For those of you who are indecisive about what they want to eat—and whether they can eat it in the first place.

In a world where eating meat has become a much-discussed topic, many people are often confused about what exactly “meat” is. Aside from lab-grown meat and vegan meat substitutes, is fish even considered meat?

The answer to this question is not as clear-cut as you might think. Sure, it comes from an animal of the sea, but that animal is cold-blooded, which causes some to see it differently, and it isn’t as intricately tied to our religious and dietary beliefs as red meat and poultry tend to be.

From a culinary point of view, fish is generally considered meat. However, certain religions, such as Judaism and Christianity, and certain diets, including pescetarianism, don’t necessarily treat it as such.

So, sometimes, fish is considered meat:

For most people, fish is meat because it is the flesh of an animal that is consumed as food. So, at least from this perspective, fish is no different from chicken, beef, pork, or any other animal species.

And, othertimes, it isn’t:

Some people beg to differ at the designation of fish as meat. Some make the distinction that fish is a cold-blooded species, whereas almost every other animal used for their meat is warm-blooded.

On the other hand, the distinction may be informed by religious belief and/or dietary preferences.

Religious considerations when it comes to fish:

For example, in Judaism, fish that have fins and scales have been designated as “pareve.”

Pareve food is neither meat nor dairy and can be considered kosher for purposes of consumption. Religious Jews do not consume shellfish such as shrimp and lobster. 

Catholics will eat only fish on Fridays during the period of Lent, which stretches from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

According to US Catholic, the custom of eating fish on Friday is related to the day being the one when Jesus Christ was crucified. Thus, Catholics avoid the consumption of animals whose “blood is shed” in commemoration.

In Islam, fish are sea creatures considered “halal,” and therefore permissible, and so is the act of fishing from the sea. However, Jafari Shia Islam excludes exoskeleton.

Dietary considerations when it comes to fish:

Some vegetarians do not consider fish as meat for the purposes of their diet. However, some designate such people as “pescatarians” to distinguish them from “pure” vegetarians.

Vegetarians or pescatarians who eat fish do so in order to provide a variety in their diet and to get nutrients that are hard to get from just vegetables or fruit. Fish are high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Cooking Fish

A recent piece in Scientific American relates how the remnants of a shellfish dinner were found in a cave in Southern Africa dating back 164,000 years ago. Doubtless, early humans were able to scavenge shellfish on beaches to supplement their diet.

Humans were catching and eating freshwater fish as early as 40,000 years ago. The Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, as history records show and present-day Meditteranean cuisine reveals, were avid fishers.

In modern times, the best type of fish to eat include salmon, cod, herring, mahi-mahi, mackerel, perch, rainbow trout, sardines, striped bass, and tuna, among others. Each of these types of fish has its preferred method of preparation, and the Internet abounds with recipes.

Here are a few ways of preparing it.

Frying Fish in a Skillet

By far, pan-frying is one of the most popular ways to cook fish. The method is especially useful if you are out fishing and want to clean and gut your catch before cooking it over an open fire.

Of course, pan-frying also works when you are cooking fish on the stove, in the confines of your kitchen.

The trick to pan-frying fish, whether outdoors or indoors, is to use a ceramic or non-stick frying pan—or well-seasoned cast iron or carbon steel skillet—to keep the delicate protein from sticking to the bottom and sides.

When cooking on stainless steel, add a generous glug of oil or a solid stick of butter, and preheat the pan for at least 3-4 minutes before slapping the fish, skin down, on it.

The second piece of advice we have for you is to match the cooking heat to the thickness of the fish:

  • Thin fish fillets cook quickly, and you can easily prepare them by searing them over medium heat until they are brown and somewhat crispy;
  • Thick fillets, such as salmon, require medium heat and a longer cooking time to fully cook the inside of the fish without burning the outside.

Fish is done frying when it is still moist and tender, but easily separates into flakes when pressed with a spatula or fork. The proteins should no longer be translucent and the fish should ideally have a nicely browned crust, which provides aroma and flavor.

The Food Network’s Alton Brown has a great recipe that works for salmon or trout. Dredge the fish in flour after seasoning it with fine sea salt (or kosher salt) and freshly-cracked black pepper. Then cook it in canola oil and butter on both sides until the fish is golden brown.

Another recipe involves cod pan-fried with extra virgin olive oil. Then, you make a lemon basil sauce in the same pan, using the browned bits and pieces as a base for the sauce, and spoon it over the fried fish.

Yet another recipe works with a variety of white fish, including flounder, cod, tilapia, sole, and haddock, cooked in a combination of canola or avocado oil (the two have a high smoke point) and butter.

Grilling Fish in the Backyard

No type of meat exists that is not improved by a kiss of an open flame, and fish is no exception to this rule. Should you want to take a break from burgers, sausages, or chicken, fish as the main dish of a backyard barbecue works very well.

When it comes to grilling, gas or charcoal, portion-sized fish are your best choice. The City Fish Market suggests that salmon, sea bass, halibut, grouper, and red snapper are the best fish to grill over an open fire, owing to their thickness.

The grill should be preheated, brushing the grates with vegetable oil to prevent the fish from sticking. For a gas grill, this means 15-20 minutes of preheating. For a barbecue grill, this means waiting until the coals start to ash over.

The fish should be covered with oil and seasoned generously with fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper. Grill on one side for 2 to 4 minutes, leaving the fish uninterrupted on a covered grill. Flip over and cook the other side for three to seven minutes.

Use a meat thermometer to tell when the fish is done grilling. For safe consumption, the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA prescribes a minimum internal temperature of 145°F (62.8°C) for fish and shellfish.

Baking Fish in the Oven

Many people like to bake their fish, the theory being that the method is uncomplicated and less prone to error. One recipe involves packing a fillet of fish with some vegetables in foil to, in effect, cook a complete meal all in one go.

Spray some foil with cooking oil. Then put in the filet with some potatoes, sliced carrots, peppers, zucchini, sliced tomatoes, lemon juice and zest, and some sliced garlic cloves.

Wrap the food tightly and cook it for 15 minutes on a baking sheet in an oven that has been preheated to 475°F (246.1°C). Then unwrap the foil and cook for five minutes, take the food out of the oven, plate it, and enjoy. 

Making Fish in the Air Fryer

The air fryer has become all the rage for cooking a wide variety of foods more easily than other methods. Fish, yet again, is no exception.

According to the Little Sunny Kitchen, you can pick any fish filet, brush it with oil (olive oil for preference) and then dredge it in breadcrumbs, which can be found in the baking section of any supermarket.

Then cook the filets in the air fryer for about 15 minutes, turning over at the eight-minute mark. Serve with tartar sauce or cocktail sauce. 

What About Sushi?

An old joke tells of a person of unsophisticated tastes who buys some sushi and finds it to taste terrible. Then he cooks it and finds that it tastes just like fish.

Since that joke was first told, sushi has become almost as much a favorite dish outside of Japan, where it originated, as it is in that country. Sushi can be found in many supermarkets and restaurants.

Sushi in its purest form is chopped fish rolled in rice that has been fermented in rice vinegar, and seaweed. Some add vegetables to the mix. The fish, which is generally raw but is sometimes cooked, can come from a wide variety of sources, such as tuna, crab, or salmon, among others. 

The Grocery Store Guy recommends looking for fish labeled “sushi-grade” or “sashimi-grade” when at the supermarket.

In Praise of Fish

Some people don’t like the taste of fish. However, whether pan-fried, grilled, baked, or even raw, there is nothing quite like the meat (for those who consider it such) that swims in the water.

It is not only tasty but is healthy, filled with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Try to have about two servings of fish a week for a balanced, healthy diet.