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Techniques for Cooking Fish

You have hit up your local fishmonger for the catch of the day, and you’re ready to cook. But how to cook it? Is your fresh catch better sautéed, or baked, poached or grilled, or even broiled? Choosing a cooking technique that brings out the best in fresh fish can make all the difference in your recipe, in both taste and time.

Bake
Baking fish requires the least amount of active cooking time. Simply preheat the oven to 450, place fish on a baking sheet, and season it liberally. A drizzle of olive oil before seasoning adds extra flavor. Baking fish is one of the healthier ways to enjoy fish, but that doesn’t mean it has to be bland. Experiment with different flavor profiles when seasoning baked fish. Whether it’s French-inspired with herbs de Provence or Latin-inspired with chipotle or other chile powders, changing up baked fish with seasonings will keep this weeknight supper staple from getting dull. This method works for any fish and any cut, but cooking time will vary depending on the thickness.

Sauté
Cooking your fish on the stove top is only a 5-7 minute time commitment, and it yields a tender, flaky fish with a crispy coating. Season fish on both sides of filet. In a sauté pan, put 2-3 tbsp of olive oil (not extra virgin) or grape seed oil (for its high smoke point) in a sauté pan. Place presentation side down first, and cook 4-5 minutes per side. Seafood that is best sautéed includes thin fillets, shrimp, or scallops.

Broil
Broiling is best for thicker fishes, like salmon, halibut, or sea bass, to avoid drying the fish out. Place fish on a baking pan. Baste the fish before broiling with butter, olive oil, or add real depth of flavor by creating a basting sauce. Basting sauces can be anything from a barbecue-like sauce to something lighter, like a lemon pepper sauce. Broil the fish 4-6 inches from the heat source, for 8 minutes per inch of thickness.

Grill
The flavor of grilled fish is hard to beat, but grilling definitely requires a thicker fish like Swordfish steaks or a fish grill basket for thinner filets. Be sure to liberally oil the grate before laying down the fish. A direct heat method will yield a more charcoal-y flavor. Place the fish over the hotter part of the grill, and cook 4-6 minutes per side. For a slower, smokier result, cook over indirect heat. Lay fish on the cooler edges of the grill, for about 15 minutes with the lid closed. You can even combine methods for the best of both, by searing the presentation side down on direct heat, and then moving it to the cooler part of the grill, closing the lid and letting it slow cook in the smoke.

Oven Fried
When you want to indulge without completely falling off the health wagon, oven frying fish is a delicious compromise. Heat the oven to 450. Pour a small baking sheet with ¼ cup olive oil or grape seed oil. Place the pan in the oven to heat the oil. Next, fill one shallow baking pan with egg or buttermilk, and a second one with your preferred crust ingredient: bread crumbs, Japanese panko, corn flakes, or chickpea crumbs like those from a recent Lettuce recipe. Liberally season both sides of the fish, then start dredging. Dip the seasoned fish in the liquid, allowing any excess to drip off; then into the crust. Carefully pull the oiled pan from the oven and place crusted fish on the pan. Bake for 4-5 minutes on one side, flip the fish, and bake for an additional 4-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.

Poach
Poaching is one of the most underused but delicious ways to cook fish. However, everything rides on the poaching liquid you choose. Fish can be poached in fish stock, milk, or wine. Start with aromatics–mince some garlic, shallot or onion and sauté until your mouth starts to water or about 2-3 minutes. Consider adding fresh herbs or even tomatoes, mushrooms, or olives. Add just enough stock or wine to cover the fish. Cook until fish is opaque, about 10 minutes. For an extra special dish, remove the fish and turn up the heat. Bring the poaching liquid to a high simmer and reduce the liquid until it becomes thicker and more sauce-like. Drizzle sauce over fish and serve.

No matter the cooking method, fish is cooked through when it is opaque or has an internal temperature of 140-145 degrees. Cook fresh fish the day you buy it or freeze it within two days of purchase.

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