What You Need To Remember When Buying Whole Fish

Until fairly recently, eating fish — let alone whole fish — was not exactly something many Americans would choose to do, and the nation's fish aversion was a puzzle to be solved by. As recently as 2018, IntraFish identified US seafood consumption as the lowest among developed economies, with shrimp as America's favorite seafood, followed by salmon, canned tuna, tilapia, and Alaska pollock.

But it appears to be changing — and while the shift may not be going too quickly — whole fish was described as an "emerging restaurant trend back in 2016 — it appears fish in general, and whole fish in particular, is enjoying its moment in the sun, per Bon Appétit. If you're looking to take the next step by enjoying whole fish at home, know that cooking fish at home isn't as intimidating as you might think it is. After all, many cultures around the world and many Asian restaurants across America tend to serve their fish whole.

Whole fish can be cooked at home

British celebrity chef Rick Stein offers a host of tips on how to pick the best whole fish for cooking at home. He advises potential buyers to look out for a fish with slimy skin (a sign of freshness); whole, clearly defined fins; moist and pink gills; bright clear eyes; and which has a good, firm feel. Fish for Thought further suggests a fishtail ought to be firm and that the fish itself should have a briny smell that might remind you of the sea.

But Leo Tsai, of Michelin-starred Mountain and Sea House offers one more practical tip to ensure that the whole fish you buy is one that you can properly prepare at home. "While home cooks always go for the bigger fish, they tend to forget about the size of the woks or pans they have at home," Tsai says, adding that it is important to ensure that your pan can accommodate the fish you want to cook — from the top of its head to the tip of its tail, per Michelin Guide. This, he says, will ensure that the fish will cook evenly.

If you're frying your whole fish, Tsai also suggests brushing it with egg white to keep its skin from breaking. He also says scoring a fish from its skin to the bone helps cut down on cooking time, and allows the home cook to ensure the fish is cooked through, per Michelin Guide.