4 Tricks Top Chef’s Melissa King Uses for Cooking Fish (Plus One She Uses for Everything!)

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Top Chef's Melissa King

Chef Melissa King. Photo credit: Ryan Ochsner / Whole Foods Creative


On Top Chef 12, Melissa King was known as a fierce competitor. But in person, it’s clear there’s another side to her.  “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” she says while cooking fish in the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen. “Cooking is all trial and error. If something goes wrong, you just try it again!”


Chef Melissa stopped Williams-Sonoma HQ earlier this week to host a cooking demo live on our Facebook page. She showed us how to make fish two ways—seared as well as steamed en papillote—to demonstrate how easy it is to cook with fish, one of her favorite foods. While she cooked, we learned four important things about cooking with fish—plus her secret ingredient along the way.

Fish En Papillote

Know how to select fish at the market.

Melissa, who is a Whole Foods chef ambassador, offered tips when shopping for both whole fish as well as fish fillets. “If you’re buying a whole fish, look for clear eyes. Make sure the skin is nice and shiny. It should smell like the ocean, and shouldn’t be fishy or funky. And check out the gills: You want nice, bright red gills.” When scoping out filleted fish, seek out firm meat that isn’t falling apart.

Don’t have parchment paper? You can still cook fish en papillote.

Just because you don’t keep parchment on hand doesn’t mean you can’t follow the same technique. Papillote “is basically just a bag,” Melissa pointed out. “You can use foil. You just want a big sheet of foil that’s going to be larger than your piece of fish.” Melissa seasoned salmon fillets generously with kosher salt and pepper, added sungold tomatoes, broccoli rabe, lemon thyme, dill and mushrooms, and topped the sachets with butter and lemon. She baked it in the oven for about eight minutes and then drizzled it with olive oil and more salt to plate.

Yes, you can sear on nonstick!

A lot of cooks fear the idea of using nonstick cookware to sear, and use stainless-steel cookware instead. But Melissa wants to set the record straight: “You can get a great sear on nonstick as long as you have a hot pan,” she explained. “I think it’s a little easier.” The key is to get your hands on a nonstick or ceramic nonstick pan that can withstand high temperatures.

Learn the secret to making fish for a crowd.

One viewer asked how Melissa would make fish if she were cooking for a large crowd. She didn’t skip a beat before answering, “Oftentimes what we do is pre-sear everything, just on one side. We transfer [the pre-seared fish] to a sheet tray, and when we’re ready to start serving, we throw it in the oven and finish it quickly, for two to three minutes. Done!”

Get to know yuzu kosho. 

Melissa loves yuzu kosho—it’s her secret weapon for everything. “Yuzu kosho is a paste that’s made of yuzu, a Japanese citrus. It has a really fragrant smell, similar to Meyer lemon. [The Japanese] add a little bit of chili, so it’s got a little bit of heat; it’s also salted. It’s kind of like preserved lemon, and it’s great with seafood,” she explained to us. (It can be found at Japanese stores and specialty markets.) To pair with her fish, Melissa made a salad by combining radicchio, sliced Japanese cucumbers, mint, tarragon and figs, and tossed everything together with a yuzu kosho vinaigrette that she made on the spot with two parts yuzu kosho, three parts oil, diced shallots marinated in Champagne vinegar and a touch of honey.


Missed our Facebook Live broadcast? Check out the full recording of the broadcast below.


2 comments about “4 Tricks Top Chef’s Melissa King Uses for Cooking Fish (Plus One She Uses for Everything!)

  1. Laurie

    I loved the Facebook live broadcast and enjoyed the article, but can’t find the recipes used anywhere. I am especially interested in the salad dressing recipe that included yuzu kosho.


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