Who’s Afraid of Fish?

I’m referring, of course, to cooking fish at home. It sometimes seems that preparing seafood in one’s own kitchen is the final frontier of home cooking. It certainly was for me. I’m not, despite being a lifelong East Coaster, what you’d call “a seafood person.”But I’m here to tell you not to be afraid. Seeing as 50 percent of the McDoogal household loves fish, and I always worry that I’m missing out on some good nutrition by skipping fish, I bit the bullet and made a fish dish last weekend. It was totally easy and painless. Trust me.

If you’re making fish for the first time, it’s best to start really simple. I bought two small fillets of tilapia at the grocery store, which took the nausea-inducing prep work out of the equation – no skinning, no de-boning, no nothing. They were neatly packaged and ready to cook, the fishy equivalent of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Also, for the seafood-averse, a fish like tilapia is a good choice because it has a very mild flavor.

Next, I consulted my cooking bible to help me pick out a cooking method. Although I was intrigued by both the baking and grilling options, I settled on a straightforward pan fry, in part because that’s how I usually prepare chicken breasts. And let me tell you, the side dishes I made required a lot more time and effort than the actual entree did. It was so quick, easy, and simple that it was done before I knew it.

As for the taste? It was good, and again, I’d really recommend it for non-seafood lovers. I let myself be distracted enough by the nice, crunchy quality of the crust and the other food on my plate that I barely noticed I was eating fish at all. Keep in mind you can add whatever seasonings and embellishments you want (Tartar sauce? Red pepper? Curry powder?) to give this recipe a little more kick. This recipe can also be scaled up to include more than two fillets, in which case you’d have to pan fry in two or more batches (you can keep the first batch warm in an oven heated to 200 degrees). Finally, be sure to rinse and dry the fillets before cooking.

Breaded Panfried Fish Fillets

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, mix:
1 cup cornmeal
Salt and pepper (and/or other seasonings) to taste

Coat with the seasoned cornmeal, shaking off the excess, and set aside:
2 white-fleshed fish fillets, rinsed and patted dry

Add to the skillet and heat:
¼ cup butter, ¼ cup vegetable oil, or a combination.

Add the fillets, without crowding, then increase the heat to high and fry, shaking the pan from time to time, until the bottom of the fish is nicely browned and the flesh is firm and opaque throughout, about 3 minutes. Turn and brown the other side. Remove the fillets to a plate. When the fish is cooked, garnish with:

Minced parsley
Lemon wedges

Photo: Getty

3 replies on “Who’s Afraid of Fish?”

Thank you for this! Fish is one of the easiest and quickest dishes to cook, but so many people are afraid of it for some reason. My two favorite ways are oven-baked with some lemon, butter and seasoning in a tin foil pouch or throwing a chopped onion, can of diced tomatoes and cup of broth or wine in a pan with some white fish fillets. 12-14 minutes on medium (in a covered pan), and it’s perfect and has a great sauce and veggies to go with it.

Okay, question for you, fish adventurer. We’ve been pan-frying salmon filets in a really delish chili-lime rub for a while now, and the thing we’re dying to figure out how to fix is the smoky fish smell that pervades our house for an additional day after eating. WHY, SMOKY FISH SMELL?? WHY???

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