Sustainable seafood is not only nutritious (an excellent source of lean protein) it’s also incredibly versatile, meaning the ways to cook it and the potential flavors are endless.
Broiled, poached, grilled, baked, raw – just a few of the many ways you can enjoy fish. First of all, when cooking fish, it helps to know what types of fish are better for certain preparations. For example, fatty and meaty fish (like salmon) are good for roasting and pan-searing. Whereas white-fleshed, flaky, lean fish (like sea bass) is good for high heat applications like grilling and broiling. To start, here are simple preparation techniques that will set you well on your way to being a master fish cook.
What to Consider When Choosing a Cooking Method
There are several factors that affect how different types of fish cook. Here are some things to consider when deciding how to prepare your fish:
- The Thickness of the Fish – One of the main things to consider is the size of the cut of fish. For example, it’s not a good idea to cook swordfish steaks under a broiler.
- The Natural Flavor of the Fish – Some types of seafood have a light flavor and others have a strong fishy flavor. You want to make sure that you use a cooking technique that doesn’t overwhelm the flavor.
- The Level of Fat in the Fish – Leaner types of fish dry out more easily which makes them better suited for wet cooking methods like steaming and poaching. Fatty fish (like tuna and salmon), on the other hand, are ideal for grilling and roasting.
- Whether the Skin Is On or Off – The skin can affect how your fish cooks. For example, leaving the skin on can keep delicate fish from falling apart while cooking.
- If You Have Whole Fish Filets or Steaks – The style and butchering of your fish can affect the best cooking method.
General Tips for Cooking Fish
When cooking fish, there are a couple general tips and trends that you can follow. This makes it easier to decide which cooking method is best for a tasty meal.
For example, dry cooking methods like roasting, grilling, and baking are better for thicker cuts of fish as well as oily fish. This is because there is less of a chance that the fish will dry out during the cooking.
On the other hand, wet cooking methods like poaching, steaming, and baking en papillote are ideal options for thin filets and delicate seafood. These cooking methods are forgiving and there’s less of a chance that the fish dries out.
Best Cooking Methods for Fish
Baking fish is one of the healthiest ways to cook fresh fish because it helps to retain the vital goodness (like omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients) and it is extremely easy. You can pretty much stick your fish in the oven, set a timer, and carry on with other dishes or activities until it’s ready. The only downside is that baking is one of the slower methods of cooking fish.
Best For: Thicker and oiler fish such as salmon, halibut, arctic char, and sablefish
How Long Should I Bake Fish?
As a rule of thumb you will want to bake a steak or filet at 400 degrees F for 8 minutes per half-inch of thickness. A whole fish will need to cook at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes per 8 ounces of fish.
Pro tip: If you set the temperature of your oven too low, the fish ends up barely cooked with custard-like texture. Unfortunately, fish baked at a low temperature, although possibly delicious, is nearly always ruined by the white liquid that leaks to the surface. This happens because the oven was set too low for the proteins to coagulate inside the fish, so they mar the look and presentation.
Broiling is a bit like grilling. There are a few major differences though: the heat source is at the top, and since you broil fish in your oven, it’s easy to do year round. A handy option to get that grilled taste without using a grill.
How to Broil Fish
- Make small slashes in the skin to prevent shrinkage
- Allow your broiler to preheat for 7 to 10 minutes
- Use fish with high fat content
- Leave your fish in the broiler for about 2 minutes per side per inch of thickness
- Add two inches from the heat source for every ½ inch of thickness
- Don’t worry about achieving a golden brown exterior, you may overcook the fish trying to achieve it
While you might opt to paint your fish with a dash of oil before popping it in the oven, that’s absolutely not necessary. Choose something like a roasted red pepper or tomato sauce instead and you’ll avoid oil altogether.
Best For: Oily fish like salmon, halibut, mahi mahi, and black cod, that won’t dry under high heat
Pro tip: If your fish exceeds two pounds it’s best to use a different cooking method.
Grilling fish is a summertime favorite. Fish on the grill offers a healthy alternative to burgers and hot dogs, and often tastes better.
The biggest benefit of grilling fish is flavor and time. The grill adds a unique smoky or charred flavor that no other style of cooking can replicate. It’s also extremely fast, with even the thickest cuts of fish cooking faster than a typical baking time.
How Long Should I Grill Fish?
Take your fish out of the refrigerator 5 to 10 minutes prior to grilling to let it come to room temperature. You will want to leave your fish on the grill for 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Make sure to preheat your grill to 400-450 Degrees F and always grill with the lid on.
Make sure you’re only touching the fish when you want to flip it halfway through the cooking time. Continuously flipping it will cause the juices to leak out. Let the fish sit for 3 to 5 minutes after grilling so the fish can reabsorb the juices.
Best For: Meaty fish that won’t fall apart like swordfish, halibut, tuna, and salmon
Pro tip: Grilling with filets can be difficult as they tend to fall through the grates during the cooking process. The best way to avoid this is by using a grilling basket which will give you the same great grilled flavor while preventing your fish from falling to the bottom of the grill. If you are grilling a whole fish you can simply place the fish on the grill. The bone structure of the fish will be enough to support the fish meat without it falling through the grates of the grill.
Pan frying fish is a great way to get a crispy skin or crust on your fish without completely submerging your fish in oil. It’s another high-heat method to cooking fish, but unlike broiling you can keep an eye on the fish through the entire cooking process. You have the option to bread your fish prior to cooking or simply cook as is.
How Long Should I Pan Fry Fish?
The length of time it takes to pan fry fish really depends on the heat of the pan and the thickness and width of the fish. However, as a rule, it should only take an average 3 minutes per side for your fish to cook through.
Best For: Flaky and tender skin on fish like sole, branzino, arctic char, and salmon. These fish contrast nicely with the crispy crust.
Pro tip: The best way to ensure that you get in evenly cooked fish with crispy skin is by scoring the fish. This involves creating a hatched pattern on the skin side of your fish. In order to do this, you should make about ½ inch deep cuts, lengthwise and crosswise, creating ½ inch diamonds or squares across the skin side of the fish. This will help prevent the fish from curling and encourage the fat to render, leaving a crispy skin.
Fish frys have been around forever. While deep frying fish may not be the healthiest method for cooking fish, it is certainly delicious.
The process of deep frying fish involves breading your fish (seasoned flour, beaten eggs and bread crumbs) and adding it to a skillet of hot oil.
How Long Should I Deep Fry Fish?
Times vary based on the size of your fish, but you will get a nice crunchy outer-coat if you fry your fish 2 to 4 minutes at 375 degrees F.
Best For: Typically any type of white fish will fry well due to their ability to easily take on breading and the higher temps used in cooking. Try cod, hake, catfish, pollock, tilapia, and grouper.
Pro tip: For a mess-free twist on the classic fried fish, consider making your fish in an air-fryer. Don’t worry, the results will still be that classic, crispy-brown texture you know and love.
The process of sous vide involves vacuum sealing the fish in a plastic bag and heating a tub of water for a lengthy period of time. Sous vide allows you to cook fish at an exact temperature allowing for perfectly cooked moist fish every time. The benefit of sous vide is the unique texture you get from vacuum sealing your fish. It remains moist and flavorful as the fish is never exposed to the high heat.
How Long to Sous Vide Fish?
Cooking times vary significantly with this method and really depend on how you like your fish cooked. For well-done fish, cook at 143 degrees F; for medium, between 140 degrees F and 142 degrees F; and for rare fish, set the temperature between 135 degrees F and 139 degrees F.
The cooking time depends on the thickness of the fish, but as a general rule:
- ½-inch thick, cook for 14 minutes
- 1-inch thick, cook for 35 minutes
- 1.5-inches thick, cook for 1 hour 25 minutes
Best For: Oil rich fish like salmon, tuna, and mahi-mahi lead the pack
Pro tip: Brining helps the fish firm up which is helpful when cooking at low temperatures. If you’re cooking fish at the lower end of the temperature scale and for a shorter time, make sure to use sushi grade fish to ensure that it is safe to eat.
Poaching is fantastic for locking in moisture and flavor without adding fat to your fish.
Here’s How to Poach Fish
The trick to poaching fish is to cook it gently and over low heat. Fill a pan with water and bring it to a simmer (never to a boil.) Add seasonings like lemon, black pepper and salt. Fish is done when the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F.
How Long Does It Take to Poach Fish?
Fish filets and fish steaks weighing 6-7 oz will take 6-8 minutes depending on the thickness. A whole trout weighing 10-12 oz will take 8-10 minutes, less for smaller fish. Use enough liquid to half-cover the fish and make sure the pan has a well-fitting lid.
Best For: Light fish because poaching prevents the fish from drying out and enhances the delicate flavors. Good choices are cod, sole, haddock, snapper, halibut, and turbot.
Pro tip: Try poaching in broth, wine, and other flavorful liquids to add flavor to your fish.
Microwaving is a good method to use when you are looking for a quick and easy way to prepare your fish. It is typically healthier because you are not adding oil or breading. It’s a similar process to steaming.
How to Microwave Fish
- SIngle fish portions are the best choice for the microwave
- Pat the fish dry to remove any excess water
- Season the portions with salt, pepper, lemon, or whatever your favorite sauce or seasonings are
- Add a small amount of liquid (water will work) to keep the fish moist
- Wrap in microwave-safe plastic (vented so steam can escape) or place it on a microwave-safe dish covered with parchment paper.
How Long to Microwave Fish?
The length of time it takes to cook fish in the microwave really depends on the power of the microwave and the thickness of the fish. However, as a rule of thumb it typically takes about 3 minutes on high. Pay attention so you don’t overcook your fish (you can always underestimate the cooking time and then cook it a bit longer if needed).
Best For: All types of white fish cook beautifully in the microwave. Cod, halibut, flounder, or sole are ideal for the microwave.
Pro tip: If you’re concerned about the smell, don’t be. Using fresh fish or some that has just been defrosted will help reduce any odors. If there’s an odor, mix one cup of water and one cup of white vinegar and heat in the microwave for 10 minutes after you’ve cooked the fish.
Despite what its elegant name might suggest, this method of baking fish in parchment paper packets is one of the easiest and most foolproof methods to cook fish.
Fish cooked en papillote means to cook fish inside a pouch made of folded parchment paper.
How to Make Fish En Papillote
To make it, you lay the fish filet in the center of the parchment, along with any vegetables and seasonings you like. Simply fold the paper up and around the fish to form the pouch. Place the packets seam side down on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 425 degrees F.
Best For: Excellent choice for delicate types of fish like pollock, tilapia, haddock, and cod.
Pro tip: Know your ingredients. Anything that releases water as it cooks might create a messy pouch. Avoid spinach and other leafy greens inside the packet. They are better prepared on the side.
What Is the Best Way to Cook Fish?
As you can see, there is no single right answer. The best way to cook fish depends on personal preferences, the type of fish you’re using, the size of the fish, and the amount of time you have.
Want to remove the guesswork? Then visit Skull Creek Dockside where our chef will dazzle you with the best seafood creations on Hilton Head Island.