How To Cook Fish

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A handy guide on how to prepare fish in numerous ways.

pinch tips: How to Freeze Fish, Meat & Poultry




fish of choice

Directions Step-By-Step


For the best possible pan-fried fish, make sure your fillets are well coated with batter and the oil or butter is hot (but not quite scorching).

Grilling is one of the tastiest ways to cook fish. But watch out! Unlike other meats, fish lose much of their moisture when cooked, and on an open grill the juice just drips straight into the coals.

To preserve a fish's moisture, try these simple steps.
•Coat the fish with oil. Oil will seal some of the moisture inside.
•Keep careful watch over the fillets and flip them as soon as the fish is cooked at least ½ way through.
•Watch the fillets closely after flipping and remove the fish from the grill as soon as it is cooked through.

Another option is to wrap the fish in aluminum foil--or simply place the fish on top of the foil--which captures moisture and lets the fish marinate in its own juices while cooking. To prevent sticking, try placing parchment paper between fish and foil.

Prepare the marinade, preheat the oven, and then pop in the fish, being sure to check in on its progress from time to time to prevent overcooking.

Poaching gently cooks fish in broth or water. It's a simple and healthy way to cook fish that works best with firm fish like salmon.
Seafood Storage:

Store fresh seafood in the coldest part of your refrigerator (usually the lowest shelf at the back or in the meat keeper).
Don't suffocate live lobsters, oysters, clams or mussels by sealing them in a plastic bag. They need to breathe, so store them covered with a clean damp cloth. Before cooking, check that lobsters are still moving. Make sure clams and mussels are still alive by tapping open shells. Discard any that do not close.
Marinades or rubs add great flavor. Marinate seafood under refrigeration. Discard used marinade since it contains raw fish juices. Serve cooked seafood on a clean platter.
Keep raw and cooked seafood separate to prevent bacterial cross-contamination. After handling raw seafood, thoroughly wash knives, cutting surfaces, sponges and your hands with hot soapy water.
Seafood Handling Tips:

Thaw frozen seafood in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave oven following the manufacturer's guidelines. Never thaw seafood on the counter at room temperature.
Allow one day to defrost frozen seafood in the refrigerator. If pressed for time, place the seafood in a re-sealable --plastic storage bag and immerse it in a pan of cold water in the refrigerator for one to two hours per pound of seafood. A similar technique is to put the original pack age in a plastic bag, place it in a pan and run cold water on it in the sink until thawed. If defrosting in the microwave follow manufacturer's directions and use immediately.
Always wash hands thoroughly with hot soapy water before and after handling raw seafood or other raw protein foods.
Unless thoroughly iced, don't leave seafood, raw or cooked, out of the refrigerator.
Before cooking, rinse seafood under cold water to remove surface bacteria.
Always marinate fish and shellfish in the refrigerator, never at room temperature. Discard the marinade after use.
Make sure that juices from raw seafood don't drip onto cooked foods; this leads to cross-contamination.
Cooking Fish:

Cooked to perfection, fish is at its flavorful best and will be moist, tender and have a delicate flavor. In general, fish is cooked when its meat just begins to flake easily when tested with a fork and it loses its translucent or raw appearance. Like most foods, fish should be thoroughly cooked. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests cooking fish until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F.

One helpful guideline is the 10-minute rule for cooking finfish. Apply it when baking, broiling, grilling, steaming and poaching fillets, steaks or whole fish. (Do not apply the 10 minute rule to microwave cooking or deep frying.)

Practice makes perfect and cooking fish properly is all in the timing. Here's how to use the 10-minute rule:
Measure the seafood product at its thickest point. If the fish is stuffed or rolled, measure it after stuffing or rolling.
At 450 degrees F, cook it 10 minutes per inch thickness of the fish, turning the fish halfway through the cooking time. For example, a 1-inch fish steak should be cooked 5 minutes on each side for a total of 10 minutes. Pieces of fish less than 1/2-inch thick do not have to be turned over.
Add 5 minutes to the total cooking time if you are cooking the fish in foil or if the fish is cooked in a sauce.
Double the cooking time (20 minutes per inch) for frozen fish that has not been defrosted.

Steaks, whole fish, split whole fish and fillets lend themselves well to broiling. Place fish, one-inch thick or less, two to four inches from the heat source. Place thicker pieces five to six inches away. Baste frequently with an oil-based marinade. Using the 10-minute rule, cook on one side for half the total cooking time, basting once or twice, then turn the fish over to continue broiling and basting.

This technique lends itself well to meatier or steak fish such as salmon, halibut, swordfish, tuna and whole fish. Preheat an outdoor gas or electric grill. If using a barbecue grill, start the fire about 30 minutes before cooking. Let it burn until white hot then spread coals out in a single layer. Adjust the grill height to 4 to 6 inches above the heat.

To grill fish, a moderately hot fire is best for cooking seafood. Always start with a well oiled grid to prevent the delicate skin of the fish from sticking. Support more delicate pieces of fish in a hinged, fish-shaped wire basket for easier turning or handling.

Frequently baste steaks and fillets while grilling to prevent them from drying out. Marinating fish an hour before grilling also helps keep it moist. Apply the 10-minute rule for proper doneness.

Use indirect heat for whole fish by banking hot coals on either side of the barbecue or preheat gas or electric grill. Oil fish well and place in an oiled fish basket. Cook, covered, 10 to 12 minutes per inch of thickness, turning halfway through cooking time.

Use a shallow dish to allow maximum exposure to the microwaves. Arrange fillets with the thicker parts pointing outward and the thinner parts, separated by pieces of plastic wrap, overlapping in the center of the dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap and vent by turning back one corner. Allow 3 minutes per pound of boneless fish cooked on high as a guide. Rotate the dish halfway through the cooking time. Rolled fillets microwave more evenly and are less likely to over-cook than flat fillets, which may have thin edges.

Poach fish in simmering liquid such as fish stock, water with aromatic herbs/vegetables, or a mixture of wine and water. In a large skillet, saute pan or fish poacher, ring the liquid to a boil. Add the fish and return to boiling. Quickly reduce to a simmer-the liquid should barely bubble. Cover and begin timing the fish according to the 10-minute rule. The remaining liquid can be used to make a sauce for fish if desired.
Sautéing or Pan-frying:

An excellent method for fillets and pan-dressed fish like trout, tilapia and catfish.

TIP: Dip the fish into seasoned flour, cornmeal or bread crumbs just before sautéing. Heat a small amount of olive oil or butter in a skillet large enough to hold the fish. When the pan is very hot, place the fish into the skillet. Saute for half the total time as determined by the 10-minute rule, turn over and complete cooking.

Whole fish, chunks, steaks and stuffed fillets steam well. To steam finfish, fill a large sauce pan with one inch of water. Place the fish on a steamer rack and put the rack in the pan. The water should not exceed the height of the rack. Cover tightly and bring the water to a boil. Using the 10-minute rule, steam until thoroughly cooked.

This cooking method is a very fast technique, so it's important to have all ingredients in uniform size and ready for cooking.

Using a wok or large skillet, coat the bottom and sides with vegetable oil. Add the fish and stir-fry, tossing gently to coat on all sides, until about three quarters cooked, approximately two to four minutes. Remove to a warm platter.

Stir-fry a selection of sliced vegetables (i.e. carrots, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms) in addition to a light sauce if desired. Return the fish to the wok or skillet and cook one to two minutes more. Serve immediately.

About this Recipe

Course/Dish: Fish