Seafood is nutritious, delicious and easy to prepare. With the wide variety of options available year-round, the hard part is deciding which fish or shellfish to try. Whether you’re planning a simple weeknight meal or a stellar dinner party menu, read on for tips on choosing, prepping and cooking the most popular choices.
Storage and prep
- Store all fresh fish in the fridge and use within two days.
- Store raw seafood on the bottom shelf so juices don’t drip onto other food.
- Use frozen fish and seafood in advance of the best-before date.
- Thaw frozen seafood in the fridge or under cold running water, never on the counter.
- To ensure fish is properly cooked, check that meat is opaque and flaky. Health Canada states fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 70ºC (158ºF), and shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).
- If serving as hors d’oeuvres or as part of a buffet, don’t leave fish or seafood out at room temperature any longer than two hours.
- Consume cooked leftovers within two days.
Why try it: This farmed salmon is known for its delicious pink flesh. Each 100 gram serving is a source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids*, which, according to EatRight Ontario, may help lower your risk of heart disease.
How to dish it out: Atlantic salmon is versatile and delicious grilled, baked, pan-seared, broiled and poached. FYI: It’s also delicious cold, so cook extra and enjoy the refrigerated leftovers the next day on a salad or bed of quinoa.
Recipe pick: Salmon Topped with Leek and Dill
Watch: Two Ways to Grill Salmon
Why try it: Cod’s delicious flavour and flaky texture lured early European explorers to what would one day become Canada. This fish is low in fat and a good source of vitamins B12 and B6*.
How to dish it out: Cod is the classic fish-and-chips fish. It’s also a natural fit for fish stews, chowder and pies, since it holds its texture. You can bake it, sautée it and poach it, too!
Recipe pick: Po’Boy Style Cod Sandwich
Watch: Cooking Cod: 3 Ways
Why try it: Seafood lovers go nuts over this premium wild-caught bottom-dweller. Its mild, sweet-tasting flesh cooks into firm, large flakes. Halibut is a seafood choice that is high in protein*.
How to dish it out: Halibut is the ultimate grilling fish, but it can also be pan-seared, baked, broiled or poached. Halibut is also ideal for fish tacos, since it will hold its shape even when sliced, battered and deep-fried.
Recipe pick: Curry-Ginger Halibut
Why try it: A kid-pleasing option, this mild- and delicate-fleshed flatfish is one of the easiest and fastest-cooking seafoods. Like other flatfish (flounder or plaice), sole is a good source of protein and a source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, niacin, and vitamins B12 and B6*.
How to dish it out: The ultimate weeknight dinner fish, sole can be quickly broiled, grilled, baked, poached or sautéed. Don’t overcook it, or this delicate fish will dry out.
Recipe pick: Broiled Dijon-Crusted Sole with Lemons
Sockeye and coho salmon (Pacific salmon)
Why try it: Salmon lovers swoon for Pacific salmon’s rich red flesh and depth of flavour. Wild-caught salmon is far-roaming (hatching in rivers, migrating to the sea and returning to fresh water to spawn), making it gamier in taste than farmed Atlantic salmon — each 100 gram serving of wild coho salmon contains 67 per cent less fat than farmed Atlantic salmon*. Coho salmon is also a source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vitamin D*, the sunshine vitamin.
How to dish it out: Pacific salmon really shines on the barbecue. Wood brings out its natural flavour, so try planking it on cedar for a rustic, West Coast–style feast. It’s also fantastic baked, pan-seared or broiled.
Recipe pick: Grilled Peaches and Planked Salmon
Why try it: Think of tilapia as the perfect “gateway fish”: Its mild flavour and texture can ease children and timid eaters into the wonderful world of seafood. Bonus — it’s also inexpensive.
How to dish it out: Tilapia isn’t fussy: Broil it, bread and fry it, sautée it, bake it, grill it or poach it. For a fast and easy approach, cook it en papillote (in a paper or foil pouch).
Why try it: Farmed rainbow trout is available year round and can be substituted for salmon in recipes. Its light pink, flaky flesh has a mild, briny flavour and is a source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.*
How to dish it out: Trout is best broiled, baked, pan-fried, poached or grilled. Many fish lovers who normally shy away from eating skin agree that trout skin is delicious when crisped!
Recipe pick: Curry Grilled Trout with Creamy Cucumber Sauce
Why try it: One of the most inexpensive shellfish, fresh or frozen mussels are easy to prepare and look beautiful on the plate. These bivalves are a source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids as well as zinc.*
Storage: Keep frozen mussels frozen (you can use them in recipes without thawing). Store fresh mussels in a pot or bowl covered with a damp cloth in the coldest part of your fridge. Don’t let them sit in water or in a plastic bag, or they’ll die. They can be stored live for up to three days. Wash just before cooking, removing barnacles and “beards,” and rinsing the shellfish in plenty of fresh, cold water.
Health & safety: Fresh mussels have tight, closed shells. Throw out any that don’t close up after you wash or tap on them. Health Canada says shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF); when most of the mussels have opened their shells, they’re done (throw out any that remain closed).
How to dish it out: The most common way to enjoy mussels is steamed in a fragrant broth, with plenty of crusty fresh bread to mop up the flavourful cooking juices.
Recipe pick: Easy Pesto Mussels
Watch: How to Clean Mussels
Why try it: This shellfish is high in protein and a source of selenium*, which is a dietary antioxidant. It has a distinct mild flavour that even kids and timid eaters enjoy.
Storage: Fresh shrimp should be cooked within 24 hours. Refer to the best-before date on frozen shrimp. Leftovers should be eaten within 24 hours.
Health & safety: Thaw frozen shrimp in the fridge or under cold running water, never on the counter, and use immediately. Health Canada says shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF), typically when the shrimp meat and shells have turned fully red or pink and meat is firm and opaque.
How to dish it out: These densely fleshed crustaceans hold up well for grilling, broiling, steaming, boiling, sautéing and deep-frying. Cooking shell-on or shell-off is a personal choice; shell-on can be messier (but can result in better flavour), so save it for casual meals.
Recipe pick: Mandarin Ginger Shrimp Kabobs
Watch: How to Grill Shrimp
Why try it: These sweet and briny bivalves cook up fast into a delicious source of protein, magnesium and potassium*.
Storage: Fresh scallops should be cooked within 24 hours of purchase. Refer to the best-before date on frozen scallops. Leftovers should be eaten within 24 hours.
Health & safety: Thaw frozen scallops in the fridge or under cold running water, never on the counter, and use immediately. Health Canada says shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF).
How to dish it out: Scallops can be pan-fried, baked in a gratin or broiled on the half shell. Large bay scallops can be speared and grilled in kabobs.
Recipe pick: Chorizo & Scallop Bites with Lemon-Wasabi Yogourt
Why try it: Clams have a chewy texture and briny flavour that works well in a number of recipes. They’re a good source of minerals like selenium, zinc and iron*.
Storage: Refer to the best-before date on frozen clams (you can use them in recipes without thawing). Store fresh clams in the coldest part of your fridge in a porous bag made of natural material to keep them moist or in a bowl covered with a wet cloth. Don’t let them sit in water or in a plastic bag, or they’ll die. For best results, eat them within 24 hours. About one hour before cooking, rinse in cold water and then soak in a pot filled with cold water and a handful of flour: This will help them purge any sand or grit from their shells.
Health & safety: Fresh clams have tight, closed shells. Throw out any that don’t close up tight after you wash or tap on them. Health Canada says shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF); when most of the clams have opened their shells, they’re done (throw out any that remain closed). Cooked clams and leftovers should be eaten within 24 hours.
How to dish it out: Serve clams steamed, boiled or cooked in stews and chowders, or cook and add them to pasta, seafood gratin or seafood pie.
Recipe pick: Thai Curry Mussels & Clams
Why try it: This big crustacean introduces instant wow factor to the dinner table. The firm, sweet meat is high in protein and low in fat*, making it less decadent than its reputation implies (blame the heavy sauces usually served alongside).
Storage: Refer to the best-before date on frozen lobster. Live lobster should be cooked the same day it’s purchased. You can store it for a few hours in the fridge in a box with damp newspaper or seaweed to keep it moist. Don’t let it sit in water or on ice.
Health & safety: Thaw frozen lobster in the fridge or under cold running water, never on the counter, and use immediately. Health Canada says shellfish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 74ºC (165ºF), typically when the meat and shell have turned fully red or pink and meat is firm and opaque.
How to dish it out: Lobster lends itself well to boiling, steaming and grilling. For those who are squeamish about cooking live lobster, we’ll steam it for you in-store while you shop, free of charge. Frozen is another good option. If the shell of frozen lobster is bright red, that means the meat is precooked and only needs to be thawed and heated.
Recipe pick: Grilled Lobster with Caper Gremolata
Watch: How to Grill Lobster Tails
Why try it: Their briny, fresh flavour comes from the water oysters live in. Often considered a luxury, these tender shellfish can be eaten raw or cooked. A 100-g serving of raw Pacific oysters (about two oysters) contains about 80 calories, 2 g fat, 9 g protein and 5 mg iron.*
Storage: Eat oysters within a day or two of purchase—always check the storage instructions and date code listed on the label or container. Never store them in fresh water; they will die. Place them in a bowl, cover with seaweed or a damp towel and refrigerate. As long as there is adequate drainage, you can also store them on ice for short periods.
Health & safety: Always choose oysters that are shut tightly and feel heavy. A perfect oyster smells like the sea and has moist, plump meat: Don’t eat it if it smells foul or the shell is dry. Discard any oysters that don’t open during cooking. Health Canada recommends cooking them to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F) and warns pregnant women and anyone with a weak immune system to avoid raw or undercooked shellfish.**
How to dish it out: Enjoy just-shucked oysters straight from the shell, with a squeeze of lemon or a dash of hot sauce. Or top those on the half shell with buttery herbed breadcrumbs and bake. They’re also great in chowder, garnished with oyster crackers.
Recipe pick: Chili Oyster Vodka Shooters
The majority of oysters sold in Canada are farmed from two species—the Atlantic (American) oyster and the Pacific oyster—that produce many varieties. Prince Edward Island is synonymous with Malpeques, and B.C. produces the popular Kusshis.
What you’ll need for shucking raw oysters:
- Sturdy brush
- Thick dishtowel folded several times or protective chain mail glove
- Oyster knife with knuckle guard
- Oyster plate, or dinner plate filled with coarse salt or crushed ice
Using a brush, scrub oyster, especially around the hinge, under cold running water. Place oyster curved-side down on a dishtowel with the hinge facing you. Fold the towel overtop and hold securely. Insert the tip of an oyster knife into the hinge; apply downward pressure while twisting the blade until you feel the hinge pop. Remove the knife and clean the tip on the towel. Pick the oyster up in the towel without spilling the liquor inside the shell. Run the knife blade along the inside of the top shell to cut the muscle holding the oyster in place. Discard the top shell. Use a clean finger to wipe debris from the lip of the bottom shell. Wipe the knife clean before cutting the muscle underneath the oyster to free it. Serve in the shell on an oyster plate or nestle into a bed of salt or ice on a dinner plate to keep level and prevent tipping. Enjoy immediately.
** Shellfish food safety. Government of Canada
Sustainability shopping tips:
- Pick seafood options bearing the Marine Stewardship Council logo. This denotes products that have passed this third-party certification body’s criteria for sustainable wild fishing practices.
- For farmed seafood, look for the Best Aquaculture Practices certification logo.
- Embrace Canadian seafood! Sobeys’ frozen Sensations by Compliments line of wild seafood from B.C. includes halibut, tuna, sockeye salmon and sablefish. Seasonally, you can find Ontario and Atlantic options in the fresh seafood department.
* As per 100 g serving, according to the Canadian Nutrient File