Fish is a very versatile food and can be cooked in many different ways. In most recipes a similar species can be substituted for another, for example you could use lemon sole instead of plaice. Fish cooks very quickly, so take care not to overcook it. To recognise that it's cooked, fish loses its translucent look and will flake easily.
A good rule of thumb is to allow 10 minutes per 2.5 cm of thickness when cooking fish. So to grill a salmon darne that is 2.5 cm at the thickest part, simply grill for 5 minutes, turn and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Increase or reduce the cooking time as necessary depending on the thickness of a piece of fish.
The following are the main cooking methods used for fish:
Most kinds of fish can be cooked in this way. Immerse fish in simmering, seasoned liquid like stock or milk and poach gently for 5-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. The liquid is ideal for use in sauces and soups.
When poaching smoked fish, place it in cold unsalted water and bring it to a steady simmer. This liquid will be salty and may not be suitable for re-use.
Small whole fish or fillets are good cooked in this way. Flavour can be added by using different cooking liquids but usually the fish is seasoned. Place it in a steamer, cover it tightly and cook over simmering water for 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish or the fillets. If a steamer is not available fish can be steamed between two plates above a pan of boiling water.
Grilling is cooking under a radiant heat and is a fast and convenient method of cooking. Suitable for fillets or small whole fish. When grilling whole fish cut through thickest part of the fish to allow even cooking. Lightly oil and season fish or fillets and, to avoid breaking, do not turn more than once.
This is cooking over a radiant heat - usually a charcoal or gas barbecue. It is fast and popular during fine summer weather. Oil-rich fish are suitable for barbecuing as the natural oils keep the flesh moist. Baste whitefish often to keep it moist. Protect the fish from strong heat and from breaking up by using foil or special wire holders.
All kinds of fish can be baked in the oven. Fish should be covered to prevent drying, either with a lid, foil or greaseproof paper. It may be baked with stuffing, on a bed of vegetables, in a pie or sauce.
This is an "all-in-one" method of cooking where the fish is cooked together with vegetables, either on the hob or in the oven. Lightly sauté the selected vegetables. Add the fish, seasonings and liquid. Cover and cook until fish is cooked through.
Frying is probably the most popular method of cooking fish.
- Shallow frying: The fish should be seasoned and lightly coated with flour or crumb before frying to protect it and seal in the flavour. Use a mixture of oil and butter when frying and turn the fish only once during cooking, to avoid breaking up.
- Deep Frying: The fish should be seasoned and coated before frying, usually with a batter or an egg and breadcrumb mixture. Use a suitable container and heat the oil to 190°C/375°F. Test the temperature before cooking fish. Drain the fish after cooking on absorbent paper.
- Stir Frying: This is a very fast and popular method of cooking. Use a wok or deep frying pan and a high cooking temperature. Food should be cut into thin strips and prepared before cooking begins. This is a very suitable method of cooking firm-fleshed fish.
Fish cooks perfectly in a microwave oven because of its high water content and loose texture. Use a non-metallic dish and arrange the thickest part of fish towards the edge of the dish. Fold tailpieces underneath to prevent uneven cooking. As cooking will continue when removed from the oven, allow the fish to stand for 2-3 minutes before serving.