Fish. It's a polarizing topic in the food world. Some love it, some hate it.
But why does the debate, one commonly spoken of at dinner tables and lunches with friends, even begin?
It's all in the taste. The smell. That "fishy" one. We all know it. And whether you love it or hate it, there are still many ways to enjoy fish without experiencing that odor.
In order to suss out the least fishy of the fishes, we're gonna take a look at what causes the odor, how to avoid it, and what types of fish are best if you're the fish-hater in the group.
Let's dive in (and sorry in advance for any fish puns).
Where Does the Fishy Flavor Come From?
Without going too far into the science of it all, fishy flavors and scents stem from a chemical change in the fish when they go from water to land.
In other words, when a fish dies, the bacteria and other enzymes in the fish change trimethylamine oxide, or TMAO, into trimethylamine, or TMA. 1 This chemical change creates the smelly smell we so often associate with fish.
Benefits of Eating Fish
In terms of one's diet, fish provides an ample amount of protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, D, and B, and many minerals necessary for human functioning. Obtaining an adequate amount of all of these nutrients is especially important for heart and brain health.
Plus, Omega-3s are not produced by the human body, so consuming them is the only way to get them into your system. Lobster is a good example of a high omega-3 sea food.
Thus, eating fish is a great way to keep your heart and brain healthy and acquire many of the vitamins and minerals you need to keep going throughout your day!
2 Strategies to Avoiding Fishy Fish
1) Stick to less fishy fish
If you're not a huge fan of the fishy smell or flavor, try buying the less fishy types of fish. We'll go over your options down below. But don't go for the tuna. That won't end well. Unless you love fishy fish...But here you are reading an article to avoid fishy fish, so it seems safe to say it: avoid the tuna.
2) Reduce/Mask the fishy flavor
There's a few methods you can try if you want to mask the fishy flavor.
Least Fishy Fish
1) Tilapia (The Cheaper, More Popular Option)
If you're looking for a less fishy white fish, tilapia is a good place to start. Its slightly sweet flavor and soft texture are perfect for those who want to eat fish without feeling like they're eating fish. Plus, it's cheap compared to many other types!
And if you want to completely forget that you're consuming fish, you can try preparing it in a way that changes the texture, such as adding breadcrumbs or a cream sauce. This is a similar method chefs will use with scallops. But however you prepare it, you shouldn't have to worry too much, because it's already the least fishy fish.
2) Cod (The Firmer, More Nutrient-Dense Option)
Now if you still want a mild flavor but you're looking for a firmer texture and a little extra nutrition, cod might be the perfect fish for you.
With more protein, Omega-3s, and other minerals than tilapia, cod is great for those who want to track their macros or micros more closely. It also contains less mercury than many saltwater fish, so it's a win-win in most categories. More of the beneficial stuff, less of the harmful stuff.
There are many ways to prepare cod, but since it's already rather mild, it takes nicely to a blackening mix.
Mildly Fishy Fish
1) Mahi-Mahi (The Fancy Medium)
Mahi-Mahi is wonderful for anyone who is okay with a little fishy taste, but not too much.
This dolphin fish contains a high amount of protein and minerals with a little extra oomph taste-wise. It does great in fish tacos! It's definitely more expensive than many of the white fish, so maybe save it for special occasions if you don't want to break the bank on dinner.
2) Bass (Less Fancy, Still Yummy)
For a more affordable medium-fishy fish, try bass!
Largemouth bass, a common choice, isn't too fishy, especially when it's fresh. And it's a great option for a staple medium fish because it's much cheaper than Mahi-Mahi. So, you can get a taste richer than haddock or cod at a similar affordable price. Add some butter and lemon and you're on your way to a chef's kiss.
Most Fishy Fish
1) Salmon (Fishy, but Delicious)
For those who don't mind fishy, salmon is a popular option! Though it can be expensive (Pro tip: Buy it from Trader Joe's if you have one near you), it has a wonderful texture and taste that will keep you coming back to it time and time again.
Salmon pairs well with so many flavors and cuisines that you really can't go wrong! It does have that fishy taste and smell, so avoid it if you're sensitive. As a slightly fattier fish, the Omega-3s in salmon are great. And, it's still protein packed. You get everything you need!
If you're interested in experimenting with flavors and recipes, salmon is a great option for foodies! You can also
2) Tuna (The Cheap, Protein-Packed Option)
If you want the fishy taste with a lot of protein but at an affordable price, opt for tuna. Just make sure to warn your co-worker/roommate/partner before opening it. It can linger.
While tuna steaks rack up a sizable bill, canned tuna is a great option for a quick, nutritious lunch. Do be mindful of your consumption rate though--albacore tuna contains a higher amount of mercury than many fish. Skipjack and light tuna are okay to eat a few times a week, but try to limit albacore to once a week at most, just to be safe.
For a quick recipe you can whip up in minutes, try tuna salad. Or make a tuna pasta for dinner. Whatever you make, it's sure to be tasty and fishy--not for the faint of heart.
3) Sardines, Anchovies, Herring, etc. (Some of the Fishiest Fish)
Another affordable option for fishy fish are small canned fish. Now beware, these can be extreme for even those who enjoy fish.
Tightly packed into a can, small fish such as sardines, anchovies, and herring traditionally produce a rather pungent smell as well as flavor. They're more oily than other fish. Given their size, they have a great nutritional profile! Sardines, for example, have the highest amount of Omega-3s and lowest mercury levels.
If you're a fishy fish fan, these small but mighty nutrient bombs will be a wonderful choice for you! And if you want the benefits but you're hesitant about the taste, maybe try making a homemade classic Caesar salad dressing with anchovies. Or try a sardine salad! The options are endless.
How to Make Fishy Tasting Fish Taste Less Fishy
Say, by some chance of fate, you end up with some fishy fish on your hands, there are ways to mellow out the flavor and odor!
The best way is to add acid. Acids interact with the compounds in the fish that create the fishy-ness. Some chefs will add oyster sauce (or one of its substitutes) but this may not be acidic enough to get the job done.
Depending on your recipe, you could use lemon, vinegar, tomato, or another favorite acid! Another interesting trick is to soak the fish in milk for a little while. Doing so should have the same effect as the acids (only basic) and lighten the taste.
Chefs have long frozen crab meat in milk to help keep the fishiness at bay. Unlike the acid though, you should get rid of the milk after soaking.
Ways to Avoid Fishy Flavors
Fish becomes more pungent the longer it sits. To ensure the best results for both your nose and stomach, try to eat fresh fish within a day or two of buying it. If you're lucky enough to live around water, buying local, freshly-caught fish will be your biggest aid in avoiding any stench.
If you don't live near water, don't fret. Just try to buy the freshest fish available and consume it quickly! If your recipe is tasty, it shouldn't be too hard to scarf it down in a day or two. Otherwise, you can buy frozen fish and defrost the day of cooking. Frozen fish will offer the quality of fresh without the same ticking clock.
If you're looking to avoid fishy fish, stick to milder white fish. If you're open to trying all the amazing flavors the water-dwelling creatures have to offer, then take a chance on the catch of the day at your local market.
Just remember, fresh is best eaten quickly. And you can always mellow out the fishy flavor with a little acid. Throw on some spices too. You'll have a wonderfully seasoned fish with all the nutritional benefits. So get fishin'! Or run to the supermarket. Whatever floats your boat.