7 Chef Secrets for Cooking Perfect Fish Every Time

Get pro tips for success from our seafood expert.

Chef Amy Eubanks is the Global Culinary Development Coordinator for Whole Foods Market, where she develops new ideas and recipes for our Prepared Foods department. Here, she shares her top tips for cooking flawless fish in your kitchen.

I love cooking fish — and I’ve spent years in professional kitchens mastering all the different ways to cook it. I get it. Pan searing a halibut fillet or roasting a whole fish in your home kitchen can be intimidating. Fortunately, there’s nothing mysterious about it and anyone can master it with a little practice. Keep reading for my pro tips on cooking perfect fish.

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1. Know when to use high heat...

When it comes to pan searing, the hotter your pan, the better. This technique is ideal for skin-on fillets, as the skin will crisp up nicely. Add a thin layer of oil or fat to the pan, then wait until it’s almost smoking to add your fish. A hot grill is also key for grilled fish. Cook it on a slightly cooler section of your grill to prevent charring and flare-ups. Try it: Grilled Miso Swordfish Steak opens in a new tab

2. ...and when to lower it.

While high heat works for grilling and pan searing, poaching is best done at a lower temperature. Be sure to poach with the liquid at a low simmer — not a rolling boil — for even cooking. Bonus: Use the poaching liquid as a sauce for the fish when you’re done. Try it: Poached Halibut with Ginger and Cilantro opens in a new tab

3. Add aromatics for flavor.

If you’re steaming or poaching, both methods benefit from aromatics: Highly flavored and scented ingredients like star anise, wine, soy sauce, lemongrass, tomatoes or herbs that infuse your fish with tons of flavor. You can also stuff whole fish with aromatics like garlic, citrus and herbs before cooking.

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4. Go big with whole fish.

A spectacular whole roasted fish opens in a new tab is easier to cook than you’d think. The dry heat of your oven is easy to control during roasting, but you can also grill your whole fish to add smoky flavor and grill marks. Talk to your fishmonger about what size fish you should get for your meal as well as the roasting temperature and time.

Try the tip: Grilled Whole Fish with Garlic and Lemon opens in a new tab

5. Score fish for even cooking.

When cooking larger whole fish in the oven or on the grill, a few slashes on the sides can help the fish cook more evenly (and are a great place to stuff aromatics like garlic cloves or slices of citrus). Scoring the skin of poached fish also prevents it from curling during cooking.

6. Trust your spatula.

A long, wide spatula fits easily under most fillets, and one that’s a little flexible will slip under the fish easily. If you’re flipping a whole fish or a really big fillet, try using two spatulas, one under each half. Flip fish just once so that it’s less likely to fall apart.

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7. Test for doneness.

It’s easy: Just use a skewer or cake tester to poke your fish — if it goes through with no resistance, it’s done. If you want a slightly rarer fillet (for salmon or tuna, for instance), your fish will be medium when the skewer meets just a bit of resistance at the center. Start testing a little before your recipe’s recommended cooking time is up.

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