Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Tips for cooking fish

Updated: 07-02-2011

Cooking fish is easier than you think

Photo of whole red snapper and salmon steaks

You want to eat more fish, in keeping with the latest dietary guidelines that recommend increasing the amount and variety of seafood in your diet. But you don't know where to start. Don't worry — cooking fish isn't difficult, as you'll see in this guide.

To begin with, only buy fish that is refrigerated or properly iced. Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like. Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from slime. When buying frozen fish, avoid packages placed above the frost line or top of the freezer case. If the package is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. These could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen — in which case, choose another package.

Poaching allowed

Photo of salmon ready for poaching

Poaching is a healthy and easy way to cook tender fish, such as the salmon shown here. In a shallow pan, place the fish on a bed of aromatic ingredients, such as leeks or fresh herbs, add a few ounces of vegetable broth and some herbs. Cover loosely and gently simmer on the stove top. Cook 4 to 6 minutes covered. Poaching time will vary with the amount of fish being poached and the thickness.

How to tell when it's done

Photo of properly cooked poached cod

Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F. But if you don't have a food thermometer, you can determine whether fish is properly cooked by slipping the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pulling it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily, as in this photograph of poached cod.

Wrap it up

Photo of halibut baked in parchment paper

It's easy and delicious to cook fish fillets in packets of parchment paper, a technique called en papillote. The fish is cooked by the trapped steam. If you don't have parchment paper on hand, use aluminum foil to make the packets. The fish need to bake for only 10 to 15 minutes at 400 F.

Grilled fish sandwich

Photo of grilled salmon on sourdough

Grilling is a great way to prepare fish — it's quick and adds a distinctive flavor. Grilling also lets you cook with little added fat. Marinades, dry rubs and fresh herbs can add variety to grilled fish.

An alternative to frying

Photo of oven fried tilapia

Baking is a healthier alternative to frying. You can bread and bake any fish this way, but tilapia is a good choice because it's thin and cooks quickly in a hot oven, producing a crispy crust. For the breading, use whole-wheat breadcrumbs, cornflakes or panko, as shown here.

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