How to Cook Fish Without Making Your Whole House Smell
It's likely not often that you cook seafood in your house, especially if you don't live near the coast where fresh fish is accessible. So when you do decide to cook up sea bass or salmon, it's a bit of an indulgence. Raw fish often yields a pungent odor, though, and sometimes cooking it can only cause those smells to be expelled into the surrounding air even more.
Because we love eating fish, we wanted to get to the bottom of this problem, which is why we consulted two chefs: Eric Lopez, executive sous chef at 312 Chicago, and Chef Joshua Dalton of Veritas in Columbus, Ohio. These experts shared their wisdom so you can get cooking, without making your whole house smell like it's a scene out of The Little Mermaid.
What's the best way to cook fish so that it doesn't make the whole house reek?
"I recommend purchasing the freshest fish you can find at the market," says Lopez.
Dalton concurs: "The best way to have fish not smell is to work with your fishmonger and get really fresh fish. The bottom line is that fish should smell like the sea—not fishy."
So that's all it takes—making sure you're really getting the freshest catch of the day. So how exactly can you assess the freshness of a fish? Lopez, who cooks with seafood often, offers some helpful tips.
"There are a few ways we're able to tell if a fish is fresh," he says. "The eyes should be very clear, not bloody, or cloudy. The fish should smell of the ocean, not 'fishy.' Lastly, its flesh should be firm to touch, not slimy."
Are there specific types of fish that smell worse than others during the cooking process?
There are some fish that just produce an off-putting odor, in which case, you may want to avoid cooking them inside if you're hyper-sensitive to the smell.
"I love Puerto Rican food, but I have many memories of my family cooking salted cod for hours—the smell would permeate not only our house but the entire neighborhood! In general, avoid salted cod and oily fish like mackerel, bluefish, and anchovies if you are worried about the odor," says Lopez.
Chef Dalton, however, lends another technique that may help for even the most smelly of fish.
"In the restaurant, we brine all seafood that comes in. Brine is a 5 percent solution by volume. For example, if we have 1,000 grams of water you would have 50 grams of salt. Dissolve the salt into the water and let fish soak for 10 minutes." says Dalton.
Another method Dalton and his staff employ is making a half sugar and half salt solution to sprinkle (generously) over the fish to draw out any moisture. This method also allows for the fish to acquire a firmer texture.
"After the solution is added to the fish it will sit for 10 minutes before it is submerged into ice water. The fish is then patted dry before cooking," says Dalton.
Any other tips on how to eliminate the fishy smell while you're cooking?
Lopez also has a special trick that entraps the smell of fish as it's cooking.
"At home, I like to bake fish in a pan with a little oil and seasonings. My favorite way to eliminate the fishy odor while cooking is an old French technique called, 'papillote,' which literally translates to 'in paper,'" says Lopez. "In this technique, you make a pouch with parchment paper and put the fish, vegetables of your choice, and a little olive oil, salt, and pepper into the pouch—maybe even a little wine. The fish steams and bakes in the enclosed pocket, which also contains the fish smell."
A little pouch, that's doable! Another way to reduce the fish smell is to poach the fish. Lopez recommends cooking the fish in a flavored liquid, such as court bouillon, which will help veil any fish odor. Of course, if you grill outside, then you avoid this issue altogether.
So, do you think you have what it takes to cook up a nice filet of fish in the comforts of home without making your whole house reek? We think so!
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