Cooking Fin Fish
Cooked to perfection, fish is at its flavorful best and will be moist, tender and have a delicate flavor. In general, fish is cooked when its meat just begins to flake easily when tested with a fork and it loses its translucent or raw appearance. Like most foods, fish should be thoroughly cooked. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests cooking fish until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees.
One helpful guideline is the 10-minute rule for cooking finfish. Apply it when baking, broiling, grilling, steaming and poaching fillets, steaks or whole fish. (Do not apply the 10 minute rule to microwave cooking or deep frying.)
Practice makes perfect and cooking fish properly is all in the timing. Here’s how to use the 10-minute rule:
- Measure the seafood product at its thickest point. If the fish is stuffed or rolled, measure it after stuffing or rolling.
- At 450 degrees, cook it 10 minutes per inch thickness of the fish, turning the fish halfway through the cooking time. For example, a 1-inch fish steak should be cooked 5 minutes on each side for a total of 10 minutes. Pieces of fish less than 1/2-inch thick do not have to be turned over.
- Add 5 minutes to the total cooking time if you are cooking the fish in foil or if the fish is cooked in a sauce.
- Double the cooking time (20 minutes per inch) for frozen fish that has not been defrosted.
Whole fish, whole stuffed fish, fillets, stuffed fillets, steaks and chunks of fish may be baked. Use pieces of similar size for even cooking. It’s best to bake fish in a preheated, 450º oven following the 10-minute rule; bake uncovered, basting if desired.
TIP: For a quick and delicious dinner, bake fish on a bed of chopped vegetables. Try a mixture of onions, celery and carrots or a combination of mushrooms, onions and peppers.
Steaks, whole fish, split whole fish and fillets lend themselves well to broiling. Place fish, one-inch thick or less, two to four inches from the heat source. Place thicker pieces five to six inches away. Baste frequently with an oil-based marinade. Using the 10-minute rule, cook on one side for half the total cooking time, basting once or twice, then turn the fish over to continue broiling and roasting.
This technique lends itself well to meatier or steak fish such as salmon, halibut, swordfish, tuna and whole fish. Preheat an outdoor gas or electric grill. If using a barbecue grill, start the fire about 30 minutes before cooking. Let it burn until white hot then spread coals out in a single layer. Adjust the grill height to 4 to 6 inches above the heat.
To grill fish, a moderately hot fire is best for cooking seafood. Always start with a well oiled grid to prevent the delicate skin of the fish from sticking. Support more delicate pieces of fish in a hinged, fish-shaped wire basket for easier turning or handling.
Frequently baste steaks and fillets while grilling to prevent them from drying out. Marinating fish an hour before grilling also helps keep it moist.
Use indirect heat for whole fish by banking hot coals on either side of the barbecue or preheat gas or electric grill. Oil fish well and place in an oiled fish basket. Cook, covered, 10 to 12 minutes per inch of thickness, turning halfway through cooking time.
Use a shallow dish to allow maximum exposure to the microwaves. Arrange fillets with the thicker parts pointing outward and the thinner parts, separated by pieces of plastic wrap, overlapping in the center of the dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap and vent by turning back one corner. Allow 3 minutes per pound of boneless fish cooked on high as a guide.
Rotate the dish halfway through the cooking time. Rolled fillets microwave more evenly and are less likely to over-cook than flat fillets, which may have thin edges.
Poach fish in simmering liquid such as fish stock, water with aromatic herbs/vegetables, or a mixture of wine and water. In a large skillet, saute pan or fish poacher, ring the liquid to a boil. Add the fish and return to boiling. Quickly reduce to a simmer—the liquid should barely bubble. Cover and begin timing the fish according to the 10-minute rule. The remaining liquid can be used to make a sauce for fish if desired.
Sautéing or Pan-frying
An excellent method for fillets and pan-dressed fish like trout, tilapia and catfish.
TIP: Dip the fish into seasoned flour, cornmeal or bread crumbs just before sautéing. Heat a small amount of olive oil or butter in a skillet large enough to hold the fish. When the pan is very hot, place the fish into the skillet. Saute for half the total time as determined by the 10-minute rule, turnover and complete cooking.
Whole fish, chunks, steaks and stuffed fillets steam well. To steam fin fish, fill a large sauce pan with one inch of water. Place the fish on a steamer rack and put the rack in the pan. The water should not exceed the height of the rack. Cover tightly and bring the water to a boil. Using the 10-minute rule, steam until thoroughly cooked.
This cooking method is a very fast technique, so it’s important to have all ingredients in uniform size and ready for cooking.
Using a wok or large skillet, coat the bottom and sides with vegetable oil. Add the fish and stir-fry, tossing gently to coat on all sides, until about three quarters cooked, approximately two to four minutes. Remove to a warm platter.
Stir-fry a selection of sliced vegetables (i.e. carrots, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms) in addition to a light sauce if desired. Return the fish to the wok or skillet and cook one to two minutes more. Serve immediately.
Bring a large pot of water with Old Bay seasoning to a rapid boil. Pour shrimp in boiling water and stir gently to distribute. Cook 1 -2 minutes and DO NOT let water come back to a boil. Drain immediately in a colander. Sprinkle with sea salt and more Old Bay if desired. You can also ice down shrimp to stop them from cooking.
Use enough water to cover plus 1 tbs. of salt. Boil 10-12 minutes, 15-18 minutes for Jumbo.
Steaming: Place 1 cup of water plus 1 tbs. of salt in steamer. Soft Shell clams take approximately 5-7 minutes or until open.
When cooked, scallops turn milky white or opaque and firm. Depending on size, scallops take 3 to 4 minutes to cook thoroughly
Shucked shellfish (clams, mussels and oysters without shells), become plump and opaque when cooked thoroughly and the edges of the oysters start to curl. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggests: boiling shucked oysters for 3 minutes, frying them in oil at 375 for 10 minutes, and baking them for 10 minutes at 450.
Clams, mussels and oysters in the shell will open when cooked. The FDA suggests steaming oysters for 4 to 9 minutes or boiling them for 3 to 5 minutes after they open. Shellfish-shrimp, crabs, scallops, clams, mussels, oysters or lobster–becomes tough and dry when overcooked.