How to Prepare and Store Fresh Fish

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.