The Basics Of Storing And Preparing Fish

As a lean protein loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fish is a nutritional powerhouse. But despite all its benefits, fish rarely makes an appearance on the table in some households. Home cooks often feel intimidated when it comes to figuring out how to store fish and how to prepare raw fish.

While preparing fish is a different experience than roasting or grilling meat, it doesn't have to be difficult. All that's needed is to start with high-quality fish, store it properly and then master a few simple cooking techniques.

Selecting Fresh Fish

The following guidelines refer to purchasing a whole fish. However, you can use this information to guide your purchases of filets as well.

  • Fish should have a brilliant appearance with scales firmly in place.
  • Eyes should be bright, shiny, convex and completely full.
  • Gills should be moist and a bright, deep red color.
  • The stomach should be firm and intact.
  • The flesh should feel firm and slightly resistant to the touch.
  • Finally, fresh fish should smell fresh and clean, not "fishy."

How to Store and Preserve Fresh Fish

Now that you have your fish, it's essential to store it properly until you're ready to prepare it. Fish is delicate and will quickly degrade if not handled correctly. Here are two common methods of storing fish to maintain their flavor and appearance.

Keeping Fish on Ice

After being purchased, fish should be cleaned, trimmed, and stored on crushed ice. Most whole fish with skin on can be stored directly in ice, and ice should be used even if you're putting the fish in the refrigerator.

  • Filets should not come in direct contact with ice to avoid damaging the flavor and texture of the flesh.
  • There must be drainage openings in storage units so the fish does not soak in water.
  • Ice must be changed daily.
  • Any fish that is held on ice for too long will lose flavor, and the flesh will lose its natural elasticity.
  • The University of Kentucky says you can safely keep fresh caught, warm water fish on ice for up to 10 days. However, its flavor and appearance will likely suffer. Instead, prepare fish as soon as possible after purchase.

Preserving Fish with Salt

Salting has long been a popular method of preserving fish such as anchovies, eels, sardines, herring, tuna and tuna eggs. Some fish, like cod, were typically salted and dried on ships. Typically, home cooks don't preserve fish with salt themselves. However, you may buy salt cod or a similarly preserved fish in the store. Then, when you're ready to cook it, you should follow these two steps:

  • Rinse salt cod, place in bowl and cover with cold water.
  • Let soak 48 hours, changing the water three times during soaking.

How to Prepare Fish for Cooking

When it's time to cook your fish, you first need to prepare it. The following steps outline a basic technique for preparing a whole fish.

  • Start by using scissors to trim off the fins.
  • Use a fish scaler or the back of a knife to scrub off the scales.
  • Make two angled cuts behind the gills and toward the head. These will remove the head.
  • Using a sharp knife, make an incision through the belly of the fish and remove the innards.
  • Cut through the membrane so the spine is visible and clean the interior of the fish.
  • Depending on your preference, you may want to remove the tail.

At this point, the fish is ready to be cooked.

If you'd prefer to have boneless fish filets, follow these steps.

  • Hold the fish by the tail and use a filet knife to remove each side of the fish.
  • For small and medium fish, start near the tail and move toward the head. Use the backbone as a guide.
  • To remove the skin, place the filet skin side down, hold the tail and run the knife closely along the inside of the skin.

Browse Culinary Arts Schools & Colleges

Refine School Matches
Hide filters
  • SUBJECT Clear All

    See More


    See More



    Please enter valid US or Canada Zip.
            Results open in new window

            Searching Searching ...

            Matching School Ads
            Culinary Arts (AS)
            • Program areas include Culinary Arts, Culinary Management, and more
            • Students are taught cooking styles from around the globe, including Classical European, Asian, and Latin cuisine
            • Curriculum designed to prepare students for a career as a chef, with course topics that include Culinary Techniques, Management by Menu, and Nutrition
            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            Intensive Sommelier Training
            • Hands-on culinary education with focused attention on each student
            • An ACCSC School of Excellence with multiple “Best Vocational Cooking School” awards*
            • 15,000 graduates, including celebrities like Bobby Flay, David Chang, and Christina Tosi*
            • Programs in Culinary Entrepreneurship, Professional Culinary Arts, Professional Pastry Arts, and much more
            • Campuses in New York and Silicon Valley with nearby housing available
            Show more [+]
            Culinary Arts
            • Received the 2015 and 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
            Show more [+]
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            Culinary Arts Specialist
            • A part of the Select Education Group (SEG).
            • Offers several scholarship and financial aid opportunities for students who qualify.
            • California campuses accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), and accreditation for the Salem campus from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET).
            • 4 Campuses located in Clovis, Modesto, and Redding in California, and Salem, Oregon.
            Show more [+]
            • Accredited
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            SPEAK TO AN ADVISOR 1.844.285.6104