Fish is good for you, it's nice to eat, enjoyable, but it is hard to cook for two main reasons:
► Firstly, the texture, oil content and structure of the fish vary so much.
► Secondly, the flavors of fish are so delicate, subtle and fragile, that it is so easy to extinguish them.
► There are many different varieties of fish some of which are unique to particular areas or localities.
There are many different ways of cooking fish. Matching the attributes of the local fish to the best cooking method is the ultimate challenge.
► Frying an oily fish can be a disaster - oil added to oil.
► Coating fish with batter can be undesirable, producing little more that oil soaked batter with hint of fish taste.
► Grilling a delicate piece of a non-oily species can end up way too dry.
► Similarly overdoing the spices or even herbs in the marinade or dressing for the fish when cooked can kill the delicate flavor of the fish.
Its time to get to know your local fish and how to cook them perfectly.
Once you know what cooking methods suit which fish, you will be inspired to be more adventurous, and learn the delicate art that is fish cooking.
This article provides tips on the most popular ways to cook fish, without applying batters or coatings - just fish and delicate flavor enhancers.
It includes a collection of the best ever recipes for a range of cooking methods.
The fish has to be very fresh, otherwise you are stuck behind the eight-ball and will be limited to a soup or chowder for your fish.
Perfectly cooked fish is moist, firm, just barely cooked, and has a delicate flavor.
Anything added should only accentuate the natural flavor and delicate aroma of the fish, not swamp or overpower it.
Make sure that the fish is at room temperature before starting to cook. Fish straight from the refrigerator will be hard to cook properly as the inside will be cold, and the outside will be done well before the inside.
If in doubt about adding a flavor, don’t do it, because it will invariably overpower the original natural taste of the fish.
Tip 1 - Don't overcook the fish
Fish cooks very quickly. It keeps cooking even when you remove it from the heat and are preparing to serve it. Perfectly cooked fish sitting on the grill or BBQ plate, can literally turn hard and become overcooked and lifeless in one or two minutes. You need to allow for this when checking if the fish is cooked. You want the fish to be just cooked when you eat it!
Fish is cooked when it has just begun to turn opaque (but not dry and white) and the flesh is firm but is still moist. The flesh should flake when tested with a fork.
Cook fish skin-side down, as the skin protects the flesh from overcooking. Watch the edges or sides of the fillet for signs the cooking is completed.
Follow these tips:
cook the fish from the bottom up and delay flipping the fish over. Watch how the fish fillet changes color from pink to white as it cooks. Delay cooking until only a tiny layer of pink uncooked fish remains on the top side. Flip the fish over and briefly complete the cooking on the other side.
Tip 2 - The 5 Minute per cm, or 10 Minute per inch Rule
When baking, poaching, grilling or barbecuing fish (not deep - frying) apply this simple timing guide. Start with fish pieces that are uniformly thick. Measure the fish at its thickest point. This also applies to stuffed or rolled fish.
Cook the fish for a total of about 10 minutes per inch or 5 minutes per cm, flipping it over halfway through the cooking time.
Pieces of fish less than 1/2 inch (1cm) thick generally can be cooked on one side only. Not turning thin pieces of fish is a good idea because it may break up when flipped over. Cook the fish skin-side down.
Large pieces of fish and whole fish are cooked when the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F (60 degrees C).
Add an extra 5 minutes to the cooking time for fish cooked in a sauce, foil or wrapped in banana leaves. Increase the cooking time for frozen fish by twice the normal time, but it is better to defrost the fish and bring it to room temperature, as this is more reliable.
Types of fish - The fish should be firm-fleshed types such as Salmon, Trout, Barramundi, Bream and Snapper.
Put whole fish, fillets or cutlets into an ovenproof dish, baking dish or casserole. Make cuts along the sides of large fish pieces and insert slices of ginger and add drizzles of light soy sauce. Sprinkle sparingly with seasoning (salt, pepper, spices, herbs) and add some liquid to keep it moist (stock, wine, milk, tomato juice, citrus juice). Bake the fish in a preheated oven at 400-450 degrees F (180-200 degrees C) until just tender.
Fish can be wrapped before baking to keep it moist and infuse the seasonings into the flesh. Whole fish, fillets, steaks and cutlets can all be wrapped in lightly greased aluminium foil, banana leaves or baking paper. The more adventurous can try wrapping whole fish in wet newspaper. The scales and skin will stick to the paper and the beautifully moist flesh removed before serving. Season the fish and add slices of ginger, lemon, limes and other delicate flavors.
Types of Fish - Small whole fish, Bream, Dory, Whiting, Perch, Sole, Flounder, Tuna cutlets, Gemfish, Jewfish, Redfish, Snapper, Ling or similar firm-fleshed fish.
Cook only 1-2 pieces at a time. Use a large heavy-based frying pan. Choose a high smoke point oil with a neutral taste such as grape seed oil, rice bran oil or canola oil. Don’t use olive oil and peanut oil has too strong a taste. Get the oil very hot before adding the fish, and re-heat the oil after each batch is cooked. Fry for 3-5 minutes (depending on the thickness) on each side, flipping once only. The fish should be golden in color and flake easily. You can dust large fillets, small whole fish or cutlets with flour or cornmeal to give a crisp finish.
Types of fish - Works best with thin and small whole fish, and thin fillets of most fish except for the very oily varieties, for example such as Bream, Flathead, Mackerel, Whiting, Trevally.
Half fill a heavy. large, deep pan or deep-fryer with clean oil. Choose an oil with a high smoke point that has a neutral taste such as rice bran oil, grape seed oil, or canola oil. Using a thermometer is essential if you don’t have a special deep-fryer unit. Wait until the temperature reaches 360 degrees F (185 degrees C). Coat the fish lightly with flour, or egg and breadcrumbs (if you must!) and lower the carefully into the hot oil with tongs. Using a basket makes it much easier to handle the fish and for testing when it is cooked. If there are several pieces of fish, only cook one or two at a time. Cook for 3-7 minutes depending on the thickness, but times will vary enormously for species, size and thickness.
Cook only a few pieces at a time for 3-7 minutes (depending upon thickness) until golden and flaky. Lift out and drain on paper towels. Keep warm while cooking the remaining fish.
Types of fish - oily or moist fish, such as Blackfish, Tailor, Ling, Gemfish, Mullet, Perch, Flounder, Sole, Sardine, Bream. Swordfish, Tuna, Salmon and Mackerel cutlets and steaks work well grilled.
Heat the grill or barbecue to a hot temperature. For large pieces of fish make 2-4 diagonal cuts along both sides. This helps with the cooking and allows the seasoning to penetrate into the flesh. Follow the recipe, but inserting slices of ginger and a few drops of soy sauce works well. Brush the skin or flesh with melted butter and oil, and/or white wine or lemon juice, or marinade to keep the flesh moist. Cook the fish over moderate to high heat for 2-4 minutes each side (depending on the thickness), and only turn once. Test for doneness to ensure the fish is just cooked but in not raw in the center.
Types of fish - Firm, white fleshed, delicate flavoured fish, such as Snapper, Gemfish, Ling, Perch, Whiting, Dory, Parrotfish, Coral Trout. Whole fish are ideal.
To broil, place the fish in a broiler pan. Brush with sauce, marinade small amount of butter, lime or lemon juice or flavours such as herbs and slice of lemon. Broil until cooked.
Types of fish - Fish with moist firm-flesh, such as Ling, Warehou, Gemfish, Snapper. Small whole fish and fillets can also be steamed
Place the fish on the rack of a steamer, positioned at least 2 inches (5 cm) above the level of the liquid. Season to taste and add slices of lemon, lime or herbs. Seal the steamer or pot tightly. Reduce heat so that the fish is gently steamed until done. Steam whole fish or large fillets for about 10-20 minutes per pound (500g) depending on the thickness of fish.
Marinate the fish for 1-2 hours depending in the size.
The following recipes will help you get started and try new ideas for cooking fish.
Place the coconut milk, chilli, lime leaves ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and zest in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Remove the pan from heat and set aside for about 30 minutes. Then strain the liquid into a jug. Add lime juice and fish sauce to taste and keep warm. This is the sauce used to serve with the fish. Preheat the oven to a very low setting 90 degrees C (190 degrees F). Boil the jug and add pour the boiling water into a roasting pan (1 inch or 3 cm deep). Place the roasting pan with the water on the bottom shelf of the oven. This is the source of the steam that will gently cook the fish while keeping it moist. Place the salmon on a lightly oiled baking tray, or on a rack on the tray, season with pepper and dried herbs. Place the tray with the salmon on the top shelf of the oven and cook for 15-25 minutes (test for doneness). When cooked, remove, and set aside to cool to room temperature. To serve, place the salmon on a platter and pour over some of the coconut dressing. Garnish with lime leaves, chilli, spring onions, and herbs and serve with the remaining sauce as a dressing.
Dry the fish fillets using paper towels and season to taste with pepper and salt. Oil or spray one large, or two small baking dishes, so that the fish can be baked in a single layer. Spread the fish onto the baking dishes, pour over the lemon juice and set aside in the refrigerator for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Using a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring regularly until they have started to brown and softened. Add the garlic and cook for about one minute. Add the tomatoes, dissolved tomato paste, wine, sugar, paprika, half the parsley, cinnamon and heat to boiling point. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced in volume. Remove the sauce from the heat and pour over the fish. Sprinkle on the remaining parsley and other herbs. Bake the fish for about 30 minutes (test for doneness). Baste the fish every 10 minutes to keep it moist.
Place the dried fish fillets in a large baking dish or on a sheet in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper and squeeze the lemon juice over the fish. Set aside. Use a large sauté pan with a lid, that will take all of the fish in a single layer. Add the oil, heat and then add the leeks. Cook the leeks while stirring until they soften (about 3 minutes), then add the garlic and cook for another minute and then add the fennel. Cook for about 10 minutes until the fennel softens. Add the tomatoes, season to taste and cook uncovered for 10 - 15 minutes, and then add the dill and some of the parsley. Put the fish on top of the onions and fennel mixture. Cover the pan and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and is cooked (test with a fork). Garnish with parsley and other herbs and serve.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees). Line a 23 x 33 cm ( 9inch by 15 inch) metal baking dish with foil, allowing a 3 inch 7 cm overhang on both of the shorter ends of the pan. Spray the foil thoroughly with cooking spray and place the fish on it in a single layer. Mix the sherry, soy sauce, ginger and sesame oil together in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the fish. Then take the foil at both ends and fold across the top and loosely seal to form a canopy over the fish. Bake for 8 - 10 minutes or until the fish just cooked ( test to cook no longer than is needed. Serve with fresh herbs and spring onion slices, after spooning the juices from the pan over the fillets.
Combine the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce and 1 tablespoon lime juice in a jug or a small bowl. Place fish fillets on a shallow plate and spoon half the sauce over fish. Turn over and pour on the other side. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, to marinate. Pre-heat a non stick frying pan on medium to high heat. Lightly spray both sides fish with oil. Pan fry for about 1 - 2 minutes for each side (check to ensure just cooked through). Serve with rice and stir-fried vegetables.
For the paste
To make the paste, all all ingredients to a mortar and pestle and grind into a smooth paste. Wash the fish inside and out under the tap. Dry inside and out using paper towel. Using a sharp knife, make as series of tiny shallow slits with the point of the knife along both sides of the fish. Put the fish in a bowl, add the soy sauce and set aside for about10 minutes. Remove the fish, and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat the paste and oil in a saucepan over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Add tamarind, fish sauce, sugar and 100ml water. Stir to combine and cook for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly. Open the gill flaps on sides of fish and using a skewer, pin them so they stay open. Fill deep-fryer with oil and heat to 170 degrees C (340 degrees F). Curl the fish into an S-shape and place it in a deep-frying basket. Deep fry the fish for about 6 - 8 minutes or until the skin is crisp and has a golden color. Remove fish and place on a serving plate. Spoon over the sauce and garnish with the spring onions, chillies, coriander leaves and a squeeze of lime juice.
Place fish on a flat dish that will fit inside a large bamboo steamer or other steamer. Mix the peanut oil, a pinch of pepper, soy sauce and cornflour in a small bowl, and then pour over the fish. Spread the finger, mushrooms and ginger over the fish on the steamer rack. Seal the steamer with a lid or foil. Steam the basket over a pan or wok of boiling water for about 5 minutes, or until cooked. Remove the fish from steamer, and serve immediately with steamed rice and stir-fried Chinese vegetables.
Toast the almonds in a frying pan over moderate heat until golden brown in color (about 3-5 minutes). Set aside to cool. Reheat the pan and add 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot add the carrot stick and fry for 3 minutes. Then, add the apricots and 3/4 cup water. Reduce the heat and simmer covered until the carrots are just tender (generally about 8-10 minutes). Uncover the pan and add the scallions, olives, honey, toasted almonds, lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of Moroccan spices. Increase the heat under the pan and bring the mixture to the boil. Lower the heat to a brisk simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes until the liquid is reduced and the carrots are shiny in color. Add the parsley and mix through. Keep the pan warm. Next, thoroughly dry the fish fillets with paper towels and season with salt and 1 teaspoon of Moroccan spices. Heat a separate frying pan over high heat, add a tablespoon of oil and when very hot add the fish fillets in two batches, skin-side down. Cook until the interior is white almost to the top of the fillets (about 5-6 minutes). Then, flip over the fillets and cook on the other side for about 2 minutes. Remove the fish from the pan and let rest in the hot pan for about 2 minutes. Serve the fish immediately with the Moroccan carrots.