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Chicken Tastes Like Fish: Why It Happens & 4 Ways To Fix It

One of the worst things that can happen when you’re preparing a dish and putting all your efforts into it is having a foul, fishy taste of meat. No matter what seasoning you use, and how well you prepare the sauce, the meat can sometimes just taste wrong.

A fishy taste is something that happens with chicken, especially if you made some mistake in storing and preparing. Luckily, there are some efficient techniques you can use to make sure that the chicken doesn’t taste like fish.

What’s more, if you keep on reading, you will learn how to recognize bad chicken from the start and avoid your dinner being ruined.

Why does your chicken taste like fish?

Now, before we get into the possible solutions for this problem, it is important to address the core issue itself. You may wonder why your chicken tastes like fish, especially if you’ve seasoned it and prepared it the way you usually do. 

Here are some of the potential reasons behind the fishy taste of your chicken, as well as a possible foul smell. 

1. Inadequate storing

Let’s start with the number one and the most obvious reason: the meat has gone bad. It is necessary to check the expiry date and make sure you’re storing the chicken in the freezer if you won’t be using it the next day or two. 

A handy hack you could use to keep track of the foods in your freezer (especially the meat) is labeling it and noting the expiry date. It would be even better to keep track of what you have in your freezer by keeping a list on your freezer.

In case you’re saving some chicken for later, make sure to store it in the fridge, and never leave it at room temperature, no matter how cold the room may seem. If the meat is bad, it will have a sour, acidic taste and an unpleasant smell

Another potential issue could be not properly storing the chicken. In case you’re leaving the chicken in the fridge, make sure to seal it completely, as this will protect it from absorbing all the other smells in your fridge (especially if you’re storing fish, too).

Also, it is important to make sure that you seal the chicken properly and are not in contact with any other types of meat. Mixing meat types in storage is definitely something that will produce an off-putting smell and taste. 

2. Refreezing the chicken

One of the most common mistakes people make when dealing with frozen meat is letting it defrost at room temperature, and then refreezing the remaining meat. Freezing the chicken twice is very dangerous, and it can affect more than just the flavor of the meat. 

The best way to avoid being in this situation is to pack the chicken in small batches. This way, you won’t have to wait for this huge piece of chicken to defrost, only to cut off the part you need and have to refreeze the remaining chicken. 

Refreezing the meat that has already been thawed represents a huge health risk, as it allows for the bacteria to develop and thrive in the meat, in addition to creating a fishy taste and smell of the chicken

3. The chicken was bad

When buying your meat, it is necessary to buy only from registered, licensed sellers. This way, you’ll rest assured that all the sanitary protocols and requirements have been met, and the chicken had been stored properly. 

Oftentimes, if you buy the chicken from sketchy sellers, the issue lies in the meat itself – not in the way you’ve stored it or prepared it. Therefore, before cooking or storing the meat, it is necessary to briefly inspect it just to be sure. 

The most accurate test is definitely the smell test. If raw chicken smells like fish, chances are it hasn’t been properly stored and it has gone bad. 

Also, if it smells fishy, it’s no wonder the chicken tastes fishy, as well.

4. You’re re-using the frying oil

In case you’re frying the chicken, and the skillet or the pan hasn’t been properly washed (even if you’ve prepared chicken in it beforehand), the chicken may absorb the lingering, stale smell and flavor of these pots.

Another common mistake people make is reusing the frying oil, even if you’ve used it for the same type of meat/dish beforehand. Not only is this not safe with the majority of oil types, but it also could be the reason why your chicken smells fishy

While you may not notice this smell and flavor while preparing the dish, it could be the main reason why the chicken tastes fishy after cooking

5. Dirty utensils

Sometimes, the problem isn’t in the meat, the storage, or the frying process – it actually lies in some sanitary factors. In case you’re using dirty utensils, as well as cookware when preparing your chicken, this could seriously jeopardize its quality. 

Just like it is necessary to sanitize all the knives, cutting boards, forks, and other utensils that have been in contact with raw meat, it is crucial to use clean utensils when preparing it, as well. 

Keeping a clean, sanitized kitchen overall is the key to healthy, delicious food. 

6. Unpleasant odor in the freezer

In case you haven’t cleaned your freezer in a while, and you notice that chicken smells like fish when you defrost it or prepare it, this may be your cue to defrost the freezer and clean out any items that have expired.  

In the majority of cases, none of the food that you have in your freezer has gone bad, but the unpleasant odor develops as a result of so many odors being combined in one place. Other times, some of the foods haven’t been sealed properly and they leak.

In the worst-case scenario, some of the food has gone bad and it is necessary to inspect each and every item you had stored in the freezer. Even if you’ve sealed the chicken properly, it can still absorb some of the foul smell from the freezer. 

7. The chicken was fed fish

Unfortunately, if you’ve recently started buying a new brand of chicken, it could be that the farm has a practice of feeding their chicken fish. The reason behind this feeding method is to increase the protein content in the chicken.

While this practice isn’t very common, it could be one of the reasons your chicken has a fish-like taste and/or smell, regardless of the cooking method you use. 

How to remove the fishy taste from chicken?

Aside from all the factors we’ve mentioned, there are methods you can use to prevent the bad chicken taste and allow all the natural chicken flavors to combine with your favorite spices, herbs, and sauces. 

1. Marinate the chicken in water and vinegar

In case you notice that something is off with the chicken you’re preparing before you actually start cooking it, or you’d simply like to prevent the fishy smell from resurfacing, you could marinate the chicken in water and vinegar mixture

All you need to do is combine a few tablespoons of vinegar and a splash of water to create enough mixture to coat the chicken completely. Add the chicken into the mixture and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes prior to cooking.

Not only will the vinegar neutralize the fishy smell and flavor, but it can also help in making the meat tender and preventing it from becoming dry and rubbery in the cooking process. 

After 15-20 minutes, take out the chicken from this mixture and wash it with plain water to remove the excess vinegar. Add the desired seasoning and prepare the chicken as you normally would. 

2. Coat with flour and salt mixture

Another efficient way to keep the fishy taste and smell of chicken at bay is to coat the chicken pieces with the flour and salt mixture. Before this step, it is necessary to wash the chicken thoroughly and pat it dry.

The next step would be to make the mixture by combining two tablespoons of flour with one tablespoon of salt. Make sure you’ve combined the ingredients well before applying this mixture onto the chicken pieces, rubbing it in. 

Allow the chicken to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, after which you will wash the mixture off the chicken.

In a larger bowl, combine water, ¼ cup vinegar, ½ cup lemon juice, and a tablespoon of salt. Place the chicken into this solution and let it sit for another 15 minutes. After 15 minutes have passed, it is time to wash the chicken once again.

At this point, the chicken should be free of any foul smell and fishy taste, and ready to be fried, baked, or made into any dish of your choice. 

3. Cook the chicken in tomato sauce

If the meat hasn’t expired, but it still smells like fish and has a fishy flavor, it may be up to you to get rid of these flavors and aromas by combining them with the right ingredients. Something acidic, such as tomato sauce, should neutralize the fishy taste completely. 

While it is advised to cook the chicken in this sauce for the best results, you can use the sauce on top of the chicken to conceal the off-putting flavor. Of course, aromatic herbs such as basil and thyme can also do the trick, especially when combined with tomatoes

4. Make sure your kitchen is clean

…And when we say kitchen, we mean all of it! Working with meat can be extremely challenging as it is very sensitive and it can easily absorb all the different flavors and smells. 

Therefore, it is necessary to keep your kitchen in check, including all your pots, pans, utensils, cutting boards, as well as your storage space. As we’ve explained, no matter how well you seal the chicken, it can still absorb the aromas from your freezer and fridge.

Cleaning out your freezer and fridge should be a monthly task (or a bi-weekly one, if you can manage) if you want to avoid the food from going bad and developing these unwanted flavors. 

If chicken tastes like fish, is it safe to eat?

It really depends on many factors. If the issue isn’t in the meat quality and the expiration date is nowhere near, this kind of problem isn’t a reason for you to throw the chicken away. As we’ve discussed, there are many ways to salvage the meat that tastes/smells fishy.

Generally speaking, if you don’t mind investing the time and effort in salvaging this kind of dish, we say – go for it, but only after you’ve made sure that the meat hasn’t gone bad

However, if none of the methods we’ve mentioned have turned out to be efficient, it may be best to buy a new piece of meat and follow our instructions on storing the meat and preparing it adequately.

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