Baking surrounds food with even, dry heat and is an excellent method for cooking whole fish. Smaller, delicate pieces of fish do not respond as well to baking and require a coating of breadcrumbs, or a splash of broth or olive oil to keep them moist. Most varieties of shellfish tend to dry out as they cook in the oven unless a combination of cooking techniques-steaming while baking, or pan searing then baking-is used (see below for more details).
Oven broiling adds a nutty, browned flavor and crisp texture to foods and is a quick and delicious way to cook many types of seafood. Fillets or steaks of finfish, large scallops or shrimp, and lobster tails are especially tasty when broiled.
Grilling gives a smoky flavor and crisped texture to finfish and shellfish. It works best for meatier, firmer-fleshed finfish cut in to steaks or fillets with skin. However, flakier finfish, skinless fillets, and smaller shellfish (that would otherwise slip through the grill grates) can be grilled using a grill basket. Grill baskets are non-stick wire cages-with a top, bottom, and long removable handle-that hold food firmly in place so that it can easily be flipped or removed from the grill.
Many fish and shellfish benefit from a quick soak in a marinade to boost flavor and help retain moisture. Even so, use care when choosing marinade ingredients and limit the seafood's time in the marinade so as not to overwhelm its natural flavor. Usually half an hour is enough time to add flavor to a delicate piece of seafood: less time is needed if you are using a strong acid in the marinade, such as lemon juice, which chemically "cooks" the food and alters its texture.
Microwave ovens work by shaking up the water and fat in food, which in turn, makes heat. Covering food with microwave-safe plastic wrap or putting it in a microwave-safe, covered casserole dish locks in steam. The combination of inside heating and outside steaming cooks items in less time than it would take otherwise.
Pan searing is a technique that works well for cooking fish steaks and thicker, shorter fillets of fish. If the fish has skin, score it on the skin side with a few vertical slashes. This will help the fillet from curling because the skin will shrink as it cooks. Dry the fish thoroughly and season with salt and pepper if desired.
Poaching is a moist heat method of cooking where food is submerged in a bath of flavorful liquid that's kept just below the boiling point (160 to 180 degrees). Seafood cooked using this technique will have a more consistent texture and milder flavor when compared with the same type that has been grilled, broiled, or baked.
Steaming is a gentle, fat-free cooking method that keeps the natural moisture in foods. This method uses the steam from a simmering liquid (usually water, seafood broth, or wine) to transfer heat to, and cook, a food. It is an excellent choice for preparing delicate seafood because there is a safe distance between the food and heat source, which helps to protect against drying. And steaming, unlike poaching or boiling, keeps flavorful juices and nutrients inside the seafood, rather than letting them escape into the surrounding cooking liquid.
Seafood is extremely perishable. Quickly freezing it at the height of freshness (usually when it's still on the boat or shortly thereafter) is a successful way to keep the flavor and texture. When purchasing frozen seafood, look for solidly frozen pieces with few ice crystals to ensure they have not thawed and re-frozen at some point before purchase. Keep the seafood frozen until you are ready to use it by storing it in the coldest section of your freezer, on a low shelf towards the back.