A primer on prime fish: Buying, storing and cooking tips

Heavenly Hogfish: With tomatoes, shallots and chives.
Heavenly Hogfish: With tomatoes, shallots and chives. Flavors of the Florida Keys

Biting into a fresh, perfectly cooked piece of fish or other seafood is a special treat. Fish is the original fast food, taking only minutes to prepare.

But people are hesitant to buy and cook their own fish. Where to buy it? How to store it? What to do with it? Here are the answers.

South Floridians are at an advantage when it comes to fish and seafood. Being close to the water, we are blessed with a variety of local options, including mahi, grouper, pompano, snapper, stone crab and spiny lobster.

Buying and storing

▪ Look for fresh, locally caught options whenever possible. A second-best option: Fish that has been flash-frozen (sometimes labeled FAS for frozen at sea or IQF for individually quick-frozen).

▪ Local and seasonal specialties include Key West pink shrimp, Florida lobster (in season August through March) and stone crab (Oct. 15 through May 15).

▪ Fish you buy should have a pleasantly mild aroma, maybe a little like seawater, but should never smell fishy.

▪ Whole fish should have bright and clear eyes, a firm texture, and shiny appearance with scales intact.

▪ It’s best to use fresh fish the day it’s bought. Store in coldest part of refrigerator, and cook or freeze within two days.

▪ Fish can be wrapped and frozen up to three months. Defrost in the refrigerator.

▪ If storing fish on ice, change ice every 30 minutes for freshness, warns Lazaro Sanchez, owner of Casablanca Fish Market in Miami.

Buzzword translation

It can be increasingly difficult to keep track of all the buzzwords and designations on food labels, and fish is no exception. One surefire way to know you’re making smart choices for your health and the environment is to download the free Seafood Watch app maintained by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and check it before you buy. Here are some other words to know.

▪ Sustainable: The fish has been caught in an area where fishing hasn’t caused the population to be depleted. The Marine Stewardship Council certifies fisheries where seafood is caught sustainably. Look for the MSC tag on the seafood, or ask.

▪ Wild Caught: This usually means fish that has been line-caught or caught with the use of pots or traps. No drift nets or bottom trawling. This may not always be the case. To be sure, read the labels carefully or go to Seafood Watch app.

▪ Farmed Seafood: Fish farms were created to counteract the depletion of our oceans to meet the demand for fish. Many of these farms caused other ecological problems. Today, this has been improved. There are many farmed species that the Seafood Watch app includes among its best choices.

▪ Organic: Beware — currently there is no U.S. government-approved organic seafood.


No one likes overcooked fish, and a good rule of thumb to prevent that is the 10-minute rule: Cook 10 minutes per inch of thickness. You can even try cooking for 8 or 9 minutes per inch and remove it from heat, where it will continue to cook slightly. The fish’s flesh should be opaque, not translucent.

▪ Grilling: Whole fish or firm-textured fish cut into steaks are best for grilling. Fillets tend to fall apart when moved or turned on the grill. If you are grilling fillets, make sure the skin is left on and start them on the grill skin-side down. Grilling grates should be clean and oiled. Place the whole fish and steaks in the center of the grill to sear. Turn it to sear the second side and then move it to the edge of the grill where the heat is lower.

▪ Baking: Bake at 450 degrees. The high heat will seal in the juices and crisp the skin. The general rule is to cover the pan with foil and to bake the fish for about 10 minutes per pound. Check the fish after 7 minutes to make sure it doesn’t overcook.

▪ Broiling: Preheat your broiler. Tip: Place a baking sheet or pan in to preheat. The radiant heat from the pan will cook the fish on the bottom and it will not need turning. Brush the fish with oil to protect it and place it about 3 to 4 inches from the heat. Broil the fish for about 8 minutes per inch of thickness at the thickest point.

▪ Pan Frying: This method is best for fillets or flat fish. Use a heavy-bottomed pan so that the heat is evenly distributed. Cook in oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable or grapeseed, until flesh is flaky and opaque.

▪ Deep Frying: Frying creates a tasty outer coating. Use a deep-fry or candy thermometer. Slowly bring the oil up to 350 degrees and fry the fish between 360 and 375 degrees. If the oil is not hot enough, the fish will absorb it and become heavy. If the oil is too hot, the outer coating will burn and the inside won’t be done. Fry just a few pieces at a time so that they won’t stick together. A piece of fish 1 to 2 inches thick will fry in 2 to 3 minutes. Larger pieces will take only a few minutes longer.

▪ Poaching: Cooking fish in a court bouillon, a water and wine bath, helps to preserve the moisture and is an excellent method of cooking fish that will be served cold or at room temperature. The liquid should just cover the fish and should be brought to a simmer. Never let the liquid boil; it will make the fish rubbery. If you are going to serve the fish cold, then undercook it and remove the pan from the heat. Let the fish cool in the liquid and it will remain juicy and tender.

Fish fest

What: 11th annual Deering Seafood Festival.

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. March 29.

Where: Deering Estate, 16701 SW 72nd Ave., Palmetto Bay.

How much: $15 online, $25 at the door, $5 for kids 4-14, free for children under 4.

Info: or 305-235-1668.

Fish markets

Casablanca Fish Market: 400 NW N. River Dr., Miami; 305-371-4107,

Golden Rule Grocery & Seafood Market: 17505 S. Dixie Hwy., Palmetto Bay; 305-235-0661,

Delaware Chicken Farm & Seafood Market: 4191 N. State Road 7, Hollywood; 954-983-6831,

Heavenly Hogfish and Tomatoes

1/4 cup butter

1 1/2-pound hogfish fillets

Juice from 1 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons canola oil

4 garlic cloves, crushed

8 tablespoons sliced shallots

4 cups diced tomatoes

1/4 cup white wine

1 tablespoon mango purée (optional, see note)

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add hogfish and saute 4 minutes. Remove to a plate and spoon lemon juice and add salt and pepper to taste over fillets. Sprinkle with chopped chives. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Add oil to same skillet. Add garlic and shallots. Saute 1 minute. Add tomatoes and white wine. Cook 3 minutes. Stir in mango purée. Add salt and pepper to taste. Divide hogfish among 4 plates and spoon tomatoes on the side. Serves 4.

Note: Mango purée can be found frozen in some markets. Puréed pineapple or ripe peaches can also be used.

Source: “The Flavors of the Florida Keys” by Linda Gassenheimer.

Soy-Glazed Salmon with Stir-Fried Mushrooms and Spinach

Kareem Anguin, executive chef at the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Mary Brickell Village, serves only sustainable seafood. Faroe Island salmon is one of his favorites. Any type of sustainable salmon works well here. This recipe is adapted from his.

1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup sugar

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided use

1 1/2-pounds salmon fillet

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger

2 crushed garlic cloves

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1/2 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

10 ounces washed, ready-to-eat spinach

Mix soy sauce and sugar together in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook to a syrupy glaze, about 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside. Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add salmon. Cook 4 minutes per side. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the skillet to 4 dinner plates. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, ginger, garlic and mushrooms to the skillet. Saute 3 to 4 minutes. Add spinach and toss until it is wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste. To serve, spoon the glaze over the salmon. Top each salmon fillet with the spinach. Serves 4.

Laughing Bird Shrimp Ceviche

Paula DaSilva, executive chef at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, uses sustainably raised shrimp for this ceviche. Key West Pinks will work well here.

1 pound Laughing Bird shrimp, or other small shrimp, peeled

1/2 European cucumber, sliced into very thin rounds (about 2 cups)

1/2 small red onion, sliced very thin julienne (about 1 cup)

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and ribs removed, sliced very thin (about 1 tablespoon)

1 small peach, halved and sliced thin (about 3/4 cup)

1 sweet pepper, sliced in very thin julienne, about 1 inch long (about 1 1/2-cups)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoon hot chili paste

1 tablespoon ginger vinegar, or white wine vinegar

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt, to taste

2 limes

1/2 cup dried Peruvian cancha corn kernels (found in Latin markets)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt until it tastes like sea water. Add the shrimp to the water and cook for 1 minute, then drain and shock the shrimp with ice water to prevent them from over-cooking. When cool, drain the shrimp well and pat dry with paper towels.

In a large bowl, combine the vegetables, cumin, chili paste, vinegar and olive oil. Add the shrimp and toss everything to combine. Season to taste with salt. Allow to marinate at least 30 minutes.

For the corn, heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the corn kernels and cover the pot so they don’t fly out. Shake the pot and cook until they stop popping and are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from pot onto a paper towel lined plate and season well with salt.

To finish, juice the limes into the ceviche mix and adjust seasoning if necessary. Toss with toasted cancha corn just before serving. Serves 4.