Tips on Preparing Fresh Caught Fish
After a day on the lake, river, or ocean, many anglers are ready to eat the rewards of their day. However, for a lot their fishing skills far outweigh their cooking skills. Learning how to cook fish and clean it is equally important.
This can be especially frustrating when dealing with the often-heard phrase, “I like fish, I just don’t like the fishy taste of fish.” This can leave anglers, or their spouses, wondering just how to cook fish.
How to Clean and Gut a Fish
The first step is to prepare the fish for cooking. Fish should be prepared within 2 hours of being removed from the water. Savvy anglers know to keep their catches in water, on a stringer in the water, or on ice to preserve flavor.
While some fish can be broiled or fried whole, many cannot. In addition, many diners prefer a cleaned and prepped fish rather than a whole one on their plate.
Scaling a Fish
When learning how to scale a fish, anglers are taught to start at the tail and work up. Hold the fish firmly by the tail and, using a dull knife, scrape the scales off.
- Make sure to have an open area, as scales often go flying.
- Keep the blade’s edge turned away from the scales. This is scraping, not cutting.
- Pay extra attention to the fins and collar of the fish.
- A knife works as well, if not better, than most expensive fish scalers.
How to Gut a Fish
- Slip a knife tip into the vent – the small opening on the underside of the fish.
- Keeping your fingers away from the blade, slice upwards towards the head.
- Slice through the area directly under the gills. This can be a tough area to cut, so smart fishers are ready and have a good hold of the fish.
- While a fillet knife works best for this, any sharp knife will do when gutting a fish.
- When prepping a fish for cooking, use fingers to reach into the cut, directly below the head, and scoop the guts out.
- On some fish, the liver and swim bladder are attached to the backbone and need to be cut out.
- Remove the head just below the gills. If keeping the head, remove the gills as these are bitter and can destroy the flavor of the fish.
How to Make Batter for Fish
One of the more traditional, and favorite, ways to prepare fish is fried in batter. English-style fish and chips are known throughout the world for good reason.
Brought to England by Sephardic Jews in the 1600s, this style of fish preparation was meant to be delicious while allowing the fish to be preserved and portable.
Traditional English fish and chips batter is made from a combination of beer, white flour, baking soda and salt, and deep fried at 428 degrees Fahrenheit. There are many recipes out there, but the most common uses flour, lager or stout, baking soda, and salt and pepper.
The fish should be cut into fillets, although smaller fish can be fried whole. The fillets are then coated in flour and dipped in the batter. The fish is then deep fried for about 4 minutes, until golden brown.
How to Cook Fish in an Air Fryer
As air fryers become a more popular, healthier way of cooking, there has also been a rise in air fryer fish recipes.
Like beer battering, this style of fish calls for fillets that are breaded and seasoned before frying. However, due to how an air fryer handles fish, the fillets should be dipped in eggs first.
This allows the breading to cling better to the fish and creates a lighter coating.
Additionally, since air fryers don’t use oils, fish can be cooked in an air fryer without batter. Simply season to taste, add some salt and pepper, and prepare to eat.
How to Bake Fish
When baking fish, the first decision is often whether to bake the fish whole or in filets. The best seafood chefs know that baking a fish whole makes the flesh more tender, juicier, and locks in flavor.
This is also one of the easiest ways to cook fish.
Skip the filet knife and instead stuff the empty gut cavity with garlic, lemon, and dill. Then cut angled slashed along the side of the fish. This will not only increase the flavor but ensure the fish cooks through uniformly.
Sprinkle the slashes with salt, butter, and olive oil. A daring chef can go as far as melting some butter with salt and pepper and using it to baste the baking fish.
The fish should cook until it is 135 degrees Fahrenheit. However, a simple rule of thumb is that to tell if the fish is done cooking, the flesh should flake away from the fish easily.
Serve this with a side of melted butter. Learn more about the best types of fish to eat.
This is a particularly good way of cooking white fishes for those who are not fans of stronger, “fishy,” fish, as the softer flesh will absorb the flavor of whatever spices are being used. These are all the best techniques on how to cook fish, no matter what type of fish is caught.
Remove That Fishy Smell
Whenever the topic of cooking fish comes up there is always the age-old question: how to get rid of the fishy smell.
First, and most important, fresh fish rarely smells. If a store-bought fish smells it is a sign the fish is going bad and probably shouldn’t be eaten. However, once cooking, even fresh fish can sometimes leave an odor.
One of the best ways to avoid this is to presoak the fish in either milk or lemon water. This neutralizes the odors before the cooking can start.
Another good method is to use contained cooking methods, like foil-wrapped fish, as this will contain the odor.
If it is too late, and the smell is already out, a standard way of removing the smell is to boil water with a little bit of vinegar. This will neutralize the smell.
Some people will even add rose petals or lavender to the water to make a pleasant, natural, air purifier.