Guide To Cooking Fresh Fish
Fish is an excellent food that if cooked the right way, soon becomes a favorite menu item.
Tips For Buying
- Buy when in season.
- Smell should be fresh or have no odor (not fishy), look for firm elastic flesh, bright eyes and gills, and sheen on scales.
- Fillets and steaks should have a fresh cut appearance with no slime or dark edges.
Approximate Number of Servings per Pound
- Whole or dressed: 1 serving
- Pan dressed (with head, tail and fins removed): 2 servings
- Steaks: 2 or 3 servings
- Fillets: 3 servings
How To Prepare For Cooking
How to Scale: Hold the tail firmly and with a dull knife or scaler held at a 45° angle, loosen scales by pushing the knife against the skin from tail to head. It is best to do this under running water so that scales won’t scatter.
How to Clean: Use a thin sharp knife or kitchen shears. Slit skin from vent to gills. Remove viscera and wash in running water to clean thoroughly. Remove head by cutting across base of gills. Cut off tail. Remove fins by cutting the flesh along both sides of the fins. Pull fin quickly towards head to remove root bones. Salt lightly and place in refrigerator until ready to use.
How to Fillet: Cut through flesh along the center of the back from the tail to head, then cut across just below head. Turn knife flat and starting at the head, cut flesh to the tail, easing the knife over the rib bones. Remove the fillet. Turn fish over and do other side.
How to Skin: Place the fish, skin-side down, on the cutting board. Hold the tail end firmly with one hand and cut skin from the flesh with quick short strokes. A fresh fish is skinned easily.
How to Bone: Continue beyond the slit made when cleaning the fish from vent to tail. Cut across from the slit to the back. Hold the tail and insert the sharp edge of knife flatly between tail and back bone. Press the knife towards the head, butting the flesh from the ribs and backbone. Turn and cut bone from other side. Life out bones, removing any flesh adhering to them.
How To Cook
Cook fish quickly at high temperature–except where milk or cream are used in the baking sauce. The flesh of fish contains little connective tissue and therefore does not require a long cooking period.
Tips To Remember:
- Do not overcook fish–otherwise it becomes dry and tough.
- Fish is cooked when the flesh becomes opaque, flakes readily and can be easily pierced with a fork.
- Serve immediately after cooking while still hot, tender or juicy.
Cooking time is based on thickness of fish. Measure thickness at the thickest part of fish before cooking. Recommended time for baking, broiling, panfrying, boiling and steaming is:
- 10 minutes per inch thickness for fresh fish.
- Add an extra 5 minutes per inch thickness if fish is to be baked in a cream sauce.
How to Bake: For whole fish, steaks or fillets
- Season fish with salt and pepper. Brush with melted butter or top with a sauce. Fillets may be dipped in milk and rolled in bread crumbs. Place in a greased baking pan. Bake in a very hot oven (450°F to 500°F) or 350°F if a cream sauce is used. Allow 10 minutes cooking time per inch thickness. Add an extra 5 minutes per inch thickness if fish is to cook in a sauce.
How to Broil: For steaks, fillets or small whole fish
- Season fish with salt and pepper. Brush with melted fat or French Dressing. Place on broiler pan in a preheated oven so that fish is 2″ to 4″ from heating unit. If skin is left on fish, place skin-side down. Broil until fish is browned, then turn. Brush with melted fat and brown. Allow 10 minutes per inch thickness for fresh fish. Thin cuts of fish may be broiled without turning.
How to Panfry: For fish steaks, fillets and small whole fish
- Season fish with salt and pepper. Dip fish in milk or beaten egg, then roll in flour or dry bread crumbs. Place in hot frying pan that contains about 1/4″ melted fat or oil. Do not use butter for frying as it smokes at high temperature. Fry until golden brown, turn and brown other side. Allow 10 minutes per inch thickness. Drain and serve piping hot.
How to Deep Fry: For fillets, smelts, fish cakes and some shellfish
- Cut fillets into uniform size pieces about 1/2″ thick. Season fish with salt and pepper. Dip in batter or in milk or beaten egg and then in flour or fine dry bread crumbs. Place one layer of fish in frying basket and fry in hot deep fat at 375°F until golden brown–about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and serve piping hot.
How to Boil: For whole fish, fillets or steak
- Fish that is to be used in salads, casseroles, fish cakes or creamed dishes may be cooked in this way. Season fish with salt and place on a piece of greased aluminum foil, cooking parchment paper or cheesecloth. Add about 1 tablespoon each of chopped onion and celery for flavor. Wrap fish and secure to make package watertight. Place in rapidly boiling water and cover. When water returns to the boil, time the cooking period. Boil 10 minutes per inch thickness.
How to Steam: For whole fish, fillets or steaks
- Season fish with salt and pepper. For easier handling, tie fish in cheesecloth. Place fish in upper part of steamer or in a sieve or colander and place over boiling water. Don’t let water touch the fish. Cover and cook until tender. Allow 10 minutes cooking time per inch thickness.
How to Oven Steam: For whole fish, fillets or steaks
- Season fish with salt and pepper. Wrap tightly in greased aluminum foil. Pinch folds and ends to seal tightly. Place on a shallow pan or cookie sheet and bake in a hot oven (450°F). Allow 15 minutes per inch thickness.
How to Poach in Milk: Especially good for smoked fish fillets
- Place fish in enough milk to just cover. Cover pan and cook over medium heat until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or bake in a moderate oven (350°F). Allow 10 minutes per inch thickness. Dot with butter and sprinkle with pepper. Serve with milk.
- To cook fresh fish on a dual contact grill (like the George Foreman Grill), 2 to 3 minutes is recommended per 1/2″ thickness (see George Foreman Grill: Kitchen Cheat Sheet).
- Try wrapping fish with strips of bacon to add flavor and keep meat moist.
- For a flavor treat, try serving fish with Garlic Dill Butter or cooking with Cajun Kicker Seasoning.
Note: The cooking times in this article are based on cooking fish 10 minutes per 1″ thickness of fish (measured at the thickest part). This is the total cooking time, not per side. The 10 minute guideline can fluctuate a bit (depending on source of heat, type of pan, how fresh the fish is, etc.). Start watching the fish at about 8 minutes, if it’s done before the 10 minutes are up, remove the fish from heat source since you don’t want to overcook it (or leave a minute or two longer if it’s undercooked).
- If the fish doesn’t measure 1″ at its thickest part (up or down in size), re-calculate time based on the 1″/10 minute rule of thumb.
Source: Much of the information is from “A Guide To Good Cooking – Five Roses Flour” (1960)