How To Cook Fish: Avoiding Common Mistakes

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Cooking seafood in kitchen
  • A few simple techniques can ensure your fish turns out perfectly
  • Cook fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness at a medium heat
  • Be careful not to over-season or over-marinate your fish
  • When grilling, don’t let the fish stick to the barbecue
  • Smaller fillets are easier to BBQ and cook than larger ones

Fish is one of the most versatile and efficient meals to prepare. When prepared well, fish is one of the most rewarding and delicious proteins. But cooking fish can be confusing when you first start out. If you want to be a better cook, or if you’re in need of a few quick tips, we have you covered.

Problem #1: Undercooked or Overcooked Fish

Cooking fish on frying pan

Because fish has very little connective tissue and fat, it is quite delicate when cooked. The benefit is that fish cooks quickly, but the drawback is that it’s easy to overcook.

To determine how long to cook fish, use the rough rule of about 10 minutes per inch of thickness at medium heat. Always check the fish at the minimum cooking time to avoid overcooked fish. To see if it’s done, poke the tines of a fork into the thickest part of the fish at a 45-degree angle and pull out a bit of the fish. If it is properly cooked it should be opaque and slightly flaky. If your fish is translucent in color and not flaky yet, continue cooking it until it flakes. If you are still unsure, use a meat thermometer to check if the inside temperature has reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Also, remember that fish with skin should always be cooked skin side down first, and only be flipped one time. This will help make sure it doesn’t overcook or fall apart. Fish will continue to cook once you have removed it from the heat source, so it’s better to err on the side of just underdone when you remove it from the pan.

Problem #2: Over-Seasoned Fish

With its delicate flavor, fish can easily be overwhelmed by seasonings, spices or sauces that are too robust. Simplicity is often ideal: a touch of butter, olive oil, lemon and a dash of herbs may be all you need for your seafood to shine.

As well, when you’re marinating fish, don’t let it sit too long. A maximum of 30 minutes is usually recommended, otherwise, it can start to get mushy. Use a light touch when it comes to your fish recipes and let the natural flavor shine through.

Problem #3: Fish Sticks to the Grill

If you like to grill fish, you’re aware of this common problem: the fish sticks to the grill and falls apart. There are a few ways to avoid this problem;

  • Smaller fillets are easier to grill than larger ones, which fall apart easily
  • Apply a light coat of olive oil to the outside before you place it on the grill
  • Be sure to lift and move the fish slightly from time to time so that it does not have time to adhere to the grill
  • When the edges are flaky and opaque, flip the fish to lightly grill the other side
  • Do not flip your fish more than once; the more you flip it, the more likely it is to fall apart
  • Remove the fish when it is still slightly underdone, put it on a plate and tent it under aluminum foil—it will continue to cook as it sits

There are also solutions that eliminate the risk of fish sticking to the grill entirely, like a fish grill basket, or even simply cooking fish in tin foil. If you follow these simple rules when grilling, you’ll end up with perfect fillets every time.

Now that you know these cooking basics, make sure you purchase the best quality fish. Read our tips on how to select fish at the supermarket or check out these single-serving recipes for easy, healthy Tilapia dinners.

Photo credits: lenetstan / Shutterstock Inc., Piotr Piatrousk/ Shutterstock Inc., Yuliia Kononenko / Shutterstock Inc., Christopher PB / Shutterstock Inc.