Our city spoils us rotten. The weather, the glistening ocean, the sun, the language, the vibe, and the straight-up quirks are all lovely gifts. I have a favorite Miami perk, though — the crazy fresh fish.
If you want to experience fresh fish the real way, I’d suggest making fast friends with a boat owner. This is obviously the best way to taste the ocean; I’ve been on boats with hardcore anglers who bring soy sauce along with their ice cold beer to eat sashimi in real, real time. If that option isn’t available to you, we have many alternatives to obtaining the best seafood.
People often ask me how to cook fish easily and well. The first rule is simple: Use fresh fish. That’s pretty much it. Once you try fresh fish, you’re a little ruined inside, because you can’t ever go back. You can get fish at your supermarket if that’s your only option. Just keep in mind that it won’t be the same, it’ll be a notch below. Most supermarkets will receive their fish already filleted in the platter you see through the glass. Fish markets filet on the spot and they’re getting shipments in throughout the day.
Talk to and get friendly with your fishmonger. He’ll kindly tell you what’s up. Ask him what’s fresh. Ask to smell it. It should NOT smell fishy, but rather like sweet ocean. The flesh should be firm and bright in color, not grey or grainy. Good fish markets will refuse sell you bad fish.
The extra step of getting your fish at a market will pay you back by getting away with the ease of its preparation. There’s many avenues we can take: ceviche, sashimi, steamed whole, baked whole in salt, or grilled. But my purist and predictable self usually does one thing, and that’s give it a super shattery sear restaurants would envy. This can be crazy intimidating, but we have you covered. Home cooks are afraid the fish they just paid a fine penny for will stick, that they can’t get the pan hot enough, or that the smoke alarm will go off. All valid concerns, but you can use this tried-and-true method to sear fish right every time.
To sear fish, follow these simple rules:
- Use a non-stick or very well seasoned cast iron pan. Stainless steel might invite stickage.
- Bring your fish to room temperature 30 minutes before and salt it well. Also make sure it’s as dry as the sahara.
- Make sure your pan is screaming hot. Let it come to high heat for 1-2 minutes before you sear.
- Use fats meant for high heat such as clarified butter (ghee), coconut oil, or animal fats such as bacon fat, lard, or tallow. Using fats not meant for high heat such as butter or olive will turn rancid and give the fish an “off” flavor. Use butter towards the end instead to add some richness. Although I don’t recommend eating vegetable oils such as canola (they’re too processed), these will also work if you don’t have the aforementioned.
- Use enough fat to thinly coat the bottom of the pan.
- Once the pan is hot, lay the fish carefully presentation side down, and leave it alone. Seriously, you’re not allowed to touch the fish. I know you want to, but give it a pretend chastity belt. The fish will let go by itself once it’s done.
- Don’t crowd the pan. Make sure there’s at least 1-2” in between each piece of fish. Sear in batches if necessary. If the pan is crowded, the fish will steam, which is the exact opposite of what we’re going for.
- Using a fish spatula, flip the fish over and sear the other side. If the fish is thin (less than 1”) it will cook in the pan, if it’s larger, it will need 10 minutes in a 325-degree oven for every additional inch of thickness. It’s done when it flakes easily or, if you’re OCD like me, when it registers 145 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. It will rise 10 extra degrees when you let it rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Eat and enjoy. Serve your perfectly seared fish with roasted vegetables, a salad, a lovely fruit or vegetable salsa, or some guacamole.
Favorite fish markets
For fish local to Miami, look within the snapper family, (hogfish, mutton, red and yellowtail), grouper, tuna, mahi, Florida lobster, stone crabs, kingfish, swordfish, flounder (sole), and others, depending on the season. Visit one of the fish markets the next time you want to make some fish, and I promise it will be worth it. If you don’t have time to cook it, thankfully all of these markets have an adjacent restaurants too.
Captain’s Tavern, 9625 S Dixie Hwy, Pinecrest, FL 33156, (305) 666-5979, www.captainstavern.com
This is my personal favorite fish market. It might be because I grew up in Pinecrest. But the quality of the fish and people can’t be beat. The salmon here is to die for, along with the yellowtail, swordfish, and sea bass. The tuna is substantial and glistening. Sometimes it takes a little while to get your order, but the fish more than makes up for it.
Golden Rule Seafood, 17505 S Dixie Hwy, Palmetto Bay, FL 33157, (305) 235-0661, www.goldenruleseafood.com
Get the snapper. Also noteworthy are the stone crabs, which, I would say, rival Joe’s. It’s down south in Palmetto Bay if you have the chance to visit, and looks like an old crab shack.
Casablanca’s, 404 North River Drive, Miami, FL 33128, (305) 371-4107, www.casablancaseafood.com
Casablanca’s is right on the Miami River, and is touted for being the best fish market in Miami. Their grouper is delicious and super fresh. So are the stone crabs.
Garcia’s Fish Market, 398 NW North River Dr, Miami, FL 33128, (305) 375-0765, www.garciasmiami.com
Garcia’s is one of my favorite restaurants in Miami. I love being able to sit right on the Miami River while chowing down on fresh fish and delicious Cuban sides. I like the tamarind salmon at the restaurant, but their market sells optimal grouper, mahi, and yellowtail.
Ashley Pardo is a private chef in Miami who holds a Masters in Gastronomy, along with certificates in the culinary arts, wine, and cheese from Boston University. She writes The Grizzly Kitchen, a terrific blog full of recipes, videos, illustrations, tips, and tricks for the home cook.