Seafood is one of the foods recommended by nutritionists and physicians to serve as a foundation for a healthy, balanced diet. Fish and shellfish like shrimp and crab are rich in lean protein, low in saturated fat and packed with healthy vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. Still, despite all the health benefits of seafood, many people are hesitant to work with lobster, octopus, calamari and fish in their home kitchens.

If you'd like to start enjoying fish and seafood dishes at home, here are some tips to help you get started:

- When choosing freshly caught fish, look for four signs of freshness: red gills, clear, shiny eyes, a mild odor and shiny skin.

- When purchasing skinned fillets, choose fish that is all one color. You should not see brown spots, and its hue should be vibrant throughout.

- Keep fresh fish and seafood in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic surrounded by ice. It will keep this way for one to two days.

- If you do not intend to cook with fish or seafood within one to two days, you can freeze fish.

- Shrimp, crab, lobster and other shellfish can be purchased pre-cooked and flash frozen for simple use in recipes. You can also cook many recipes with dry fish if you're concerned about freshness.

- When you thaw frozen fish or seafood, do so in the refrigerator, not in the microwave or by running it under warm water. Always cook with the fish or shellfish the day that you thaw it.

- Pin bones are best removed from fish fillets using needle-nose pliers. Just press down on the fish to expose the bones and pull them out.

- Over-marinating fish can leave it being mushy and unappealing in texture. Keep marinating times to a maximum of 30 minutes. Do not pour leftover marinade over the cooked fish, as this can result in food poisoning.

- Overcooking fish is the biggest reason for unpleasant odors in the kitchen. Always cook your fish for a few minutes less than what is suggested in recipes. Make a small cut in the fish and examine the meat. It should form flakes easily.

- When cooking with shellfish like clams and oysters, discard any that are open. This indicates that the seafood is already dead and no longer fresh.

- Avoid cross-contamination when preparing seafood dishes. Don't put cooked fish onto a plate or cutting surface where you had placed raw fish and don't use the same utensils with cooked and uncooked fish. Clean counter tops with an antibacterial solution after cooking to remove microbes.

- Serve cooked fish with sliced lemons or limes to enhance flavor and balance any strong tastes.

If you'd like to try your hand at cooking with dry fish, be sure to shop Cantinastar for a wide variety of options for use in recipes or for enjoying as snacks.