “burnt to a crisp”, which can often be easier said than done. However, seafood is particularly difficult to judge cooking times on, and you will need to take account of this if you are going to include it on your menus.
First and foremost, fish tends to cook quicker than other meats, so your timing has to be perfect. Secondly, many cooks fear undercooking fish, which popular culture suggests will inevitably lead to food poisoning.
To combat these concerns, it’s first important to note that undercooking any meat can lead to food poisoning - fish is far from alone in this regard. Secondly, it’s worth “checking in” with a fish dish far more than you would with standard meats; set timers for every five minutes, as this should ensure that you notice any signs of burning if the fish is cooking quicker than you expect. Fish is not a hands-off “put it in the oven and hope it works out okay” food, but with regular checks, you should be able to prevent it from burning.
It is worth noting that some forms of seafood - clams and mussels, for example - are incredibly simple to cook, as they signal when they are ready to be eaten. If you cook with these items, then they are usually safe to eat when the shell is completely open and you can clearly see the meat inside. While this tip doesn’t guard against overcooking - you will still need to check-in regularly - it can help to guard against concerns regarding undercooking.
#5 - Don’t overwhelm with additional flavors
Many home cooks are used to needing to add flavor to the meals they prepare, as many standard
However, if you do the same to fish and other forms of seafood, then the results can be unpleasant. Fish and seafood have an incredibly vibrant natural taste, and rarely need any enhancement from herbs and spices. For most seafood, a dash of lemon juice is all you need for an outstanding eating experience.