Food Network Canada Chef School brings together Chefs Mark McEwan, Michael Smith and Roger Mooking to share their best tips and recipes for cooking fish at home. You’ll learn which types of fish work best for grilling, frying, oven-roasting and pan-searing and get great fish recipes for cooking cod, salmon, halibut, trout, tuna, sea bream and more! You’ll also get their best tips for buying the freshest fish and learn how to select sustainable fish varieties that are friendlier for the environment. From beginner to advanced, prepare to have fish demystified as you find a fish and dish to suit your cravings.
How to Buy Fresh Fish
Mark McEwan gives his top tips to keep in mind as you head to the fishmonger (a butcher and purveyor of seafood).
Before you go shopping, research the fish you’re looking to cook on a site such as Ocean Wise, which can help you make a well-informed decision about your dinner. Ocean Wise makes this simple with their seafood search bar and no-fuss labelling.
The Fresh Fish Checklist
When you’re at the fishmonger, go through this checklist before buying to ensure you’re getting the freshest catch possible.
1. Aroma: First, use your nose to make sure the fish smells like the sea. It should never smell fishy or off.
2. Eyes: On whole fish, clear eyes, not grey or opaque, ones that sparkle when you peer at them, are the next thing you want to look for in your fish.
3. Gills: Make sure the gills are intact on a whole fish, and the interior bloodline should be a mix of bright red and healthy pink.
4. Firmness: Finally, give the fish a poke; it should be bouncy and spring back as opposed to sinking or retaining your fingerprint, which points to age and desiccation.
Nervous About Cooking Fish? Start Here
Not sure where to start? For the chefs, it’s about getting a quality fish you enjoy and preparing it simply. “Very minimal cooking that gives you a beautiful representation of what fish can be,” says Mark McEwan. Pick a fish and cook method you’re comfortable with, and go from there.
1. Pick a Fish to Cook
For beginners looking for a fail-safe fish to cook, a meatier variety with a higher fat content, like salmon, halibut and mackerel, are more forgiving to overcooking.
Best fish for beginners:
Best fish for advanced:
Roger Mooking stresses being mindful when shopping, opting for fish on a watch list, like Ocean Wise, aimed to help consumers make educated, sustainable seafood choices. He favours Canadian Halibut (Ocean Wise shares a great chart to help you pick a sustainable species of halibut). “You can grill it, you can roast it, you can pan sear it, you can steam it and they all work really well,” he says.
2. Pick the Right Cooking Method
Not every fish suits every cooking method, so we’ve whittled down a few key techniques and great recipes below. Your fishmonger will likely have cooking tips for your fish selection, too.
- Grilling: Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Trout, Tuna, Sea Bream, Mackerel, Sardines, Swordfish
Recipes to try:
Grilled Halibut with Herbes Salées Salsa
Grilled Sardines with Blood Orange, Fennel and Radish Salad
Swordfish with Tomatoes and Capers
- Oven Roasting: Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Trout, Sea Bream, Mackerel, Swordfish
Recipes to try:
Roasted Salmon with Green Herbs
Herb-Roasted Trout with Sweet Potato Frites
Panko-Crusted Halibut with Swiss Chard
- Stewing: Cod, Halibut, Swordfish
Recipes to try:
Michael Smith’s Mediterranean Fish Stew
Stewed Cod à la Spaniard’s Bay
- Poaching: Salmon, Trout, Halibut, Mackerel
Recipes to try:
Halibut Poached in Olive Oil
Poached Salmon and Dill Sauce with Vegetable Medley
- Deep-frying: Haddock, Cod, Halibut, Pickerel, Perch, Sardines
Recipes to try:
Fried Haddock Po’Boy
Fish and Chips, Mushy Peas and Tartar Sauce
- Pan-searing and Pan-roasting: Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Pickerel, Perch, Trout, Tuna, Sea Bream, Mackerel
Recipes to try:
Pan-Seared Salmon with Kale and Apple Salad
One Skillet Trout with Green Beans and Almonds
Michael Smith’s Halibut Provencal
You don’t always need a recipe! Roger tells us that a preparation for salmon or halibut can be as simple as placing a pat of butter on the fish fillet, seasoning with salt and pepper, and roasting at 350ºF until the fish is cooked to your liking. The juices from the fish, along with the butter, salt and pepper are your built-in sauce.
The Best Fish for Deep-Frying
For a truly decadent meal, turn to fried fish. In this section, we’ll focus on battered and fried fish, but there are deep-frying preparations (like deep-fried whole fish) that the adventurous can explore.
“Any fish works battered and fried. But we tend to prefer white fish,” says Michael Smith. “Firm white fish tends to work best because it stands up to the (frying) process.” This includes halibut, cod, haddock, pickerel, perch and walleye, so look to what’s fresh, local and available in your area. You can even glean a bit of inspiration from your local fish and chip shop’s menu.
Here are some decadent deep-fried fish recipes to whet your appetite:
Roger Mooking’s Shoreline Fried Halibut
MMM Fish Tacos
Fish in Chips
The Best Fish for Grilling
The chefs are unanimous with their choice for having easy success with grilling fish: salmon. Why? Michael Smith says that the higher the fat, the better the fish is for grilling, and salmon is naturally fattier. Roger Mooking adds, “Canada has really great salmon. You can get a lot of sustainable salmon as well.”
In addition to recommending salmon, Mark McEwan also recommends thicker steaks like halibut, tuna and swordfish because they work incredibly well on the grill.
Here are some great grilled salmon recipes to try:
Michael Smith’s Grilled Salmon with Grilled Salad
Miso-Ginger Marinated Grilled Salmon
Sweet and Spicy Grilled Salmon
Here are more delicious grilled fish recipes:
Michael Smith’s Grilled Tuna with Carribean Salsa
Grilled Tuna Tataki Bowl
Grilled Halibut with Tomato Vinaigrette
Grilled Swordfish with Candied Lemon Salad
Watch Mark McEwan grill a whole fish in this Italian inspired recipe:
How to Grill Fish Perfectly
In Chef School, Mark McEwan serves up a gourmet grilled sea bream. This recipe is advanced but doable for the home cook thanks to his pro tips. A quick marinade of fresh herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper are applied after scoring the fish skin to avoid buckling when it hits the grill. For the finishing touches, Mark pairs his grilled sea bream with crunchy focaccia croutons, juicy lemon segments, salty capers and more fresh herbs.
Mark’s 4 Steps to Grilled Fish Perfection
Regardless of which fish you choose, here are his top tips for a grilling flawlessly:
- Preheat the grill: Be sure to preheat your grill or grill pan; you want it red-hot so you can hear a loud sizzle when the fish hits the grill. Starting with a cool or just-warm grill will encourage sticking.
- Oil the grill: Before you add the fish, your grill needs to be oiled. To oil the hot grill, Mark uses a canola oil-laced cloth to wipe the grates, which has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so it won’t burn.
- Oil the fish, too: To oil the fish, Mark compares the amount of oil applied to the fish to the amount of suntan lotion you’d put on at the beach: not too much, not too little. If you’re making Mark’s sea bream recipe, the olive oil-based marinade doubles as the lubrication for the fish.
- Don’t flip too soon: The fish will release when it’s ready, so don’t move it right away. It’s tempting to fuss with fish on the grill, but Mark tells us the less you do, the better. When the first side of the fish is crispy and golden brown, it should release easily without any skin or flesh sticking.
Get Mark McEwan’s recipe for Grilled Sea Bream, or try your hand at this super-easy, 20-minute grilled salmon recipe from Michael Smith.