Fish is an extremely versatile protein that can be prepared in numerous ways. This versatility allows for creativity and variability in the kitchen. Experimenting with different cooking styles and methods can give the same type of fish an entirely different flavor profile and texture.
In this article, we will look at various ways of how to cook fish and the benefits of each cooking method. This will allow you to get creative in the kitchen and find the cooking method that meets your family's preferences and needs.
General Tips When Cooking Fish
While there are several ways to prepare seafood, there are a few general guidelines that you should follow regardless of the cooking method. To ensure that your fish is cooked all the way through, the FDA recommends that it is cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F. You can check the internal temperature of the fish throughout the cooking process by using a meat thermometer. Keep in mind that the fish will continue to cook when you remove it from the heat source using it’s retained heat so it’s typically best to remove it from the heat source before when the temperature hits 135-140°F.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer on hand, you can tell that a fish is cooked when the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. For shellfish in the shell like mussels, clams and oysters you should cook until the shells open.
We recommend the tips above as opposed to relying on cooking times and temperatures since every appliance heats a little bit differently. However, we have listed some estimates for cooking times and temperatures in this article.
Another tip to consider is to leave the skin on during cooking. The skin can add additional flavor and helps hold the fish together during the cooking process.
Regardless of if you leave the skin on or not, make sure to completely dry your fish before cooking for best results. A quick and easy way to do this is to pat the fish dry with a paper towel before cooking. This will also help provide a better texture.
How to Thaw Frozen Fish
Fish will freeze very well. Its original flavor and nutrients are preserved and it does not spoil easily. If your fish is frozen it is best to thaw it prior to cooking. This will help it cook more evenly. The best method of thawing fish and other seafood is to move it from your freezer to your refrigerator approximately 24 hours before cooking to allow it to thaw overnight.
If you are in a pinch or forgot to thaw your fish overnight, placing the fish in a resealable plastic bag and running cold water over it will cause it to thaw almost instantaneously. Do not use hot water, as this may cause the fish to begin to cook.
We do not recommend using a microwave to thaw your fish. It can result in your fish beginning to warm, which will negatively affect the cooking process and ultimately the taste of your fish.
We also do not recommend thawing fish at room temperature. It’s important to thaw at a temperature below 40°F to prevent bacteria growth.
How to Bake Fish
Baking fish is one of the tried-and-true methods for cooking fish. It is a relatively simple process and doesn’t require any additional kitchen appliances aside from a traditional oven.
One of our favorite ways to bake fish is to wrap it in a packet of foil or parchment paper with your favorite sauces. It’s especially good to include a sauce when baking white fish, as it helps keep the fish from drying out.
If you are baking a whole fish, you do not need to wrap the fish in foil or parchment as it will retain its moisture. Instead, stuff the fish with lemon, herbs, and butter. These added ingredients will be absorbed during the baking process and will add lots of flavor to the finished dish.
How Long Should I Bake Fish?
As a rule of thumb, you will want to bake a steak or fillet of fish at 450°F for 4 to 6 minutes per half-inch of thickness. A pan-dressed fish, or whole fish, will need to cook at 350°F for 6 to 9 minutes per 8 ounces of fish.
The above guidelines will produce perfectly flaky fish. Be careful to not bake too much longer than this as fish can dry out quickly.
What are the Benefits of Baking Fish?
Baking is great as it preserves some of the fish’s nutrients like vitamin D and Omega 3. It’s also a relatively healthy style of cooking as you don’t need to add a lot of oil or butter to get good results.
Another major benefit of baking fish is it's extremely easy. You can pretty much stick your fish in the oven, set a timer, and carry on with other activities until it's ready. The only downside is that baking is one of the slower methods of cooking fish.
How to Broil Fish
If you do not want to wait for your fish to slowly bake in the oven, you can always try broiling. This is a great method to achieve beautiful crisp skin without too much effort on your end.
Since you are exposing the fish to extreme heat you should follow these tips to ensure the best results:
Always oil both sides of the 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.
Don’t worry about achieving a golden-brown exterior, you may overcook the fish trying to achieve it.
How Long Should I Broil Fish?
You’ll want to leave your fish in the broiler for about two minutes per side per ½ inch of thickness. Add two inches from the heat source for every ½ inch of thickness as well. If your fish exceeds two pounds it's best to use a different cooking method.
What are the Benefits of Broiling Fish?
Similar to baking fish, broiling is a relatively healthy way to prepare your fish since it does not involve a lot of additional fat or oils. As a bonus, it’s a much quicker cooking method than baking.
The downside is that not every fish is great for broiling. Only fish with a higher fat content can be exposed to high heat without drying out. Therefore, fish such as salmon, halibut, mahi mahi, and trout work best in the broiler.
How to Grill Fish
Grilling fish is a summertime favorite. Fish on the grill offers a healthy alternative to burgers and hot dogs and often tastes better too!
Grilling with fillets or other delicate cuts of fish can be difficult as it tends to fall through the grates during the cooking process. The best way to avoid this is by using a grilling basket, which will still give you the same great grilled flavor while preventing your fish from falling to the bottom of the grill. If you don’t want to invest in a grilling basket, wrapping fish in aluminum foil will also do the trick.
Another great way to prevent your fish from falling between the grill grates while adding flavor is by using cedar planks. This will give the fish a smoky flavor while providing a nice base for the fish to lay on while grilling. Make sure to soak your cedar planks in water for about an hour before grilling for the best results.
If you are grilling whole fish, you can simply place the fish directly 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.
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°F to 450°F and always grill with the lid down.
Make sure you are only touching the fish when you want to flip it halfway through the cooking time. Continuously flipping it or poking it will cause the juices to leak out. Let the fish rest for 3 to 5 minutes after grilling so the fish can reabsorb the juices.
What are the Benefits of Grilling Fish?
The biggest benefits of grilling fish are 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.
The downside of grilling with fish is that it’s easy to overcook and fish can easily fall through the grates of your grill or even stick to it. It's best to grill with a whole fish rubbed in oil to avoid these issues. If you are choosing to grill with fillets or steaks, you should wrap them in foil to avoid having them end up in the bottom of your 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 your fish through the entire cooking process.
You have the option to bread your fish prior to cooking or simply cook it as is. Pan frying involves placing the fish in a hot pan that is coated in a type of cooking oil or butter.
The best way to ensure that you get an 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 ¼ 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.
If your fish has the skin on, it is best to cook it skin side down first and flip it after it has cooked about halfway through. It’s best to use pan frying for fish pieces that are less than 1½ inches thick.
This is a popular method for cooking shellfish like mussels and clams as well.
How Long Should I Pan Fry Fish?
The length of time it takes to pan fry a 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, on average, 3 minutes per side for your fish to cook thoroughly.
What are the Benefits of Pan Frying Fish?
Pan frying fish is a method best used when you are craving a healthier alternative to deep fried fish. Fish soaks up the cooking oil that you use, so make sure to use a healthier oil to fry your fish.
If you are not wanting to bread your fish, pan frying is a great way to achieve a golden-brown color on the outside of your fish. It’s not quite as healthy as broiling, but you can keep an eye on the fish as it cooks to make sure that it does not burn or overcook.
How to Deep Fry Fish
Fish fries 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 with your favorite seasonings and then letting it sit in a tub of oil to cook.
How Long Should I Deep Fry Fish?
Times vary based on the size of your fish, but typically you will get a nice crunchy outercoat if you fry your fish for 2 to 4 minutes at 375°F. It’s important to check that the internal temperature has reached at least 175°F.
What are the Benefits of Deep Frying Fish?
The biggest benefit of deep frying fish is the taste. Pretty much any fish is going to taste great coated, breaded and fried to perfection. As a result, you can use almost any type of fish with this cooking method and still have a great-tasting meal.
The downside of deep frying fish is that it is less healthy due to the amount of oil the fish absorbs during the cooking process. Therefore, while deep fried fish tastes great, you will want to eat it in moderation.
How to Air Fry Fish
Air frying is a very versatile way to cook fish. The sky's the limit in terms of flavor and preparation style when using an air fryer. You can put light seasoning on a fillet and get a nice flaky crust or bread the fish and have a healthier version of fried fish.
How Long Should I Air Fry Fish?
The time it takes to air fry fish varies by the type of air fryer you have and the style of preparation. Usually your air fryer will come with a recommended cooking time and temperature that is specific for fish.
If you are using your air fryer to “bake” your fish, you should cook your fish for approximately 8 to 12 minutes at 360°F flipping halfway through. As a quick note, make sure to not overcook your fish in the air fryer as it tends to dry out very quickly.
If you are using your air fryer to “fry” your fish, you should cook your breaded fish for about 5 minutes on each side at 400°F for the best results.
What are the Benefits of Air Frying Fish?
Air frying fish has a whole host of health and time benefits. You can achieve “baked” or “fried” fish with a minimal amount of oil. While cooking times to achieve a “baked” flavor are much quicker than using an oven, the added time it takes to achieve a “fried” flavor is well worth the nutritional benefit you get from using the air fryer.
The downside of using an air fryer is that it can be hard to pin down the correct cooking time for your air fryer as every model of air fryer cooks fish a bit differently. Additionally, since air fryers are relatively small you are really limited to only cooking two to three fillets at a time.
How to Sous Vide Fish
The process of sous vide involves vacuum sealing your fish in a plastic bag and heating it in 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.
How Long to Sous Vide Fish?
Cooking times vary significantly with the sous vide cooking method and really depends on how you like your fish cooked. You will cook your fish between 137°F and 144°F depending on the consistency you are looking for. Never sous vide fish longer than 4 hours as the fish will begin to degrade.
If you are 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.
What are the Benefits of Sous Vide?
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 high heat. Additionally, since you set the exact temperature of the water you really cannot overcook your fish, providing you with consistently delicious meals without much effort.
The only real downside of using sous vide is that it is the slowest cooking method that we have listed. Other than that, it’s a healthy cooking method that provides consistent results and tastes great too. As they say, good things come to those who wait!
What is the Best Way to Cook Fish?
There is no one right answer. The best way to cook fish depends on personal preference, the type of fish you are using, and the amount of time you have. If you’re looking for a healthy meal, avoid deep frying fish. If you are tight on time, sous vide is probably a cooking method for another time. We recommend trying several different cooking methods with a variety of different fish to see what cooking methods work best for you and your family.