Thursday, December 31, 2020
The Culinary Cook Cooking Basics How to Cook Fish: The Ultimate Guide

How to Cook Fish: The Ultimate Guide


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How To Cook Fish on Stovetop or Oven

Knowing how to cook fish is a skillset that requires finesse and an understanding of the basics of cooking. As always, we go a bit further than other sites and show you how to properly choose your fish, the best way to season, and to use your fundamental cooking skills to cook off your fish either on the stovetop or in the oven.

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.

Determining Freshness

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 the 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.

The 6 Methods to Determine Freshness in Fish

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Gills – The gills should be intact and bright red. Brown gills are a sign of age.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Appearance – Fish cuts should be moist and glistening, without bruises or dark spots. Edges should not be brown or dry.
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Fresh fish showing clear eyes, shiny skin and kept at proper temperature with crushed ice

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 with 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.


Different Types of Fish Cuts

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 saute pan at medium-high heat.
  • Add oil or butter to the pan and allow to reach temperature
  • Lay fish into the 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
  • Serve

Fish Fillets being pan-fried in butter.



Best suited for Fillet, butterflied, steak, wheel

  • Season water into rondeau or high-sided pan (Recommend court bouillon)
  • Place fish into simmering water
  • Gently removed when finished, serve.

Poached fish in a seasoned stock/broth


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.

Baked Fish

Best suited for: Drawn, Dressed, pan-dressed, butterflied, steak

  • Preheat oven to the appropriate temperature (325’F – 350’F)
  • Leave uncovered for a crispy dry heat product
  • Cook fish until done, serve

Steamed Fish

Best suited for: Drawn, Dressed, pan-dressed, butterflied, steak

  • Preheat oven to the appropriate temperature (325’F – 350’F)
  • Season fish and cover with tinfoil.
  • Cook fish until done, serve.


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The Culinary Cook

Professional Chef & Blogger

With 15 years of experience working in restaurants, resorts, and a fully Red Seal Certified chef, The Culinary Cook shares tips, tricks, and recipes for everyone to enjoy.

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