If you want to put an end to dry fish, I have good news. Testing fish for doneness is really quite easy – dig in with a fork and look inside. So, check early and check often, and you are guaranteed mouthwatering fish every time.
The most important thing to remember is that the fish will continue to cook after it is off the heat, so you have to remove it before it is done to your liking. Here are some guidelines on how well to cook your fish and when to check it for doneness.
Step 1: Eye ball your fish to figure out how thick it is. No, you don’t need a ruler -- I just used it for the picture.
Step 2: Decide how well done you want your fish. Most fish taste best when they flake and are opaque. Two exceptions to this rule are tuna and the salmon family (salmon, steelhead trout and arctic char). They taste better on the rare side, when the center is still translucent.
Step 3: Estimate cooking time. Here is a rough guideline for well done fish. For translucent center, cook fish a few minutes shorter.
|High heat (Broiling, grilling, steaming, pan frying)||Moderate heat (Baking at 425, poaching)|
|Fillets||8 min. per inch of thickness||10 min. per inch of thickness|
|Steaks||10 min. per inch of thickness||12 min. per inch of thickness|
|Small whole fish|
|10 min.||14 min.|
|Medium whole fish|
|14-17 min.||20-25 min.|
Step 4: Cook the fish 2 minutes less than your estimated time, then check for doneness. You can always pop it back in the oven, but you can’t turn the clock back if you overcooked it.
Step 5: Check the fish for doneness by separating its flakes with a fork. Remember that the fish will continue to cook for another 5 minutes once it’s off the heat, so you want it to be slightly underdone when you take it off the heat.
Fish right off the heat
Fish after 5 minutes of resting
Fish Doneness FAQ
Q: Some parts of my fish are thicker than others. How do I estimate the thickness?A: Always measure your fillet or whole fish in the thickest part.
Q: Which part of the fish should I peek into when I test for doneness?
A: The thickest part.
Q: I can separate the flakes with a fork, but the fish looks wet inside. Is it undercooked?
A: If you can separate the flakes, your fish is cooked. Wet is good – it means it’s juicy.
Q: Is it safe to eat fish if the center is translucent?A: It is safe to eat salt water fish (such as salmon and tuna) with translucent center since they are not prone to parasites. But fresh water fish should be completely cooked through.
Q: If the fish is not done when I test it, how much longer should I cook it?A: After the estimated cooking time is up, check your fish every 2 minutes or even less if it’s close to being done.
Q: What if the fish doesn’t flake when I test it for doneness?A: Firm and dense fish, like striped bass, mahi-mahi, and swordfish do not flake easily. Be assertive when pulling the flakes apart. If you have to, make a small incision in the fish with a knife.
Q: What if I break the fish while testing it for doneness?
A: Don’t be afraid to break your fish. Fish flakes are like pieces of a puzzle – you can put them back together after separating them. If you are worried about the presentation of your dish, serve the broken piece to yourself and give your guests the pretty pieces. It’s always better to eat broken fish than dry fish.
Q: Why are some of my fish pieces came out more done than others?
A: If you cut a fish fillet into several pieces, some might end up thinner than others and should be taken off heat first. To avoid this, ask your fishmonger for the thick end of the fillet that has less variation in thickness.
Q: How do I check whole fish for doneness?A: To check the doneness of the whole fish, insert a knife between the backbone and the top fillet and try to lift it slightly off the bone. If the flesh does not want to separate from the bone, cook the fish a few minutes longer and check again.