Guide to Cooking Fish

As a rule of thumb when pan-frying, griddling, grilling, barbecuing, baking or roasting, allow 4-5 minutes per side for a portion of fish 2cm thick and 8-10 minutes per side for 3cm thick. Add an extra 2-3 minutes per side if the fish is on the bone.

Pan frying

Good for whole pan-ready fish, any fillets, portions and also Scallops.


Great for suprême portions, where you can sear the outside giving attractive bar-marks, and leave the centre more moist and succulent. Perfect for Tuna, where you want it rare in the centre. Good for whole King Prawns too, but no good for thin, flaky fillets.


Better suited to whole fish and flaky fillets. Great for oil-rich fish such as Mackerel and Herring, and for halved Lobsters. Barbecuing Suprêmes of meaty game fish are perfect for marinating in citrus, salt, pepper and olive oil then barbecuing. Whole portion sized fish such as Snappers and Sea Bass are also great, as are whole King Prawns and Langoustines.

Deep frying

Great for fillets, goujons, very small round fish (Whitebait) and Langoustine tails (Scampi). Fish is either coated in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, or dipped in a batter and then fried in hot oil (180°C) until golden. Lighter tempura batters are becoming more popular.


Whole fish and portions can be poached in a variety of liquids. Lightly salted water, fish stock, wine and olive oil are good, and Smoked Haddock is especially fine when poached in milk. Once cooked, the liquors can be used as the base of a sauce.

Mi Cuit

A variation on poaching / deep frying is a technique known as Mi Cuit, where portions of oil-rich fish (ideally Salmon or Sea Trout) are lightly salted, then immersed and slowly semi-cooked in a flavoured olive oil or duck fat at a constant 48°C. A 60g portion needs 11 minutes, at which point it will have a unique colour and texture. The oil must be discarded after cooking, making it a costly method but the result is unique.

Baking and roasting

Fish is easily overcooked, so you must be careful when using the oven. Whole fish and pavés are best for roasting, particularly oilrich species. Here are four different methods of baking fish:

Wrapping in foil

Fillets, portions and whole fish can be wrapped in foil with a little liquid to create the steam, which cooks the fish.

En papillote

Same principal as wrapping in foil with enough liquid to create steam, but using greaseproof paper to create individual portion sized ‘parcels’ which are served to the table, adding a little ‘theatre’ as the parcels are opened and steam bursts out.

Baking in salt

Whole fish can be placed on a tray with a thick layer of sea salt, with further sea salt coating the fish. This is sprayed with water, and creates a thick crust when cooked (a 500g fish requires 25 minutes at 200°C). Once cooked, break the crust and gently pull away from the fish without damaging the skin. The fish is then filleted and served. This brings out the flavour and is ideal with Sea Bass and Sea Breams.

En croûte

Fillets or portions wrapped in puff pastry, usually with a sauce or filling. Can be individual or multiportion like a Koulibiac – the traditional Russian ‘Salmon Wellington’ made with rice, hard-boiled eggs and mushrooms.


The healthiest way to cook fish, and widely used in Thai cuisine. Simply place portions or whole fish in a steamer over 2-3cm of boiling water. Whole fish can be stuffed with herbs and is also good with aromatic flavours added around the fish. Scallops are good for steaming this way. Another method is to fill the base of a large pan with seaweed, add enough water or wine to create steam (but not cover the fish), place portions or whole fish on top, cover with a lid and steam over a medium to high heat. Mussels and other molluscs are also best steamed in the same way but without the seaweed. Fish can also be steamed in a microwave, but the portions must be of even thickness.


Lobsters and Crabs can be boiled, but this method is not recommended for fish.

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