I spent my first 29 years of my life feeling completely intimidated by fish. Maybe it was walking through Chinatown and smelling the whole fish before I could see their eyes looking at me. Maybe it was that notorious seafood poisoning scene from Drop Dead Gorgeous. But something about fish made me convinced I would do it wrong and give myself and my loved ones food poisoning.

That’s too bad, because fish has a long list of health benefits. It’s high in protein, low in fat, and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can protect your heart health, reduce tissue inflammation, and also may protect us from a decline in brain function. Plus, fish has Vitamin D, in which most Americans are deficient.

In short, fish is an incredibly healthy replacement for the protein you might normally get from meat. And over the past couple of years, I’ve realized it’s faster and easier to cook than any type of regular meat. Now I often cook fish in my own kitchen. Here’s how I conquered my fear and learned to love cooking fish.

 

1. I changed where I get my seafood.

I would never buy fish from a conventional grocery store. I like knowing the fish that I eat is an abundant species (not overfished) that was caught responsibly (on a long line or in responsibly-managed nets that minimize bycatch) and local (not imported, as 85% of our seafood is).

But it turns out that even Whole Foods doesn’t serve the highest quality fish. In an interview I did for Quartz with the Japanese owner of a small fish market in Brooklyn called Osakana, he described Whole Foods’ seafood section as dirty and low quality. Japanese consumers, who will reject any fish that isn’t perfectly fresh, refuse to shop there. Instead, they make the trip to Bushwick with a cooler bag to buy their fish from Osakana, which carefully inspects each fillet to ensure its quality, then sorts it into fish to be cooked, which Yuji Haraguchi does for you with some delicious marinade or spices, or keeps it raw for sushi. Osakana is a mere 15-minute walk from our apartment in Brooklyn, so when I wanted to treat my sushi-loving husband to homemade sushi for his birthday last year, I went there.

But what if you don’t live convenient to Osakana or another Japanese fish market? You might try your local farmer’s market, if you live near a water source of fish. The Greenmarket in New York City, for example, has 21 different farmers markets with a local and responsibly-caught seafood stand, all days of the week. Just use their search page to find a seafood stand in your neighborhood.

If you don’t have either of those options near you, can you try Sea to Table, which delivers flash-frozen, sustainably-caught fish to everywhere in the contiguous United States. It is free of preservatives and chemicals, and delivered right to your door, packed with dry ice in eco-friendly packaging. They sent me a discovery pack to try, and we ended up eating incredibly healthy for two weeks. I put the redfish in the freezer, cooked up the dogfish a.k.a sand shark then the skate for two dinners that week. It was more convenient and less thought than going to the market or Osakana – a great way to automatically work the healthiest and more sustainable fish into your diet every week.

2. I Got a Sustainable Seafood Recipe Book

Still, even if you are getting fish you’re confident in, it can be intimidating to figure out how to cook it. That’s where the cookbook The Fisherman’s Wife comes in handy. This cookbook/memoir is by Stephanie Villani, who runs Blue Moon Fish in the North Fork of Long Island with her fisherman husband. They’ve been selling local fish at NYC Greenmarkets since 1988, and so have a handle on how to cook all the local and under-promoted local fish from the East Coast. I especially love the instructions on how to handle the fish once you get it, how long it will keep fresh, etc., which eased my mind that I wasn’t accidentally letting it go bad!

First I tried the recipe for Dogfish With Sesame Seeds. Because I knew we were leaving on a long trip soon, I didn’t want to buy extra ingredients for the pantry. So I substituted sherry for the mirin, a Japanese sweet rice wine, and canola oil for the sesame oil. (PS. The Food Substitute Bible is an amazing resource if you’re a lazy or cheap chef like me with a small pantry.)

And here is where I discovered one of my favorite things about fish: It takes less than 20 minutes to cook a fish filet. Do you know how many times I’ve picked up some pricey, free-range meat and then discovered at the last minute that it takes up to three hours to cook it properly? At that moment, I decided I wholeheartedly prefer cooking fish to meat.

Later that week, I made the Skate Salad, and that is when I realized I had used the skate in the dogfish recipe. Whoops.

You know what? I might not have won a James Beard award, but my husband and I loved both recipes. Turns out it’s harder than you think to completely mess up fresh, local fish. As long as you give it some love, it will turn out tasty.

Are you a fish lover? Do you ever cook it at home? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!