It only takes a few overdone fillets to drive you away from cooking fish. It can seem so hard.
This widespread misconception is a shame, because fish is actually one of the easiest dishes around. So if you love fish, but avoid cooking it because you’re afraid you’ll screw it up, breathe easy. Here are 8 tried-and-true tips for perfect fish, every time.
1. REMEMBER: THERE ARE PLENTY OF FISH IN THE SEA, AND EACH IS UNIQUE
There’s a lot of variation between and within fish species, and factors like type, freshness, size and cut all determine the best preparation. Buying your fish from a knowledgeable fishmonger helps; always ask for cooking tips for your particular purchase, and read on for what to do with different types of fish.
2. LET SOMEONE ELSE DO THE HARD PARTS (BECAUSE YOU’VE GOT BETTER FISH TO FRY)
Another advantage of buying from a fishmonger is that they’ll take care of the tough bits, like scaling, de-boning and filleting. Even if you buy at a big grocery store, it’s still perfectly acceptable to ask fish counter staff to gut, scale, and fillet your purchase. And if frozen fish is your bag? That’s cool, too. Since pre-packaged fillets are usually flash-frozen shortly after being caught, they often taste better than a catch that’s travelled days to get to your local market.
3. BELIEVE THAT A RAW DEAL CAN BE A GOOD MEAL
Fish is not chicken, and as long as you’re getting the freshest catch available (again, this is where a reputable fishmonger is worth their weight in caviar), a little undercooking it is fine — in fact, it’s often tastier.
Discover the joys of lightly cooked tuna with this Seared Tuna With Wasabi Mayo from Roti & Rice.
Skip cooking altogether and try curing your fish instead, with Shrimp And Avocado Ceviche from All Day I Dream About Food.
For a sashimi meal like Just One Cookbook’s Salmon Ikura Don, a rice bowl topped with melt-in-your-mouth slices of raw salmon, be sure to ask your fishmonger for sashimi-grade fish.
4. KNOW WHEN YOUR FISH IS COOKED
Compared to chicken or beef, fish cooks quickly — that’s why it’s so often overdone, so always check it a bit before your recipe’s minimum cook time. Fish is fully cooked when the flesh is opaque and flakes easily (just insert a fork and twist — if there’s any resistance, it needs more time). If you know nothing but this, you’ll be all right.
5. DON’T LET THE RECIPE PUT YOU OUT TO SEA
If there’s one constant among fish, it’s variability. Follow the guidelines here and learn how to assess your meal yourself; never let a recipe’s stated cook time trump visual or textural cues.
This Lemon Artichoke Baked Salmon from The Healthy Maven smartly offers visual cues (for example, “until inside is no longer pink”) for determining whether or not your fish is ready for serving.
6. COOK AN INCH AT A TIME
Whether you’re baking, grilling, poaching or steaming your fish, a good general rule is to cook fish 8-10 minutes per inch, measured at its thickest point. Add extra time if you’re cooking it in sauce or in a foil or parchment packet.
7. GET IT HIGH AND DRY BEFORE YOU FRY
A hot pan and a thoroughly dried fillet are essential if you want a crispy-skinned fried fish. Use a non-stick pan to prevent the fish from sticking, or a cast-iron pan with extra oil for ultra crisp. Add a neutral oil like grapeseed or canola to the pre-heated pan, place your fish skin side down and press it to ensure the entire surface touches the pan (this will prevent curling). Flip it once — and only once — about halfway through cooking.
Get your fried fish on with this Pan Fried Pickerel recipe.
8. KNOW YOUR SMALL FRY FROM YOUR BIG FRY FROM YOUR BAKE-DON’T-FRY
Not to beat you over the head with a dead fish, but it bears repeating: different methods work for different fish. While lightly flavoured, lean white fish like tilapia, cod, bass, snapper, and halibut benefit from added oil, butter or cream sauce, oily fish like salmon, lake trout, mackerel or tuna taste great plain. If you do want to adorn them, lighter lemon, soy sauce, herb or vegetable-based sauces are your best bets.
Hefty steaks like salmon, swordfish and tuna do well on the grill, as do medium and large whole fish. Thin white fish filets are perfect for pan-frying, and just about any fish can be baked. Poaching and steaming are often overlooked, but super-healthy cooking methods that work for lightly flavoured, less fishy-tasting fish. Best of all, they make it near impossible to produce an overly dry fish. Similarly, baking in foil packets or parchment (en papillote, if you’re feeling fancy) keeps steam — and therefore moisture — in, and works for all types of fish.
Try your hand at poaching with this Poached Halibut with Arugula Pesto recipe from Nutrition Styles.
Steam it up with Steamed Rainbow Trout from Roti & Rice.
Bake en papillote with Nutrition Styles’ Parchment Baked Halibut.
Make a saucy white fish with From Brazil to You’s Tilapia with Passion Fruit Sauce and Toasted Sesame Seeds and Coconut Rice.
Hopefully now you’re hooked on fish. Good luck!