Conquer Your Ichthyophobia


Fear of FishBalance the Scales Between Good-Tasting and Good-for-You Food with Fresh, Flavorful Fish 

By Rosanne Dunkelberger 

There is such a thing as a fear of fish. It even has a name – ichthyophobia.

OK, most folks aren’t going to have palpitations, rapid heartbeats or overall feelings of dread when faced with the prospect of cooking a fish fillet. But some of us would rather stay in our “happy place” with chicken and beef than to take a chance on an unfamiliar fish as an entrée.

But, hey, you live in Florida, a state with 2,276 miles of coastline, practically surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The health benefits of eating fish are well documented, and the American Heart Association is practically begging us to eat two servings a week.

If not here, where? If not now, when? Do it. Feel the fear, and cook fish anyway.

Need some inspiration? The health benefits of eating fish – high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids – are proven, and significant. The Harvard School of Public Health says fish consumption lowers the risk of death from heart disease by 36 percent and that fish or fish oil can reduce total mortality by 17 percent. Fish also is likely to improve early brain development in infants and young children, and they can get these benefits from pregnant or nursing mothers (although, because of concerns about mercury, those groups should avoid four species of larger predatory fish – tilefish, king mackerel, shark and swordfish).

“A lot of people – if they eat fish, they get it out at a restaurant,” says Barbera Turnbull, a development representative for Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “They are not comfortable cooking fish – they don’t know how much to buy or how long to cook it. They weren’t in the kitchen with Mom cooking a grouper fillet.”

And when a seafood dinner for four can mean a $20 or $25 investment in the main ingredient, many cooks opt for the tried-and-true steak on the grill rather than attempting something new.

“Practice really makes perfect” when it comes to cooking fish, said Justin Timineri, executive chef for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Cooking fish is a skill that is “easily mastered,” he added.

Heed Timineri’s words, for he is not only Florida’s “culinary ambassador,” he also has been crowned the “King of Seafood” after winning the Great American Seafood Cook-Off last year in New Orleans. His winning recipe was Crispy Pan Seared Snapper with Coconut Cream, but apprehensive cooks can have great success starting out with more simple fare.

A simple technique is to cut a fish fillet thin and cook it in a frying pan in olive oil on the stovetop.

“Olive oil, not butter,” Timineri said. “If you have a really healthy piece of fish, you don’t want to put a whole lot of butter on it.” Some dry seasonings or fresh herbs would make a nice addition, but “you really want to do less for it,” he said. “The subtle flavors of the fish are what you want to enjoy.”

Cameron Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell’s Fish Market, agrees.

“Usually, the way I like to (cook fish) is put a little oil on the grill and cook it with indirect heat,” he said. “I use a little balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil as a quick marinade.”

Sage advice, as Mitchell knows his fish. He opened his 41st Mitchell’s Fish Market in the new Grand Boulevard development in Miramar Beach on June 20.

Mitchell sees his latest venture as a natural fit for our area, which he calls “the Hamptons of the South.”

As Okaloosa and Walton counties are awash in the Gulf of Mexico’s surf, residents and visitors have the advantage of enjoying the freshest seafood possible. Snapper, grouper, flounder, mahi-mahi, amberjack, trout and cobia are just a few of the ocean’s gifts we reap from living in this location.

But with the advent of express shipping, it is possible to buy and enjoy fish from other waters, such as salmon.

Rich in omega-3s – the good fat – salmon eaten a couple of times a weeks can provide multiple health perks. And not only is it good for you, it’s good for your wallet too. As one of the most reasonably priced fish, its easy to purchase and enjoy this tasty fish while accruing its benefits.

A year-round favorite, salmon can be farm-raised or pulled from the Pacific waters. One of the most reasonably priced fish, it is quite possible to accrue its health benefits without breaking the budget.

“We sell a boatload of salmon,” Mitchell said of his national restaurant chain. “Overall, it’s the No. 1 fish in our company.”

He added that salmon is a type of fish that has a lot of stability – a benefit for restaurants and home cooks, as handling and storing fish is a bit different than it is with other meats.

Seafood is best when kept in the low 30 degrees. Most refrigerators are a bit warmer than that, so it is a good practice to put the fish on ice and seal it in a container or plastic wrap before putting it in the fridge.

At Mitchell’s Fish Market, a walk-in freezer serves as a dedicated fish kitchen, where the fish is prepped daily for cooking. Mitchell said that a home refrigerator exposes delicate fish to odors that can quickly impact the flavor. His best advice for serving fish at home: “Prepare it when you get it, and let your nose tell you if it is not the best.”


Grilled Ginger Mahi-Mahi with Florida Tropical Fruit Salsa

4 6- to 8-ounce Florida mahi-mahi fillets

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 shallots, minced

4 slices fresh ginger, unpeeled, minced

1 clove garlic, minced black pepper to taste

Preheat grill or broiler. Arrange fillets in a grilling basket or on a broiler pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat and add minced shallots, ginger and garlic. Cook 8 to 10 minutes until golden. Remove skillet from heat. Reserve one-half of the ginger-shallot-garlic mixture; set aside. Brush fillets with remaining ginger garlic mixture. Grill or broil fillets 4 to 5 inches from heat for six minutes or until cooked through, turning once. Transfer fillets to plates and drizzle with reserved shallot-ginger garlic butter. Serve with tropical-fruit salsa or your favorite sauce. (See salsa recipe below.)

Yield: 4 servings

Nutritional Value Per Serving: Calories, 281; calories from fat, 87; total fat, 10g; saturated fat, 6g; trans fatty acids, 0; cholesterol, 172mg; total carbohydrates, 8g; protein, 39g; omega-3 fatty acids, 0.23g 


Florida Tropical Fruit Salsa

2 cups fresh pineapple, cut into half-inch cubes

2 cups mango, cut into half-inch cubes

3 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

1 – 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl; chill. Before serving, season to taste, adding more lime juice and/or brown sugar.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutritional Value Per Serving (1 cup): Calories, 106; calories from fat, 3; total fat, 0.37g; saturated fat, 0.07g; trans fatty acids, 0; cholesterol, 0mg; total carbohydrates, 28g; protein, 1g; omega-3 fatty acids, 0.05g
Recipes courtesy of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing. For more seafood recipes, visit