Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent and for many Christians that means abstaining from meat. Since many people will be looking to change up their menu until Lent ends on April 3, now is a great time to embrace cooking fish and seafood. During the pandemic, Americans have already started shopping for more seafood to make at home. While we used to consume fish mainly in restaurants, with many places closed or at limited capacity, people have taken to cooking up everything from salmon and scallops to a whole fish in their home kitchens.
If you're new to buying fish, fear not — with a little bit of an adventurous spirit and some advice from your local grocer or fishmonger, you'll be cooking up some tasty meatless dishes in no time.
While it's great to visit a local fish market for your dinner, you can also get good seafood from the supermarket. Start a conversation with the store employee who will be happy to direct you to the best fillets and can usually provide advice on how to best prepare your fish before cooking.
"If you're getting a whole fish look at the eyes — they should be clean and clear," Aaron Thebault, executive chef at Zeppelin in Nashville, Tennessee told TODAY Food. "For fillets, make sure there is no discoloration. I always recommend talking to the fishmonger or counter attendant to learn more about the fish and its freshness. I always recommend staying away from pre-packaged fish."
If you do buy frozen fish, just make sure there are no ice crystals as this is a giveaway that the fish has been refrozen, making it dangerous to consume.
How to cook fish at home
Here are a few common methods for cooking fish:
Baked in the oven
While you can get into more complicated recipes, most fish is perfect when prepared simply with some salt and pepper for seasoning, baked in the oven at 450 F for 10 minutes per inch of thickness and finished with a squeeze of lemon.
Frying your fish in a pan on the stovetop results in a crispy, tender fish that's delicious. Fillets, shrimp and scallops are great cooked this way. You can also try breading your fish by dipping it into an egg mixture followed by breadcrumbs before frying.
On the grill
Thicker cuts of fish such as tuna, salmon or swordfish go great on the grill. Remember to brush the grill with oil first to prevent sticking.
New to cooking fish? Start here
"I grew up Catholic, so I'm very familiar with eating fish during Lent," said Thebault. "I would recommend starting with either shellfish, whitefish or snapper. Shellfish like mussels and clams are both easy to cook by steaming and fun, because you see them open, and you can always add pasta to them or use the delicious broth to dip bread in. Both whitefish and snapper are relatively forgiving and can be pan fried, pan seared or deep fried."
"I think a lot of people are scared to cook seafood, but it's nothing to be afraid of," said Thebault. "Good ventilation goes a long way, and don't be afraid to get the pan hot. If you're searing, don't use too much oil or you will fry the fish."
Chef Thebault's Simple Fish Recipe
Season both sides of a whitefish or snapper with salt and pepper. Heat a saute pan or seasoned cast iron skillet on high heat. Place the fillet in the pan and carefully flip the fillet once the fish is golden. After the fish is done, add a squeeze of lemon to brighten it up. Create a pan sauce by adding butter, scallions and white wine. Top with chopped parsley.
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs of chopped parsley
1 shallot minced
1/4 cup white wine
1 tbs butter
4 more seafood and fish recipes for Lent
Remember, a seafood meal doesn't need to be fancy. There are plenty of fish recipes that you can make ahead of time if you meal prep. You can even try making kid-friendly dishes like homemade fish sticks.
Here are some more simple yet extremely tasty recipes you can try during Lent and beyond.
Zucchini noodles and lemon zest give this dish a bright, healthy twist.
This 5-ingredient dish is simple to put together and high on flavor.
Get the kids involved in making these and they'll prefer them to the store-bought kind.
The secret ingredient to this delicious dish is an orange peel. Make it with sea bass, cod or haddock and serve with a lime wedge for beautiful presentation.