If you've ever cooked fish at home, you're probably familiar with that unpleasant "fishy" taste seafood sometimes takes on. It can be enough to make anyone want to stop eating it altogether. But before quitting the salmon and tuna steaks, know that there are a few easy methods that help fish taste less fishy — so you can enjoy dinner and reap its benefits.
"Consuming fish is a great way to add lean protein and vitamins and minerals such as iodine, selenium and vitamin D, Michelle Routhenstein, RD, CDN, preventive cardiology dietitian and author of The Truly Easy Heart-Healthy Cookbook, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
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"Choosing fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, arctic char and rainbow trout add a boost of anti-inflammatory and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as well," Routhenstein says.
This is especially important because the types of omega-3 fatty acids that you get from fish — EPA and DHA — aren't as abundant or available in other protein sources such as chicken, beef, pork or plant-based proteins, per the National Institutes of Health. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish every week for this very reason.
Now that we know why we should eat fish, let's get back to the question at hand.
What Makes Fish Taste Fishy?
There's actually some science behind it. Fish in the ocean rely on a compound called trimethylamine oxide (TMAO) to counteract the saltiness of the ocean water and maintain fluid balance. However, when a fish dies, its TMAO is converted to trimethylamine (TMA), which produces that fishy odor, according to the American Society for Nutrition.
Find out how to make fish taste less fishy with these dietitian-approved tricks that actually work.
1. Soak It in Lemon
There's a reason you often see fish and lemon together. Lemon juice, or really any acid, reacts with the TMA in fish to get rid of the odor. This includes limes, oranges, vinegar and tomato sauce.
"I love adding lemon or a vinegar-based marinade and letting it bask in those flavors to help remove any fishy taste," Routhenstein says.
To take it up a notch, Routhenstein recommends taking a piece of salmon and giving it a balsamic vinegar and citrus bath with all the fixings — oranges, grapefruit, lemon, shallots and a touch of maple syrup — to enhance the flavor and remove any fishy taste that lingers.
2. Add Crunch
You can add a crust to fish to not only get rid of the fishy odor but to also change the texture. "One of my favorite ways to enhance the flavor of fish, while minimizing any fishiness, is to crust it with a flavorful coating of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese or toasted nuts and seasoning," Beth Stark, RDN, LDN and recipe developer based in Pennsylvania, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"This works well on any variety of fish from mild-tasting white fish to bolder-flavored tuna and salmon," Stark says.
This is also a great trick for converting even the most skeptical fish critics into fish fanatics. "I find that the added crunch also helps to make fish more appealing for those that don't favor the texture of it," she says.
3. Soak It in Milk
While adding milk to fish doesn't necessarily sound appetizing, it is certainly effective at getting rid of that fishy odor.
"When fish is soaking in milk, casein, a protein found in milk, binds to the TMA and pulls it out of the fish. Therefore, when you pour off the milk, you're getting rid of the casein-bound TMA," dietitian Anna Ipsen, RDN, CDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
The best part about this step is that it doesn't take long. Ipsen recommends soaking your fish in milk for 20 minutes, then patting it dry and cooking it.
4. Turn Salmon Into 'Bacon'
Perhaps not the most traditional way to enjoy fish, but this trick is definitely tasty and creative. "I love making smoked salmon into 'bacon' in the oven. It really changes the taste of the fish and makes it feel like more of a comfort food than a health food," Amy Gorin, RDN and owner of Plant-Based Eats, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
You can add crispy salmon bacon to casseroles, egg dishes and even salads.
Get the Homemade Salmon Bacon recipe and nutrition info from Amy Gorin Nutrition.
5. Spice It Up
Fish tends to absorb spices fairly well, which can help mask any odor that it gives off. "My favorite way to prepare fish is using a cajun rub, baking and then adding a pineapple salsa on top just before serving," Ipsen says.
You can either buy cajun rub or make your own by combining salt, black pepper, garlic and onion powders, oregano and paprika.
If you're using dried herbs and spices, it's better to rub them into fish or add them during the cooking process. For fresh herbs like dill and parsley, though, you can add them when you're ready to serve.
6. Finish It Off With a Squeeze of Citrus
When you're serving fish, you can't go wrong with a last-minute squeeze of citrus to cut any remaining fishy taste.
"Lemon, lime and other citrus fruits can be used as condiments, giving a little squeeze at the time of service," Emilie Williamson, RDN, says.
Take it a step further by cooking citrus fruits alongside your fish. "If you're grilling your fish, consider also grilling the citrus fruit to give it a different spin," Williamson says.