Not even a good book can ensure total success the first time the new cook grabs a wet fish, but it can help. Plenty of illustrations can prepare the way, too, and the best reward is the wonderful taste when a recipe comes out just right.
Here's a short sampling of recent books that may bolster confidence - or at the very least provide pleasant browsing.
"Fast Fish" (Ten Speed Press, 2005, $19.95 large-format paperback) by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison.
This is another example of good team work from writer Carpenter and photographer Sandison, who live in California's Napa Valley. The book's first section on general basics, tips, techniques, equipment and useful pantry shelf items, is followed by around 100 recipes divided among the nine most popular fish sold in the United States.
Each fish has a separate chapter, introduced with its profile, describing its characteristics, suggesting substitutions for it if you cannot find the fish, and offering advice on the most suitable techniques for cooking it.
The recipes are streamlined but sophisticated, with a practical emphasis on fresh ingredients for good flavor, and many are shown in Sandison's full-page, glossy color photographs.
"Salmon" (Chronicle Books, 2005, $24.95) by Diane Morgan is focused on a favorite fish of the moment. The author, a cooking teacher and cookbook writer based in Portland, Ore., did her research by traveling around salmon-producing areas, including Alaska, Norway and Scotland.
She describes the salmon's life cycle and types of salmon, and discusses the differences between wild and farmed salmon. Her recipes range from smoked salmon appetizers through a variety of main dishes to lighter brunch and lunch items. The book is illustrated with color photos of salmon habitats, salmon dishes and a few how-to line drawings.
"Rick Stein's Complete Seafood" (Ten Speed Press, 2004, $40) by Rick Stein, a British authority on fish, recently won the "cookbook of the year" award from the James Beard Foundation.
It's a handsome book, lavishly illustrated. Its 264 pages include useful step-by-step color-photo sequences showing basic preparation and many techniques - including skinning an eel, and making sushi.
The recipes range widely in variety, but some fish species, their common names, and ingredient measurements may not be familiar to or practical for American home cooks. At the back of the book are complex listings for classifying seafood, and color-illustration layouts for visual identification.
"Williams-Sonoma Seafood" (Simon & Schuster, 2005, $16.95) by Carolyn Miller is part of a good-looking series of Williams-Sonoma cooking monographs.
There are about 40 recipes, spaciously set out and each illustrated in a full-page color photo. Chapters offer recipes grouped according to purpose - quick dinner or special occasion, for example - or by method of cooking, including in the oven, by grilling, or as soups and stews.
There's a fair amount of general information tucked in the chapters, and a section of basics with a glossary at the back of the book.