Top Chef Contestant Nelson German Says This Is The Right Way To Cook Seafood - Exclusive

Cooking seafood might seem like a dish best left to the professionals. Unlike a thick cut of chicken or beef, seafood is a temperamental category of protein. Cooking salmon or cod is so quick that filets can be overcooked in a matter of moments. During an exclusive interview, Mashed spoke with seafood expert and "Top Chef" contestant Nelson German, who is known for his Michelin-recommended restaurant, alaMar in Oakland, California. German blends influences from his Afro-Latin roots and Mediterranean cuisine to craft seafood dishes ranging from decadent shrimp and snow crab boils to labor-intensive whole-roasted branzino and fried rockfish. In other words, German knows his seafood. 

The chef's first advice for home cooks is realizing while fish can indeed be "delicate," the trick is "being respectful to it." German demonstrated even the experts can miss the signs on Season 18 in Portland. "As you could see with the last challenge I was in, I overcooked the fish," German said. "Being delicate with the seafood, it's a key thing." Even though his rise through the competition was cut short, German took away a great desire to help other chefs and cooks put their all into food. Sharing his reverence for seafood is only the beginning. 

Take seafood off the heat before it's done cooking

German recommends giving seafood enough time to cook without being "aggressive" with it. But, how long is too long when cooking seafood at home? One rule Reader's Digest recommends for cooking a fish filet is 10 minutes per inch when measuring from the thickest section. First, set the foundation for a delicious meal by selecting fish that is firm to the touch, warm up the pan to a searing heat, and avoid handling it excessively while cooking. Flip the fish only once at the halfway point.

The "Top Chef" contestant then recommends removing the fish from the heat before the timer is up. "A little tip is when you take it off the pan, say a beautiful fish or shrimp, it's going to keep cooking because it's a delicate piece of meat, or protein," German said. "Be aware that once you take it off, it's still cooking." German says to remove the seafood from the pan while "it's still doing its thing" to rest on the plate and avoid the risk of a dry, tough meal.

Chef Nelson German recommends bacalhau

Chef Nelson German encourages everyone to try bacalhau, which is a salt cod or salt fish in Jamaica, "because it's a beautiful stew" with many flavorful ingredients. German explains the fish also tells a story, because by preserving it in salt, "it fed a lot of people" before refrigeration was commonplace in Africa or the Caribbean. It's also one of the chef's personal favorites. German's mother made bacalhau twice per month when he was growing up. The trick is not to be intimidated by the presentation. "You have this big slab of fish that you don't know what it is until you rinse it off and you start stewing it," German said. 

The chef said it's ideal for anyone who is worried about overcooking their meal because "this one you can add so much to it" and there are "not many seafood dishes where you can actually cook, cook, cook." He explained cooking the fish as a stew brings out "so much flavor [when] you utilize the fish and you're shredding" the pieces. He recommends serving bacalhau with grilled bread, rice, or plantains for a full spread. "It's really delicious," German said.

You can keep up with chef Nelson German's travels, culinary collaborations, and restaurants by following him on Instagram.