Storing & Cooking Seafood



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Storing & Cooking Seafood

Many of us are trying to eat more seafood, but it’s important to know how to properly store and cook it.  Here are some great tips to help you reach your fish consumption goal.


Raw Seafood: All seafood likes to be cold. Just above freezing is the best seafood-storage temperature. Sine most refrigerators are set at about 40 degrees, that means keeping fish in the coldest part of the fridge. A better idea is packing a crisper drawer with ice and burying the seafood in it. If this sounds like too much trouble, remember that seafood stored at 32 degrees keeps twice as long as seafood stored at 42 degrees. Use refrigerated seafood within a day or two. Shrimp will last for a few days. Keep clams, mussels, and oysters in a loosely covered bowl in the refrigerator. They need to breath. 

Cooked Seafood: Cooked seafood will both impart and absorb flavors, so warp it in an airtight plastic wrap. Most cooked seafood will last for 3 to 4 days. It will keep a couple of days longer if it was cooked in something acidic like wine, lemon juice, or tomatoes.

Freezing Seafood: Seafood you freeze at home tends to dry out. Unlike commercially frozen seafood, which is flash-frozen at very low temperatures to preserve it flavor and texture. It’s best to purchase just what you’re going to use. To freeze seafood at home: Run seafood under cold water, then wrap in plastic (without drying) and place in a zip-lock bag. Squeeze all of the air out before sealing. Store in the back of the freezer, where it is colder, and use it within a month or two. 

Thawing Seafood: Thaw seafood by keeping it in the refrigerator overnight or immersing it, wrapped, in cold water. DO NOT ever thaw seafood at room temperature or with hot water. 

Saying Goodbye: The most reliable indicator of “past-its-prime” seafood is the smell test. If you think you’ve kept it too long, then take a good whiff. It should have a sweet smell. Fishy, but clean. If the smell makes you wince then throw it out!

How To Make Stock

Stock is the foundation, the very backbone, of seafood dishes. If it’s a soup, stew or sauce, it will be better if you begin with a high-quality, flavorful seafood stock. The best way to get a high-quality, flavorful seafood stock is to make it at home. It’s neither difficult nor time-consuming, and your cioppino will never be the same.

Step 1: Assemble your ingredients. Don’t be freaked out by the ingredients. Use heads, bones, skin, scraps, and the shells of shrimps, lobsters or crabs.

Step 2: In a large-size pot, combine seafood scraps with a large onion, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks (all coarsely chopped), and a few peppercorns. Cover the ingredients with water and add a cup of dry white wine or a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar. 

Step 3:  Bring stock to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain.

You will need a big pot that is large enough to hold all of your ingredients and a colander to strain the finished product. 

Shellfish: Shellfish itself isn’t useful for stock, but eh shells of lobsters, shrimps, and crabs add a briny flavor. 

Fish: Although there is no reason you cannot make stock from fillets, steaks or whole fish, it’s a waste. Instead, save your fish scraps in the freezer. If you really want to use intact fish for stock, use the least expensive that you can find. The only fish you shouldn’t use are the high-fat kinds like mackerel, herring, and salmon. 


Stewing isn’t just a technique; it’s the makings of a meal. It’s a lot like poaching in that you’re cooking fish in simmering liquid, but the difference is the liquid. In a stew, it is an integral part of the final product. If you’ve ever had a bouillabaisse, you know what I’m talking about. 

Step 1: Prepare the liquid you’re going to stew the seafood in. Start by sautéing vegetables and aromatics such as garlic, onions, and shallots. Then add wine, stock, beer, cider or tomatoes (or a combination) and simmer long enough for the flavors to meld.

Step 2:  Add the seafood, making sure the liquid covers it. Stew until the seafood is just cooked through, about 8 minutes per inch of thickness. 

Step 3:  If you like, thicken the stew with flour, roux, a starch such as arrowroot or cornstarch, a vegetable puree, butter or cream. 

You will need a pot large enough to hold all of the ingredients. You will need to make sure that the pot is large enough so that all of the seafood is submerged. 

You can stew fillets and steaks whole, but it’s easier to cut them up. Stick with firm-fleshed seafood because the delicate ones will fall apart. Make sure to match your seafood to your liquid. Cut them into pieces about 1 1/2 inches square. For assertive liquid bases, like red wine or tomatoes, use flavorful seafood. For milder liquids (white wine or stock) choose milder seafood. 

Always clean shellfish well before adding to the cooking liquid. Leave the shells on for an extra flavor boost. 

I recommend that you don’t stew whole fish as the bones can be a bit of a problem. 


Steaming is all about the seafood. There’s nothing extra to come between you and the taste. Cooking seafood wrapped in parchment or aluminum foil with a little liquid (en papillote) is a variation on the steaming theme. It takes the simplicity of steaming and adds a little flavor and color. 

Simple steaming: In a pot with a lid, bring water to a boil. Place fish on a rack above the water level. Cover the pot and steam for 8 minutes per inch of thickness.

En Papillote

Step 1: Line a pan with enough parchment or foil to make a packet for all ingredients. Fold up the edges so the liquid won’t escape.

Step 2: Place herbs and finely cut vegetables in the parchment or foil and top with the seafood. Pour 1/2 cup wine or stock over the mixture. Seal the packet by pinching the edges to keep steam from escaping. Bake for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness in a preheated 450 degree oven. 

You can steam seafood in anything, as long as it has a lid and a way to suspend the fish above the water. A conventional steamer is fine. So is a wok with a rack and lid, or a Chinese bamboo steamer.

Any ovenproof pan will work for cooking seafood en papillote. 

Fillets, steaks, and whole fish are equally steamable, either alone or en papillote. For the most fragile fillets, cooking en papillote eliminates the problem of fish transfer. Steaming is particularly well suited to lean fish: the steam keeps them moist.

Shellfish: Steam scallops and shrimp like fish. For mussels and clams, start by sautéing onion, shallots, garlic, and herbs in a little bit of oil. Add wine, beer, stock, and/or tomatoes, bring to a boil, and add the shellfish directly to the pot (no rack necessary). When they open, serve them with the steaming liquid.


There are two kinds of smoking – hot and cold- and numerous variations. Some of the methods are complicated, time-consuming, and require not just special equipment, but an entire house. Fortunately, if you don’t have a smokehouse and the better part of a week, you can easily hot-smoke fish with just a grill and an hour or two. 

Step 1: In a grill with a vented lid, start a charcoal fire. When the flames die down, push all the coals to one side and put a handful or two of wood chips on top of the coals.

Step 2: Put the fish on the side of the grill without the coals (to prevent drippings from flaring up). Put the lid, with the vents partway open, over the grill. 

Step 3: To smoke the fish enough to preserve it, bring it to an internal temperature of 180 degrees (usually 20 to 30 minutes) and keep it there for half an hour.

Step 4: If you want to serve the fish right away, bring it to an internal temperature of 140 degrees (about 10 minutes per inch of thickness).

You will need a grill with a vented lid, charcoal, wood chips (hardwood or fruitwood are best – don’t use pine or any other wood high in resin).

All cuts of fish are equally smokable. The thicker they are, the longer they will take. Oily fish smokes best because lean fish tends to dry out. 

Shellfish: Virtually anything that can be grilled can be hot smoked. Mussels and shrimp are your best bets. 


Simple, fast and foolproof, sautéing is one of the easiest ways to get seafood from the fridge to the table. A pan, a fire, salt, pepper, and a little oil, and your fish is ready to go. Turn the pan juices into a sauce, or just slide the fish onto a plate and dinner is served. 

Step 1: Heat two teaspoons of olive oil in a pan a bit bigger than the fish you’re cooking. Use high heat for thin fillets, medium-high heat for thicker pieces and whole fish. 

Step 2: Add the fish. Keep moving it around in the pan for the first minute or two of cooking. This will help prevent sticking.

Step 3: Cook for 8 minutes per inch of thickness, spoon liquid over the top to help prevent the fish from drying out.

Step 4: If you like, you can make a simple sauce by deglazing the pan with stock, wine, vinegar, or any other flavorful liquid. 

A non-stick pan is best, as fish tends to be quite sticky. If you’re using a well-seasoned cast iron or copper, use a bit more oil. Stay away from using aluminum and stainless and stainless steel as they will give the fish a metallic taste. 

Sautéing may be the easiest technique for fish fillets and burgers. The thinnest fillets won’t even need to be turned. Start fillets skin side up. Thick fish steaks brown beautifully and develop a slight crust when sautéed.  Whole fish will need a little more cooking time (about 10 minutes per inch of thickness) and a little more oil (to prevent the skin from sticking and tearing) than steaks and fillets. 

Shellfish: Sautéing is a perfect technique for dry scallops and shrimp.


What’s the difference between roasting and baking? For all practical purposes, nothing. I’m using the terms interchangeably. Roasting is a simple dry-heat technique which entails little more than popping the fish in the oven. It’s easy, it lets the fish’s flavor speak for itself, and it’s a great winter alternative to grilling. 

Step 1: Rub the fish with olive oil, or use an oil-based marinade to prevent sticking and keep the surface from drying out. Season with salt and pepper. 

Step 2: Place the fish in a shallow baking pan. The oven temperature should be between 400 and 450 degrees. The larger the fish, the lower the temperature. This way the inside has time to cook before the outside burns.

Step 3: Bake the fish for 12 to 14 minutes per inch of thickness. Use a meat thermometer to be sure: When the inside reaches 135 to 140 degrees, the fish is done. 

Any kind of baking pan will do, but the easiest to use is a shallow pan that you can take directly to the table. This avoids the problem of transferring the fish to a plate or platter. 

You can roast any fish fillet, but make sure to do it carefully. Roasting will dry out your fish very quickly if you leave it in the oven for too long.  Roasting is an excellent technique for the meaty or oily fishes that don’t respond as well to moist-heat cooking.  Roasting a whole fish is a perfect cooking technique. The skin on the whole fish helps reduce the risk of drying out. Roasting whole fish may take a minute or two longer per inch of thickness than fillets or steaks. Roasting is also the best technique for stuffed fish.

Shellfish: Roasting is an all-purpose cooking technique and you can use it for just about any shellfish. 


Poaching fish means simmering it in just enough liquid to cover. Because the fish is completely submerged, there’s almost no risk of its drying out, and the flavors of the liquid subtly infiltrate the fish to flavor it. 

Step 1: In a pot with a lid, add poaching liquid (enough so that the fish will be just covered) and bring to a simmer before adding the fish. The liquid can be salted water or any kind of stock. You can also add wine, vegetables, or herbs. If you do add wine, vegetables or herbs make sure to simmer the liquid for 10 minutes before you add the fish. 

Step 2: Slide the fish into the liquid (fillets go skin down), cover the pot, and simmer for 8 minutes per inch of thickness.

Step 3: Carefully remove the fish from the pan. Use the liquid to make a sauce or save it for your next poaching. 

A fish poacher ( a long pot with a rack) is idea, but a pot as close as possible to the size of the fish works as well. Make sure it has a close-fitting lid and can hold enough liquid to cover the fish. If you don’t have a fish poacher, you will need a long, narrow spatula or two to remove the fish from the pan. Or put a piece of foil or parchment paper under the fish that’s big enough to hang over the sides of the pot. Then lift the foil or parchment paper out with the fish on it. 

You can poach just about any fish fillet, from the lean to the oily, the delicate to the dense. The only fillets that can be difficult to poach are the flatfishes, because their round shape makes them tricky to remove from the pan. You can get around this problem by halving them lengthwise.  Flaky-textured fish steaks like salmon and halibut are excellent poaching choices, and are often easier to get out of the pan than fillets. Steaks with meatier textures, like tuna and shark, are less suitable for poaching. You can poach whole fish as well. As with fillets, it’s the shape of the fish, rather than its type, that determines its suitability for poaching. Flatfish, because of their round shape, are impractically difficult to remove from the pan. For large whole fish, like salmon, add the fish before you heat the liquid; otherwise the outside will overcook before the inside is done. 

Shellfish: Scallops, with their fish-like texture, are perfect for poaching. You can also poach shrimp, but since the cooking time is so short (about 2 minutes), they don’t absorb much flavor.


I love to grill fish. Grilling gives fish a bit of crunch around the edges and a slightly smoky flavor. It’s best on the beach, but a backyard or balcony will do fine. 

Step 1: Rub the fish with a little olive oil to help prevent sticking (or use a marinade with oil). Season with salt and pepper.

Step 2: Light the charcoal and wait until the flames die down, the coals burn evenly, and any chemical smell from the lighter fluid dissipates. The coals should still be very hot (this takes about 20 minutes with ordinary charcoal). Place the grill 4 to 5 inches from the coals.

Step 3: Grill the fish for 6 to 8 minutes per inch of thickness, and flip halfway through the cooking time. A grill basket makes this easier. 

A grill with variable height, a grill basket, a fork with tines far enough apart that the grill basket bars will fit between them (for loosening or unsticking the fish after it’s grilled).

Both fish cakes and fish burgers are made for grilling. They are usually firm enough to turn over easily without a grill basket, but the basket still makes the process easier.  Thicker fish fillets (over 1/2 inch thick) are grillable, but fish does stick to the grill, so use a basket. Don’t use very lean or very delicate fish; it’s liable to dry out or fall apart.  Meaty fish steaks are ideal for grilling. They are usually firm enough to turn over easily without a grill basket, but the basket still makes the process easier.  Whole fish are excellent grilled in a basket. The skin gets crispy and the flesh stays moist. Without a basket, you may end up with a grill full of skin. Cook fish kabobs over a medium heat on a grill or under a broiler, turning after 2 to 3 minutes per side for fish.

Shellfish: Shrimp and scallops grill beautifully, although all but the biggest shrimp have to be skewered. Cook 4 to 5 minutes per side for shrimp and scallops.

Deep Frying

Deep-fried fish and shellfish have an appeal unlike that of seafood cooked any other way. Crispy coating, tender fish, grease are all essential parts of the experience. If you deep-fry the right way, you’ll get the crispness and tenderness with minimum grease – just enough for authenticity. 

Step 1: In a deep fryer or deep, heavy pot, heat enough vegetable oil to cover fish (usually about 2 inches) over a medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Don’t fill the pot more than halfway with oil.

Step 2: Dry the fish thoroughly and coat it in batter, breadcrumbs, seasoned flour or cornmeal. Ease it into the oil without crowding the pot. Fillets will cook in about 8 minutes per inch of thickness; small shellfish take less than a minute. Test a small piece to fine-tune cooking time. 

Step 3: Between batches, bring the oil back to 375 degrees. Drain the fried fish on paper towels, paper bags or newspaper. Serve with lemon and tartar sauce.

Its great to use a deep fryer or electric skillet with a thermostat and makes this cooking method much easier, but a deep, heavy pot will work just fine. If you’re using a pot, you need a deep-fry thermometer. A frying basket is essential for shellfish and convenient for fillets, but a slotted spoon can be a decent substitute.

The thickness of fish steaks makes them less appropriate than fillets for deep-frying. If you have a fish steak and you want to deep-fry it you should cut it into chunks before deep-frying.  Deep-frying fish fillets adds crunch and contrast to mild whitefish fillets. If they’re big, cut them into 4 or 5 inch lengths. Deep-frying is best with lean, quick-cooking fish.

Shellfish: Shellfish is a natural for the deep fryer. Shrimp, scallops, clams, and oysters all fry to a beautiful golden brown in the time it takes them to cook (about 45 seconds to 2 minutes depending on size). Soft-shell crab is particularly good deep-fried. 


Broiling is upside-down grilling: a dry-heat method with heat fro the top. You get the same crispy skin, the same clean flavor. All that’s missing is that smoky smell. If you love grilled fish, but it’s raining or you don’t have a yard or balcony, broiling is the perfect choice.

Step 1: Rub the fish with a little olive oil to help prevent sticking (or use a marinade oil). Season with salt and pepper.

Step 2: Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes, and line the bottom part of the broiler pan with aluminum foil for mess control. Place the fish 2 to 5 inches from the heat source (closer for thinner, farther for thicker).

Step 3: Broil the fish for about 8 minutes per inch of thickness. Thin fillets don’t need to be turned; flip thicker fillets, steaks, and whole fish halfway through the cooking time.

You will need a broiler pan or an ordinary pan with a grill surface on top. 

Broiling fish fillets is an excellent alternative for delicate fillets that won’t survive grilling. Slash the skin diagonally in several places to keep the fish from curling. If you can grill fish steaks then you can broil it. Make sure to thaw “ready to cook” fish (fish cakes, fish burgers, stuffed clams, etc.) before popping them under the broiler.  You can broil any whole small whole fish that fits comfortably in your broiler (about 2 pounds is usually the maximum). Pinprick the skin to prevent the fish from blistering. 

Shellfish: Scallops are the best shellfish for broiling, but you can also use lobsters, skewered shrimp, and even clams and oysters on the half shell. 


Braising is cooking in a small amount of liquid (if the fish is completely submerged, it’s poaching, not braising). It’s one of your best choices if you’re a little intimidated by fish cookery. Cooking times are more flexible than with dry-heat techniques, the results are moist and tender, and it’s easy to turn the braising liquid into a simple sauce. 

Step 1: In a pot with a lid, sauté onions, garlic, herbs, and/or other aromatics. Add enough liquid (stock, wine, beer, vegetable juice) to submerge the fish halfway. Bring the mixture to a simmer.

Step 2: Set the fish in the pot. Cover and simmer, either on the stovetop or in a preheated 425 degree oven, until the fish is tender, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Baste every few minutes. 

Step 3: Serve the fish with the liquid as is, or cook the liquid down and enhance it with butter, cream, vegetable puree or roux.

You will need a pan as close to the size of the fish as possible, with a close fitting lid. 

Fish fillets are ideal for braising, but make sure to be extra careful with thin, delicate flatfish fillets.  Braising is an excellent technique for whole fish. Because a whole fish takes longer to cook than a fillet, be sure to baste so the top of the fish doesn’t dry out. 

Shellfish: Scallops braise beautifully, but be careful not to overcook. 

Happy Seafood Cooking And Remember “Work With What You Got!”



    Victoria has been cooking and writing recipes since she was a teenager. Originally from Nebraska, her appreciation for culinary technique took off when she moved to Lyon, France. Victoria is published in Hearst Newspapers, Greenwich Free Press, New Canaanite, and more.

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