It doesn’t matter what the recipe says, or what species of fish you happen to be cooking, whether its whole or cut into fillets, or if your baking, pan-frying, or poaching. When it comes to cooking fish I’ve got a golden rule…..
Whatever you do….don’t overcook it.
I like to eat my salmon pink and It hasn’t killed me. The japanese have been eating raw fish for centuries and it hasn’t done them any harm. As long as your fish is perfectly fresh then you can eat it when it’s a little underdone, it’s so succulent and delicious with the center translucent and just cooked.
It’s definitely better than if you’d overcooked it and your fish is dry, has an unpleasant texture, and lacks flavour. Any time your cooking fish don’t worry if you took if off early, you can always cook it a little more but once it’s overcooked all you can do is serve it to your cat.
Fish is the ultimate fast food. Cooking times are measured in minutes. There’s no long drawn out cooking to soften tough fibers or a need to rest it like meat. Throw a pan on the heat add a knob of butter and heat it till its foaming, fry your fish for a couple of minutes and finish it with some freshly chopped herbs and a squeeze of lemon and you have a supper fit for a king cooked in minutes.
Before you put your fish anywhere near the heat you’ve got to buy and prepare it. I’ve written a post about the beat way to find the freshest fish possible, you can read it here. I’m also not going to go into detail about how to gut, fillet, and scale fish. Get your fish monger to do this donkey work. He can do a far better job in a lot less time than you can do at home.
To cook the perfect piece of fish it will help to know what heat does to its delicate flesh.
Chef Ryan McLaughlin of K Restaurant
Chef Ryan grew up in Michigan. He liked fishing for walleye and got introduced to cooking by making eggs for himself while his parents were at work.
After graduating high school, Ryan moved down to Gainesville, Florida to attend Santa Fe College (and so he could avoid shoveling snow).
He started to cook more in college and found that he had a real love for it. Ryan also started fishing the saltwater while in school and was driving to Cedar Key, Florida a couple times a week to catch redfish, trout and black drum.
He would often keep what he caught on his fishing trips and cook his catch for his friends. His friends loved his cooking and Ryan really enjoyed making people happy with his food.
After graduating from Santa Fe College, Ryan decided to forego going to the University of Florida and opted to attend culinary school instead. He kept fishing throughout culinary school and refined his cooking craft at the same time.
Ryan graduated culinary school at the top of his class and has worked at some of the best restaurants in the country since that time.
He now is the chef at K Restaurant in Orlando, Florida — a multi-award winning restaurant that is completely farm-to-table. He regularly incorporates fresh fish dishes into the menu at K Restaurant, which changes daily based on what the freshest ingredients at their farm suppliers are.
Check out Ryan below ready to cook up a mangrove snapper:
In this podcast episode, we go over the following fish cooking topics:
- Ryan’s top fish to cook
- The biggest fish cooking mistakes
- Determining how to cook fish
Do you like to cook fish you catch? What’s your best recipe?
Let me know in your comments below!
Note: Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE to the Fish Strong podcast on iTunes or Google Play.
The Best Fish to Cook
Ryan breaks down his favorite fish into three different categories: inshore, offshore and underrated table fish. He shows us his favorite fish for each category below:
Best Inshore Fish to Cook
Ryan is an avid inshore fisherman to this day and cooks a lot of what he catches. His top inshore fish to catch and cook are:
- Redfish – this is one of the first saltwater fish Ryan started cooking with and is still one of his favorite to this day.
- Speckled Trout – a favorite table fare wherever it is found, trout are some of the most sought out fish anywhere.
- Mangrove Snapper – this delicate fish requires very little cooking and is delicious in just about anyway prepared.
- Black Drum – a meatier inshore fish, the black drum produces awesome fillets that are great on the grill.
- Flounder – one of the best inshore fish to cook in the oven and enjoy.
Best Offshore Fish to Cook
As the chef at K Restaurant, Ryan uses freshly-caught offshore fish for many of his nightly special dishes. His top offshore fish to catch and cook are:
- Grouper – a favorite table fish throughout the southeast (or anywhere else you find it), grouper is a go-to for Ryan.
- Snapper – the many different kinds of snapper allows you to almost always find some fillets at the fish market.
- Cobia – a meaty fish excellent on the pan or grill. Also the fish Ryan uses in his signature dish – Crudo with cobia.
- Mahi Mahi – this gamefish is not only a blast to catch but also a great fish to throw on the grill.
Most Underrated Fish to Eat
Ryan says that many fish that are considered bad to eat are simply not cleaned or prepared the right way. Some of his favorite fish to cook and eat are labeled as bad tasting fish, when really it’s the way you cook it that has the greatest effect on the taste. His most underrated eating fish are:
- Amberjack – these fish are beasts to catch. They can also be great when cleaned and prepared the correct way.
- Lookdowns – these inshore jack-cousins are fantastic to eat when you take the bloodline out while cleaning them.
- Stingrays – stingrays actually have textures close to scallops but are more fun because you can catch them on a rod.
- Jack Crevalle – another awesome fish to eat if you take out the bloodline while cleaning the fish.
Learn More About The Insider Fishing Club
Biggest Fish Cooking Mistakes
Ryan also identified the biggest mistakes he sees people make when cooking fish. His biggest fish cooking mistakes are:
- Not Utilizing the Entire Fish/Wasting Meat – most people who love to eat fish only take the fillets from the fish and throw the rest of it away. This is wasting some of the best meat — such as the cheeks, throats and collars. Ryan encourages everyone to use as much of the fish meat as possible to not waste any of the fish.
- Salt, Pepper, Butter – many people under-season their fish and give it a bland and fishy taste that’s underwhelming. Ryan says using good amounts of salt, pepper and butter is a simple yet great way to make sure your fish tastes awesome.
- Overwhelming with Seasonings – on the other end of the spectrum, many people overpower their fish with blackening and other seasoning rubs that make it so you don’t even taste the fish. While these types of seasonings can be used to make some tasty dishes, it is best to use them sparingly to make sure you don’t overpower your fish.
- Too Much Cooking Time – possibly the most common fish cooking mistake, many people overcook their fish and dry it out. No one likes dried out fish, so be sure to monitor your fish through the cooking process. Remember, less is more – especially with cooking time for fish.
- Cooking More Fish Than You Can Eat – many people will keep every legal fish that they catch and cook it up, despite the fact that they’re never going to be able to eat all the fish they’ve kept. Fish does not hold it’s quality as leftovers in the refrigerator and therefore only keeping what you can eat while it’s fresh is a great way to make sure your fish is quality through every bite.
Learn More About The Insider Fishing Club
Catching and eating fresh fish is one of the most fun and rewarding parts about fishing. Following the advice Ryan gave us is a great way to improve your kitchen skills and impress others with your fish cooking.
The links below show you some of our favorite recipes for various types of fish.
Check out our 10 favorite recipes for redfish here.
You can also see our top red snapper recipes here.
See the Salt Strong favorite grouper recipes here.
Don’t forget to visit Ryan at K Restaurant next time you’re in Orlando!
What did you think of this episode? Have any fish recipes you want to share?
Let us know in the comments!
To learn more about the Insider Fishing Club, click here now.
P.S. – To see all of the past podcast episodes, click here now.
1. The Best Way To Cook Mahi Mahi [TOP RECIPES]
2. How To Grill Snook To Perfection [VIDEO]
3. How To Clean & Cook Cobia Like A Pro [VIDEO]
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Selecting Your Fish (Purchasing & Storing Fish)
Depending on where you are purchasing your fish, there are some basics to follow to ensure that you are picking the proper cuts. While we will not go into the specifics of the what types of fish to cook, I will go over this in a broader sense (ie cooking a lean or fatty fish). This is also covered a bit here.
Fish (and shellfish) are highly perishable and can deteriorate before you have a chance at cooking it. A few hours at the wrong temperature or a few days in the fridge can turn high-quality fish into garbage. Before you learn how to cook a fish on the stovetop or oven, you need to be able to determine the freshness before you purchase or use. A good rule of thumb is to check freshness before you buy and again before you cook it.
- Smell — Smell is by far the easiest way to determine the freshness of a fish. Fresh fish should have a slight sea smell or no odor at all. Any off-odors or ammonia odors are a sure sign of an aged or improperly handled fish.
- Eyes — The eyes should be clear and full. Sunken eyes mean that the fish is drying out and properly not fresh. Cloudy eyes are a sign of age.
- Gills — The gills should be intact and bright red. Brown gills are a sign of age.
- Texture — Generally, the flesh of fresh fish should be firm. Mushy flesh or flesh that does not spring back when pressed is a sign of poor quality or age.
- Fins & Scales — Fins and scales should be moist and full without excessive drying on the outer edges. Dry fins or scales are a sign of age. Damaged fins or scales may be a sign of mishandling.
- Appearance — Fish cuts should be moist and glistening, without bruises or dark spots. Edges should not be brown or dry.
Types of Fish Cuts To Choose From
When you’re selecting your fish to cook on the stovetop or oven, the type of cut is important as this may impact the kind of cooking method you will apply to the fish. Steak cuts, for example, may be best cooked in the oven over a longer period while a fillet may cook best in a saute pan.
- Whole or Round — As caught; intact.
- Drawn — Viscera (internal organs) are removed; most whole fish are sold in this manner
- Dressed — Viscera, gills, fins and scales are removed
- Pan-dressed — Viscera and gills are removed; fish is scaled; head removed. Smaller fish like trout may still have their heads still attached.
- Butterflied — Pan-dressed fish, boned and opened flat like a book. The two sides remain attached
- Fillet — The side of a fish removed intact, boneless or semi-boneless, with or without skin. A highly popular way to eat fish.
- Steam or darne — Cross-section slice wth a small section of backbone still attached. Usually from large round fish.
- Wheel or center-cut — Used for swordfish and sharks, which are cut into large boneless pieces from which steaks are then cut.
Cooking Fish on a Stovetop
If you are cooking your fish on the stovetop, follow these easy steps and cooking methods. Cooking fish on a stovetop is fast and effective. Learning how to cook fish on a stovetop does not have to be difficult!
Best suited for Pan-dressed, butterflied, fillet, steak, or wheel
- Season and prepare fish (Base being salt, pepper, oil — add your own seasonings from there)
- Heat sautepan at medium-high heat.
- Add oil or butter to pan and allow to reach temperature
- Lay fish into pan from one end to the other presentation side down
- Flip after 2-3 minutes
- Baste presentation side with oil as the other side cooks
- Add fresh herbs and/or sauces
Best suited for Fillet, butterflied, steak, wheel
- Season water into rondeu or high-sided pan (Recommend court bouillon)
- Place fish into simmering water
- Gently removed when finished, serve.
Best suited for Fillet, butterflied
- Apply coating or batter to fish
- Heat oil in a saucepan or use a deep-fryer
- Place fish slowly into the deep-fryer
- Remove when golden brown and thoroughly cooked, serve.
Cooking Fish in an Oven
Learning how to cook fish in an oven is simple, and basically is used when you want a slower, steadier cooking method.
Best suited for: Drawn, Dressed, pan-dressed, butterflied, steak
- Preheat oven to appropriate temperature (325’F – 350’F)
- Leave uncovered for a crispy dry heat product
- Cook fish until done, serve
Best suited for: Drawn, Dressed, pan-dressed, butterflied, steak
- Preheat oven to appropriate temperature (325’F – 350’F)
- Season fish and cover with tinfoil.
- Cook fish until done, serve.
Feb 17, 2017
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How Heat Transforms Fish
The flesh of raw fish reacts to heat in exactly the same way that meat does. The big difference is that fish is a lot more delicate and sensitive to heat.
When cooking anything the aim is to get the texture right. To do this you’ve got to cook food to a certain temperature. With meat that temperature is 60c / 140f. Once it reaches that temperature a protein called collagen collapses and moisture is squeezed from the meat. In fish cookery collagen doesn’t play the same role. Instead it’s a protein called myosin that determines moisture loss in fish and it’s really sensitive to heat.
I could go on but enough of the science before i bore you all to tears (I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to this stuff) All you really need to know is that by the time a piece of fish reaches 50c / 120f fluid loss is already well under way and by the time its at 60c /140f its starting to dry out.
Generally speaking fish will be cooked and still moist at around 55 c / 130f so that’s the best temperature to aim for. By comparison a fillet steak cooked to this temperature would still be really rare and quite bloody.
But how do you know when it’s reached this temperature? When is it cooked just right?
How to know when your fish is cooked
Check it early and check it often, is a good rule for cooks to follow. Fish cooks a lot quicker than you think and it’s a fact that most people cook fish for far too long. Watch a piece of fish as it cooks and notice the subtle changes in the colour of its flesh, its texture, and smell.
- Sight – as fish cooks the flesh turns from translucent to opaque. This is most noticeable with species like salmon or trout. When the flesh turns from a deep pink to a lighter shade it’s ready.
- Touch – This takes a little practice but if you think about a fillet of fish in its raw state, how soft the flesh is with a slight bounce. As heat is applied it loses moisture and the flesh starts to firm up. A perfectly cooked piece of fish will give very slightly when you press it.
- Texture – cooked fish has a flakiness to it. When the fish is raw the flakes are bunched together but when it’s perfectly cooked their easy to prise apart.
- Smell – Raw fish doesn’t smell (unless it’s not fresh) but as you apply heat the appetizing aroma intensifies. The mild flavour of raw fish gets stronger and more complex as the heat gets turned up.
There’s a load of ways you can test a piece of fish to see if it’s cooked. If it’s got a flakey type of flesh you can peer in between them to see if it’s ready. You can try to pull out a bone if it’s got any, and it comes out easily then it’s done. Pierce the fish with a toothpick or skewer and if it goes into the flesh without much resistance then you know it’s cooked, or place the skewer on your bottom lip to see if it’s hot.
After you’ve been cooking fish for a while you won’t need any of them. You’ll develop a sixth sense and will know simply by looking at it that it’s ready and a quick press on its flesh will confirm that it’s good to go.
Remember that fish will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat so even if you think it’s a little under, take it off anyway, odds are it will finish cooking before you sit down to eat it.
Before you attempt any fish recipe though, there’s two things you really need to know.
How To Pan-Fry Fish
Searing, sauteing, or shallow frying. Call it what you will but it’s the cooking method most loved by chefs everywhere because it’s quick, controllable, and delicious. There’s really nothing like a freshly seared piece of fish with a crispy skin and a moist, sweet, melting interior.
Pan-frying fish is good for you too, there’s only a little oil used which keeps the calories down. It’s also dead easy to do once you’ve invested in a good quality non stick pan.
Pan-frying is most suited to thicker fillets with the skin left on though smaller whole fish like sardines, farmed sea bass, or red mullet also work well. Always ask your fish monger to scale your fish if you’re planing on frying it. There’s nothing worse eating a perfectly cooked piece of fish and ending up with a mouth full of scales.
When your pan-frying fish use olive, sunflower, or groundnut oil. Don’t bother with second-rate oil and never use margarine. Butter is great and really adds to the flavour but unfortunately it tends to burn at the high temperature that’s needed to get a crispy skin. You can avoid this by using unsalted butter or better still butter that’s been clarified. For the best results use a combination of oil and clarified butter. This raises the burning point of the butter high enough to cook most fish. If you’re using thin fillets you might get away with butter on its own.
To pan-fry fish put a pan on the heat and let it get quite hot before you add the oil. When the oil is good and hot the fish goes in skin side down. Don’t overcrowd the pan because it lowers the temperature of the fat. Press the fish gently to the pan for about 20 seconds to maximise contact between the skin and the hot surface. Avoid the strong urge you’ll probably have to move the fish about or to shake the pan around. If you’re not using a non stick pan and you fiddle with it at this stage there’s a chance it might stick to the pan and you’ll end up with a right old mess.
Let the fish cook on the skin side till it crunchy, caramelized, and golden before turning it over and lowering the temperature a little so that the heat can penetrate without burning. Thin fillets will just take a couple of minutes each side but will need a hotter pan to get the crispy skin we’re after. While thicker cuts might need to be finished in the oven.
Coating fish in flower is not strictly necessary but it does give a lovely finish and a light crust. The best way to do this is to season some flour quite generously with salt and pepper and just before the fish hits the pan give it a good coating shaking off the excess.
Lastly make sure to serve the fish skin side up if you want it to stay crispy. Very often if you serve it skin side down it will reabsorb moisture and begin to soften. The skin needs contact with air to stay crisp.
How To Deep-Fry Fish
Who doesn’t enjoy a traditional fish and chips for their supper every now and again. It’s a dish that never goes out of fashion. Normally Cod is the fish of choice but if you want to eat a more sustainable species than any flakey white fish will work. Hake, haddock, whiting and pollock are all good alternatives.
There’s a couple of other varieties you can use too. Halibut, anchovies, squid, whitebait, place, sole, and tilapia can all go in the deep-fryer. No matter what fish you’re using it’s going to need a coating to protect its delicate flesh from the extreme heat of the oil.
The coating can be as light as a dusting of flour or something more substantial like breadcrumbs or batter. Make sure the fish it totally covered by the coating and dip it in just before you’re about to cook it, the one exception is breadcrumbs which work better if you give them a couple of hours to set.
The coating creates a barrier between the fish and the oil that stops moisture escaping. So the fish gets slowly and evenly cooked from all sides while the coating becomes brown and crispy . If there was no coating on the fish it would dry out rapidly and over cook in the hot oil.
The best temperature to deep-fry fish is at 180 /190c (350/375 f) You can test the oil to see if it’s hot enough by dropping in a piece of bread. If it starts to sizzle then you’re ready to go. Never start deep-frying fish in oil that’s not hot enough. I can guarantee it will turn out soggy and a bit greasy.
Be careful when sliding your fish into the hot fat. I’ve spent my entire working life in professional kitchens and it’s a fact that the deep fat fryer is the number one cause of accidents.
Only cook a couple of pieces of fish at a time. Overcrowding causes the temperature of the oil to plummet and you run the risk of the fish absorbing a lot of oil and turning out greasy. When it’s cooked all you have to do is drain it well, sprinkle it with some flakey sea salt, cut some lemon wedges, and get the tartar sauce out.
If I’m doing any deep-frying at home I like to use my wok. It conducts heat well and its sloping sides means you don’t need that much oil. If you’re in a hurry deep-frying is the definitely way to go. It’s so quick, especially if you make my favourite, the classic Japanese tempura batter.
To make it, quickly mix some eggs, cornflour, and ice-cold water together. Than just cut the fish up quite small and give it a quick coating in a little flour before dipping it in the batter and frying it in the hot oil. The icy water makes the batter very viscous and it clings to the fish producing a super crispy result. You don’t even have to worry about mixing it that well, tempura batter works best if it’s a little lumpy.
Always make a tempura batter just before you’re ready to cook your fish. You want it to be as fresh as possible so the flour particles haven’t been given enough time to absorb water and they evaporate from the surface quickly producing a super crispy piece of fish. Tempura batter doesn’t need time to rest and it doesn’t like to wait around.
Grilling, Broiling, And Barbecuing Fish
Grilling, broiling, and barbecuing are all excellent ways to cook fish. It’s so easy and quick. Plus you get a nicely browned exterior and a moist succulent center. Unfortunately we don’t really get the weather here in Ireland to do much cooking on the bbq but under a hot grill is one of my favourite ways to cook fish.
It requires only a little attention and if you line your grill pan with some foil you’ll save yourself a bit of washing up. Cooking under a flame like this is best suited to small fillets. They get nice and crisp on the outside but stay moist and melting in the center.
When it comes to a bbq or cooking over coals chunky steaks cut from larger fish like tuna, halibut, monkfish, and swordfish work better. Though you could use some smaller whole fish like bass, mackerel, sardines, or mullet.
The best fish to use are ones that are firm enough to hold together and not fall apart on the grill or bbq as they cook. If you’re going to cook fish on a bbq or chargrill try to turn it just the once. Too much fiddling with it can end in disaster. Theres closed wire racks that you can buy to support the fish as it cooks. They make it so much easier to turn the fish over and move it about. So if you’re planning on doing a lot of fish barbecue getting one would be a worthwhile investment.
It’s a nice coincidence that the types of fish that work well on a grill or bbq can also handle a marinade. You don’t even have to get too complicated here. Simply coat your fish with a glug of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, a little garlic, and some freshly chopped herbs about an hour before you plan to cook it for an added flavour boost.
If you’re grilling or broiling fish remember to pre-heat the grill for a good five minutes before you start cooking. If you’re lucky enough to have the weather for a bbq let the flames die down and wait till the coals are blistering hot and at the peak of their searing power before you throw the fish on.
Brush both the fish and the grill rack with oil to prevent sticking. Grill your fish as close to the heat source as possible so that you get a crispy exterior without overcooking the inside. To do this you’ve got to balance the thickness of the fish with the distance from the heat source. This can prove a little tricky and takes a bit of practice. We’ve all been to barbecues where the food was burnt to a crisp on the outside but raw in the middle, something you’ll what you want to avoid.
Cooking Fish In The Oven – Steaming, Baking And Roasting
When I think about it, it’s not that often you technically bake fish and just because you’re using the oven doesn’t mean your baking. It seems to me the only foods you ever really bake our cakes, pastries, and potatoes
If you cover the fish in any way either with a lid, foil, or greaseproof paper then what’s really happening is steaming also known as cooking en-papillote. it’s a great way to cook fish, convenient for smaller or thinner fillets. It keeps the moisture in so the flesh remains succulent and doesn’t dry out.
If you cook fish uncovered in the oven with the aid of oil then you’re not baking either, you’re roasting. Another excellent method of fish cookery and one restaurant chef use quite a bit because it’s so convenient and controllable. Very often we’ll fry a fillet of fish in a pan to get the skin golden before transferring it to the oven, pan and all to finish it off. The fish gets heat from all directions and cooks through quickly in just a couple of minutes without the need to fiddle around or turn it.
To truly bake fish it’s got to remain uncovered in the oven and allowed to cook without the aid of oil or steam. Although you’d rarely cook fish like this it’s actually not a bad way to do it. Heat gets transferred to the fish slowly by hot air and as moisture evaporates it cools the fish to well below the temperature of the oven.
This can make it harder to overcook but only as long as the fish remains open to the oven air. Cover it up and all bets are off. Another advantage of cooking fish in this way is that it concentrates the fish juices and can trigger aroma producing browning reactions.
To bake fish you don’t really need a recipe. Simply chop up some leeks or fennel finely and put them in a dish, moisten them with a small splash of your favourite white wine. Sit the fish on top, give everything a quick season and bake in a hot oven for 12 / 15 minutes. Quick, effortless, and delicious.
The best temperature for baking fish is about 180/200c (350/400f) If you set the temperature of your oven too low the fish ends up barely cooked with a custard like texture. Unfortunately fish baked at a low temperature although delicious is nearly always ruined by the white fluid that leaks to the surface. This happens because the oven was set too low for the proteins to coagulate inside the fish, so they leak marring the look and presentation.
I always try to practice the K.I.S.S method of fish cookery – keep it simple stupid. As a chef I’ve been guilty of messing around with fish far too much. I’ve stuffed it with mousse, wrapped it in all sorts of things, and served it with every sauce imaginable.
When people go out for dinner they expect a little more than something they could cook at home. If I could get away with serving a simple piece of pan-fried fish with a wedge of lemon, then I would.
I’m a firm believer that the less you do with fish the better it tastes
– Nigel Slater
Over the last couple of years a lot of restaurants have sprang up serving plain, well made, simple, and tasty food. The strength of these restaurants comes from where they source their ingredients, staying seasonal when possible, and using as many local artisan producers as they can. I for one hope it’s a trend that continues and one I’d urge you to follow in your cooking, especially when it comes to fish.
If you’re cooking fish at home always buy the freshest you can find and team it up with 2 or 3 local or seasonal ingredients and maybe a well made sauce or dressing. Fish is one of the most versatile, quick, and easiest of ingredients to use.
Every body should be comfortable cooking fish, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Sure, fish might have a few bones but only if it’s not prepared properly. You might think it smells, but that’s only if it’s not fresh. You could also say it’s expensive, but there’s plenty of cheaper varieties available. Give cod a break and try mackerel, herring, or hake for a change.
Just remember don’t overcook it.