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How to cook fish

Lynn Wright / 14 September 2015

Extremely versatile, fish can be cooked in a number of ways, from frying and grilling to poaching and steaming. Follow our step-by-step instructions for perfectly cooked fish every time.

Grilled salmon
Fish, including salmon, is best cooked briefly to avoid it becoming tough or falling apart

Eating fish on a regular basis offers many health benefits and its versatility means it can be served up in a tempting range of delicious dishes.

Whatever way you like to cook fish, it’s best to cook it briefly. Overcooking can toughen the fish or cause it to fall apart. Thicker pieces of fish or whole fish will need longer than thin fillets. Fish is done as soon as the flesh turns opaque all the way through. It will be firm to the touch and flake easily with a fork.

A helpful guideline when cooking fish is to allow 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Measure your piece of fish at its thickest part and calculate your cooking time accordingly. An inch thick fillet, for example, would take 4 to 5 minutes per side. Allow an extra 5 to 10 minutes when cooking fish in a sauce or wrapped in a parcel. Always check that fish is properly cooked all the way through before serving.

Here are four simple, delicious ways to cook fish.

Grilling fish

A perfectly grilled piece of fish makes a delicious and simple meal. Grilling suits hearty fish such as salmon, tuna, halibut, and swordfish, as delicate white fish may fall apart on the grill.

Oil and season your fish before cooking. If using a BBQ, oil the grate as well to stop the fish from sticking. If using fish fillets, cook for around 4 to 5 minutes per side (per inch of thickness) under a hot grill.

Oven-baking fish

Oven-baking is a healthy way to cook fish. Rub a little oil or melted butter over the fish and place on a foil-lined baking tray and place in the middle of a preheated oven to cook. If your fillet has thin edges, tuck them under so they don’t overcook before the middle of the fish does. At 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6, cook fillets for 10 to 15 minutes or until done.

Alternatively, place the oiled fish fillets on a sheet of foil, add spices and herbs if using, then gather the sides of the foil together to form a sealed parcel. Place the foil parcel on a baking sheet and pop into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish.

Poaching fish

Almost any fish may be gently poached in hot liquid such as water, stock, wine or milk. Place the fish in a pan and add enough liquid to cover the fish. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gently simmer and cover with a lid. Poach fillets for around 8 to 10 minutes; whole fish will take around 15 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish.

Pan-frying fish

Pan-frying gives fish a crispy, tasty crust. Delicate white fish like sole or plaice is best coated with a little seasoned flour or breadcrumbs to prevent it from falling apart during cooking. Add a little oil to a frying or sauté pan and heat until it is really hot. This will help the skin on the fish to crisp nicely. Carefully place the fish, skin side-down, in the pan and cook for a minute. Then turn down the heat to medium, and fry the fish for 4 to 5 minutes per side (per inch of thickness) or until done.


Make sure your fish is completely dry before cooking, particularly if you’re pan-frying as surface moisture on the fish will cool down the hot oil. For best results, pat fillets or steaks dry with a paper towel before cooking.

Find the perfect recipe for salmon, haddock, prawns and more – browse our recipes for a whole range of seafood recipes.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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