When cooking seafood, it’s important to take into account which types of fish best suit specific cooking methods. As with different cuts of meats, certain types of fish will respond in different ways to specific cooking styles, with your chosen method having a huge impact on how your fish tastes and the texture it holds.
Fish are generally divided into two categories: flat, lean fish and round, fatty fish. Fatty, round fish hold up well when grilled or fried, while flat, lean fish benefit from steaming or poaching. Some fish, including Tilapia, can actually be cooked in any style, while some have tighter limitations. Knowing which fish best suits which type of cooking method will ensure dinner is always perfect, each and every time.
Best Fish for Steaming
Steaming is a simple and quick way to cook fish. Place your fish in a steamer basket over a pot holding about an inch of boiling water. The hot vapor from the water evenly and quickly cooks the fish, producing a fillet that is moist and tender throughout.
Seafood types that are lean and flat hold up well when steamed. Fish like Tilapia, cod and red snapper best suit this style, which is also one of the healthier methods, as little if any fat is required in the cooking process.
Steaming Tip: Don’t open the lid of the pan to check on the fish until the suggested cooking time has expired. Doing so will allow steam to quickly escape the pan, which could impact the texture of your fillet.
Best Best for Frying
Frying generally requires the addition of fats like oil or butter to the pan to ensure the fish doesn’t stick while cooking. As such, round, fatty fish are generally not the best options for this method as they are already fairly oily. Leaner white fish like Tilapia, striped bass and perch are therefore a much better option. Plus, mild fish like Tilapia are better able to absorb the flavors it’s cooked with, resulting in a delicious and perfectly cooked fillet.
One important thing to note when frying fish is to never add your fillets to a cold pan, so be sure to first heat the oil thoroughly. Once the fish is in the pan, slide a spatula underneath to prevent it sticking, and when the time comes to flip (and you only want to flip once!), use a wide spatula to ensure the fillet doesn’t break apart in the process. Cooking times will vary, but typically, your fillet will require three to four minutes each side, with the general rule being to cook fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
Frying Tip: When frying a fish with uneven thickness throughout the body, divide and cook parts of equal thickness with other similar-sized pieces. This enables each part of the fish to be cooked for the perfect length of time, minimizing the risk of undercooking larger parts or overcooking slimmer parts.
Best Fish for Poaching
Like steaming, poaching is a moist-heat method of cooking that complements leaner fish cuts, like Tilapia, bass and swordfish. It is also one of the easiest ways to cook fish, requiring only a pot of water or stock to do the job. To poach your fish, bring a pot of water or stock to a simmer and then add the fish to the pot for about 4-5 minutes or until the fish becomes translucent.
Poaching Tip: Don’t bring water to a boil, as this can make fish taste rubbery. Consider using an instant read thermometer to get the perfect water temperature, which should be about 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
No matter what type of fish you’re cooking, it’s best to follow an exact recipe as cooking times can vary fish to fish. Whether you choose round and fatty or thin and lean, you can’t go wrong with fish for dinner. All you need to do is choose a sauce and some side dishes!
Learn more about how to precisely cook fish in The Tastiest (and Fastest!) Ways to Cook Fish.
Photo credits: Ileish Anna / Shutterstock, ksenee / Shutterstock, Regal Springs, Cook with Campbells