Food & Recipes

How to Cook Seafood That Doesn’t Smell Too ‘Fishy’

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When it comes to serving up dinner for your family, there are few more divisive options than fish. It doesn’t matter if you’re cooking a mild tilapia or a stronger salmon, the reputation for pungent odors can ruin a cranky teen or even a doting husband’s appetite before he or she sits down to take a bite. 

Luckily, there are a few ways to decrease the fishiness in any dish you’re preparing. First, you want to make sure the fish hasn’t simply gone bad. If it’s been in your fridge for longer than two days or looks mushy, slimy, or is overwhelmingly smelly, it’s probably past its prime. The cause of that aroma is a chemical compound known as trimethylamine (TMA), which gets stronger the longer you wait to cook the fish. If you’ve ever whipped up a dish right after a productive fishing trip, you know you’re in for a treat. 

For the rest of us who rely on grocery stores and markets to provide our fish, it’s obviously better to get it as fresh as possible. Even if the fishmonger caught it that day or the day before, the TMA is already at work making that distinct smell — but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

Harold McGee, a food science expert and author of On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen ($21.56, Amazon), recommends thoroughly rinsing the fish with cold water before you prepare it. “Oxidized fats, bacteria, and TMA on the surface can be rinsed off with tap water,” he told Discover magazine. He also recommends cooking the fish with acidic ingredients like lemons, vinegar, and tomatoes to help tame the aroma. 

In Cook’s Science: How to Unlock Flavor in 50 of our Favorite Ingredients ($22.35, Amazon), the experts suggest soaking fish in milk for about 20 minutes to extract the odor-causing compounds and leave it with a fresher flavor. 

Now if you’re thinking about testing these tricks out, take a look at some of our favorite fish recipes and get cooking!

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