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Feel like a fish out of water when it comes to buying and cooking seafood? You're not alone.

By Caitlyn Diimig, RD
April 02, 2021
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When it comes to buying and cooking seafood, lots of us leave it to restaurants instead of tackling it at home. But, honestly, it couldn't be simpler. We'll demystify buying and storing seafood, and offer easy recipes and tips to give you a delicious place to start. Go ahead and dive in!

How to score the best catch of the day

fresh fish, mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops on ice
Credit: Meredith

Know freshness when you see it

Fish smell clean and retain their color when fresh, and the flesh will bounce back when touched. "A fish will tell you right off the bat if it's worthy of coming home," says John Livera, chef for the Norwegian Seafood Council. If it smells fishy, has cloudy eyes, gray flesh, or rusty brown gills, keep looking.

Choose frozen

Fresh fish may seem like a superior option, but frozen fish can retain more nutrients, says Valerie Agyeman, registered dietitian with the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. "Most fish and seafood are frozen on the boat or dock, locking in nutrients at their peak," she says. To thaw frozen fillets, simply set them in a bowl of cold water 30 to 60 minutes (shrimp need 20 to 30 minutes), then drain and pat dry.

Ask a monger

Don't be afraid to call your store's fishmongers. They're knowledgeable about what's freshest; how to store, clean, and prep fish and seafood; and how long a purchase will stay fresh.

How to store seafood

Keep fresh fish in the coldest part of your fridge and cook and consume it (or freeze for later) within about 24 hours of purchase, Livera says. To freeze, he advises vacuum-sealing the fish, or tightly wrapping it in plastic wrap inside a zip-top freezer bag, and storing it in the freezer up to 3 months.

Sustainability check

To help ensure a future of healthy waters and delicious seafood, it's smart to buy seafood from reputable sources that value sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.

Scan fish and seafood packaging for logos from one of these organizations: Marine Stewardship Council, Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), or Best Aquaculture Practices. They evaluate fisheries, and their approval and certification ensures that the seafood is a sustainable option.

Visit Seafood Watch for current recommendations on the most environmentally friendly catch.

Easy seafood recipes for beginners

Brown Butter Perch

overhead shot of brown butter perch served with green salad
Credit: Kim Cornelison/Allrecipes Magazine

Toasted brown butter brings out the best in perch's delicate flavor. If you can't find eight individual perch fillets, use one large walleye and divide into eight pieces. While they differ in size, both are lean, firm white fish with a mild, subtly sweet flavor.

Editor's tip: skinning fish. Set fish skin side down on a cutting board. Starting with the end nearest you, work a long, sharp knife between the skin and flesh, then slice toward the other end, holding onto the skin as you go. With a whole fish, start at the tail end.

Salmon with Pineapple Tomato Salsa

salmon filets served with tomato and pineapple salsa
Credit: Kim Cornelison/Allrecipes Magazine

Baking the salmon in broth steams the fish for a tender and juicy outcome every time. A fresh pineapple salsa adds tang and additional moisture, ensuring your fish won't taste dry.

Editor's tip: consider it done. One cue that your fish is cooked: It flakes easily with a fork. still not sure? Use a good thermometer. Fish is safe at 145 degrees F (63 degrees C).

Cioppino

homemade cioppino in a bowl served with bread on the side
Credit: Kim Cornelison/Allrecipes Magazine

The beauty of this tomato-based seafood stew? It's completely customizable. Here, we're using shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and crab. But throw in your favorite seafood and fish — you can't go wrong. Serve with warm, crusty bread to sop up all that delicious broth.

Editor's tip: avoiding grit. Scallops, clams, and mussels open their shells slightly and filter water to feed, which means sand or grit can get inside. That isn't pleasant to eat. Many are sold pre-purged, but it's smart to give them some extra attention just before you cook them: Rinse raw scallops well under cold water and pat dry. Soak raw clams and mussels in cold water 20 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon, then brush shells to remove any additional grit. Rinse under cold water and pat dry. Then remove the beard from the mussels. Scan the smart code above for more on cleaning and debearding.

Ceviche

individual servings of ceviche with tortilla chips
Credit: Kim Cornelison/Allrecipes Magazine

Ceviche is a popular method of curing raw seafood and fish with fresh citrus juices. The seafood is then served chilled. The acids in the citrus denature the proteins, resulting in a "cooked" texture without heat. If you can't find bay scallops, cut large sea scallops into ½-inch pieces, for even curing.

Shrimp Grain Bowl

overhead shot of shrimp grain bowl
Credit: Kim Cornelison/Allrecipes Magazine

Often, you can save money by peeling your own shrimp. Look for "easy peel" on the package, which typically means the shrimp are headless and already deveined. Shrimp are sized by the number per pound. The smaller the number, the larger the shrimp.

Editor's tip: skillet solution. If you don't have a grill, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add drained marinated shrimp mixture; cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp are opaque and vegetables are browned and tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2021 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.