The How-To: Master the Simple Summer Fish Dish

Pulling off a pitch-perfect plate of summer’s freshest catch is simple: Just think like a chef. Neptune Oyster executive chef Michael Serpa advises you to source like one, too, so it doesn’t hurt to befriend your local fishmonger. “If you buy whatever the freshest-looking fish is and are kind of stumped, playing to the style of the fish in terms of a sauce or a side will at least give you a starting-off point,” Serpa says. Here, a handy cooking guide to inform your summer seafood feasts.


summer fish dish key


Group One:

Mild and Delicate

easy summer fish dishes 1

Characterized By: Subtle flavor, tender flesh, thinner skin, shorter cooking time.

sauce 1

The Sauce: “Fat can be used to help balance out a dish with these styles of fish, as they are pretty lean,” Serpa says. He suggests a parsley citronnette: Simply whisk together a one-to-one ratio of olive oil (or melted butter, if you’d like) to fresh-squeezed lemon juice; add chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

sides 1

The Sides: Support the delicate fish with raw veggies (like cucumbers and fennel) or a salad.


Group Two:

Clean and Meaty

easy summer fish dishes 2

Characterized By: Medium-clean flavor, firmer texture, thicker skin, slightly longer cooking time, and the most flexibility in terms of food pairings.

sauce 2

The Sauce: Try a salsa verde with more-assertive herbs: In a blender, purée a two-to-one ratio of herbs (like cilantro, parsley, scallions, and mint) and olive oil; add lemon or lime juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

sides 2

The Sides: Sautéed or steamed corn; sliced fresh tomatoes with salt and pepper.


Group Three:

Rich and Flavorful

easy summer fish dishes 3

Characterized By: Stronger flavor, more fat, thin skin, tender flesh, shorter cooking time. Exception: tuna, which typically has no skin in retail, and firm flesh.

sauce 3

The Sauce: This is the only group of fish that Serpa says can really handle a marinade, so try a mustard or harissa rub before cooking. If you’d rather sauce up afterward, opt for a mostarda, a chutneylike Italian condiment laced with mustard. You can buy it jarred, or make your own by mixing three parts tart jam (such as rose hip) with one part Dijon mustard.

sides 3

The Sides: Smokier flavors like grilled vegetables; potatoes and chorizo.


Photographs by Mark Schou. Food styling by Kendra Smith.
Illustrations by Jeffrey Mangiat.


Hungry for more?

Check out our complete “Seafood Lover’s Guide.”