Stop making these fish mistakes ASAP.

By Rebecca Firkser
July 19, 2019
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Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Missie Crawford

For some, cooking fish at home may not seem like a joyful task. Between the smells, scales, and skin, you’d rather just make burgers, right? Wrong! Cooking fish at home is not only actually ridiculously easy (like, way easier than burgers), with the right ingredients you can make it taste restaurant-quality. Of course, there are lots of mistakes that can be made along the way when cooking with such a delicate protein, but once you know what to pay attention to you’ll be wondering why you’ve avoided cooking fish for so long. Stop making these fish mistakes ASAP.

Related: This Ceramic Grill Pan Is a Foolproof Way to Upgrade Grilled Fish

Avoiding frozen fish

Unless you’ve watched your fish get plucked from the water, odds are it will be frozen at some point before it arrives at the market or grocery store—even if you buy it defrosted. And that really doesn’t make much difference to how it will taste. If you’re shopping at a reputable provider, the fish was likely frozen as soon as possible, meaning that whether it’s been defrosted or is still frozen, it’s super-fresh. As long as you keep an eye out for freezer burn or liquid pooling around a frozen fillet (signs that it has started partially defrosting improperly), there’s no reason to avoid frozen fish.

Forgetting about the bones

While fish bones are completely edible, the small, needle-sized ones can get stuck in your throat, which is obviously not comfortable. Instead of doing your best to avoid them while you’re eating, you can bone fish before cooking it using a pair of wide tweezers and this tutorial.

Kotobuki Japanese Fish Bone Tweezers, $4.46 at .com

Using too little—or too much—oil

When searing fish in a pan, you can actually use anything from nonstick to cast iron. However, different pans require different heating times and fats in order to produce that crispy sear. If you’re using cast iron or stainless steel pans, you’ll want to add a bit more oil than you’d typically use in a nonstick to ensure that the fish doesn’t stick. If you’re using nonstick, crank up the heat to get that pan ripping hot—this will help develop crispy bits.

Not using a fish spatula

Fish spatulas—those wide, slender, slatted tools—are obviously important to use when turning and transferring fish (the beveled edge makes for easy sliding under delicate flesh and the slots allow extra grease stay in the pan and not on your serving plate). But these doodads go far beyond fish. Use them to break up ground meat in a hot pan, transfer cookies to a cooling rack, or flip pancakes and fried eggs. What I’m trying to say is throw out your old spatula, you really only need this one.

OXO Good Grips Fish Turner, $14 at .com

Overcooking

If you find your fish is constantly dry, odds are you’re overcooking it. Fish is done when the thickest part of the flesh is just opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Technically, the safest temperature you’re looking for is 145ºF. Of course, all fish are not created equal, so the best thing you can do is pay attention to recipes and invest in a good instant read thermometer.

Lavatools Thermowand, $27 at .com

Not eating the skin (on some fish)

When seared until crispy, fish skin—particularly salmon skin—is like snacking on chicken skin or pork rinds. Sea bass, flounder, branzino, arctic char, sole, and red snapper skin are also all wonderful when seared or grilled. On the other hand, tuna, swordfish, and monkfish tend to have thicker, leathery skin, so those are best skipped. Most fish is sold cleaned and scaled, but if you plan to eat the skin it’s always best to check to make sure all the scales are gone. You can pick up any outliers by scraping the blade of your knife along the skin. From there, if your fish is dry and your pan is hot, you’ll be eating crispy skin in no time. Still if you’re steaming, slow-baking, or poaching fish, the skin will go wet and flabby, so for those methods of cooking you’ll want to use skinless fish.

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