7 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Cooking Seafood

We've all ruined a perfectly good piece of fish at one time or another. These cooking tips for fish let you cook it perfectly every single time.

Preparing fish filet in kitchenPhoto: FotoCuisinette / Shutterstock

Fish is delicious, usually easy to find at your local grocery store, and healthy to boot. Whether you’re new to the wonderful world of cooking seafood at home, or an old hand in the galley, we’ve all had a fish flub or two. It’s especially disappointing when you’ve spent a lot to purchase a pricy piece of Alaskan halibut or a beautiful, fresh tuna steak, and had it turn out poorly. We can help you overcome your cooking mistakes for good!

1. The fish is stinky.

Your fish is old, and no amount of marinade or sauce will cover that up. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask your fishmonger how long it’s been in the fish case, or if you can take a sniff. It may be better to buy frozen fish where you live. If you live in an area where frozen fish is better than fresh (it’s often frozen while it’s still on the boat!), be sure to thaw it safely (in the refrigerator) before cooking.

2. It’s falling apart.

Put down the spatula! Over-handling is not productive and can cause your fish to break and fall apart. Flip only once. Your breading will thank you and so will your family.

3. It turns out mushy.

There are three reasons your fish may wind up with a less than appetizing texture. In fact, these faux pas are so common, many people are convinced that fish just is mushy. Nope. Here’s how to fix mushy fish.

  • Pat your fish dry before cooking. Excess moisture will cause the fish to steam rather than sear. Steaming causes that squishiness.
  • Cook it at a higher temp. Stainless steel or cast iron cookware is best for cooking fish on the stovetop. Be patient and let the cooking oil heat—the higher the initial temp, the better the results. When the oil begins to shimmer, it’s ready.
  • Use the right type of fish for the dish. Different fish have different textures, from delicate to firm. When making a seafood chowder, you’ll want a sturdy fish like cod. Tilapia will just turn to mush if simmered in a soup. Tilapia, on the other hand, takes well to searing in skillet, while cod is happy in both the oven and in a chowder.

4. It’s overcooked.

If your fish could be mistaken for jerky, you’re not along. Over-cooking is one of the leading reasons why fish turns out poorly. Using a meat thermometer can help. Remove fish from heat when it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F in the thickest part of the meat. Then let it rest until it reaches 145°F, which is the USDA’s recommended minimum internal temperature.

5. The skin is floppy.

You’ve had gorgeous skin-on salmon fillets at restaurants, where the skin is crispy and delicious. But at home, not so much. So what gives? You probably started it on the wrong side. Placing your skin-on fillet in the heated pan skin side up. When you flip it over, the skin will get a nice, crisp sear (and protect the fish from overcooking). Serve it skin-side down.

6. It’s bone dry on the outside, raw in the center.

Ugh, right? Whether it’s fish or meat, let it stand at room temperature for up to half an hour before cooking to equalize the temperature between inside and out. Here again your meat thermometer can be helpful.

7. Your grilled fish tastes like, well, grill. 

Your expensive king salmon fillet should taste like salmon, not charcoal. When grilling, make sure your grill is super clean! Fish easily picks up odors and flavors that can ruin it. You may also want to consider cooking your grilled fish on a piece of foil that you have perforated several times with a fork. Lightly coat it with cooking oil and fasten to clean, cold grill before placing over your heat source.

Follow these cooking techniques for fish and your seafood dinners will never be the same.

Start with these quick and easy fish recipes.
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Sue Evans
I am a mom, grandma, wife, nurse, gardener, writer, student, a steward of and a passenger on Planet Earth.