There are almost as many ways to cook fish as there are fish in the sea! Fish can go from perfect to overdone quickly, so how long does it take to cook fish? We've done the research and scoured the best recipes to bring you the answer to this aquatic query.
The amount of time it takes to cook a fish fillet depends on the thickness of the fish and the cooking method. These are the typical times for different preparations:
- 10-15 minutes
- 5-8 minutes
- 2-4 minutes
- 10-15 minutes
- Poached or Steamed
- 4-10 minutes
Let's take a closer look at cooking times and some great recipes for each method for cooking your favorite fish. We'll also see how long it takes to cook whole fish and how to tell if your fish is done, with and without a thermometer. Read on to get the whole story!
How long does it take to cook fish?
While size will play a factor in how long it takes to cook fish, the method you use will have an even greater impact.
Let's look at the cooking times and some great recipes for each cooking method.
Many cooks prefer to cook their fish in the oven. This method is relatively hands-off, leaving you time to work on the sides. It also uses less oil than pan or deep-frying your fish. But how long does it take to bake or roast fish?
Most fish fillets will finish baking in 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your recipe, fish, and oven temperature.
The majority of oven recipes for fish fillets call for high heat. The Endless Meal features a great recipe for baked white fish in lemon garlic butter cooked at 425-degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.
The Mediterranean Dish also calls for a 425-degree oven for their garlic and basil fish recipe that finishes in 15 minutes.
Some recipes, especially those for salmon fillets, use a slightly lower heat. This recipe for baked salmon fillets from Creme de la Crumb takes 12 to 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven.
Pan searing is one of the most traditional and delicious ways to prepare fish fillets. It's a great way to get a beautiful outer crust on your fish while keeping the inside delicate and tender.
Pan searing is generally faster than baking. Most recipes call for 4 to 9 minutes to cook a fish fillet in a pan.
Some pan-seared fish recipes call for blasting the fish on high heat, which can reduce the necessary cooking time.
This recipe, from The New York Times, is one of the fastest. After cooking for 2 to 3 minutes at high heat on one side, the fillet is flipped and then basted with thyme and butter for another 45 to 90 seconds.
Once Upon a Chef features a delicious and healthy recipe for restaurant-style pan-seared salmon that calls for a longer cooking time, 4 to 5 minutes for each side.
Flatfish are a popular option for pan-searing. One of the best and most famous flatfish dishes is sole meunière. This dish was a course in the first meal Julia Child had in France, and it started her love affair with French cuisine.
To make this dish, coat a sole fillet or another flatfish in flour, then sautée it in butter for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. You can follow this recipe from The New York Times or follow along with Julia Child and Jacques Pepin in the video below.
Golden-brown, deep-fried fish is crunch on the outside, tender and flaky in the middle, and delicious throughout. Deep-frying is quick compared to many other cooking methods, but how long does it take to deep-fry fish?
It only takes 2 to 4 minutes to deep-fry fish. This recipe for beer-battered fish from I Wash, You Dry calls for 3 to 4 minutes, while this southern-fried catfish recipe from Grits and Pinecones takes only 2 to 3 minutes, both with 375-degree oil.
As consumers and home cooks have become more health-conscious, air-frying has become a popular alternative to deep-frying.
Instead of submerging your fish in hot oil, air-fryers get a crispy crust on your fish fillets by circulating heated air all around them. But how long does it take to cook fish in an air-fryer?
Most recipes for fish cooked in an air-fryer take 10 to 15 minutes. Feel Good Foodie calls for 10 to 12 minutes in this recipe for panko-breaded fish. This recipe, from Little Sunny Kitchen, takes a little longer at 12 to 15 minutes.
Poached or Steamed
Poaching and steaming are both gentle ways to cook fish when you want to preserve their tenderness without developing a crust. The methods are similar, as are the cooking times. So how long should you poach or steam a fish fillet?
Poaching or steaming your fish will take 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the recipe and the size of your fillet.
This recipe for fish poached in simmering water from The Endless Meal calls for approximately 10 minutes to poach a salmon fillet.
Of course, you can choose other poaching liquids to add even more flavor to your fish. The New York Times has a great recipe for fish poached in a flavorful tomato sauce that cooks in just 4 to 6 minutes.
On the other hand, steaming offers the best way to let the fish's distinct flavor be the star. This recipe, also from The New York Times, takes only 4 to 6 minutes to steam a typical fish fillet, though you might need more time for a larger halibut steak.
How long does it take to cook a whole fish?
So far we've looked at cooking times for fish fillets. However, there are many preparations of fish, both traditional and modern, that use the whole fish, bones, head, and all.
As with cooking fillets, the time required to cook a whole fish will depend on the size of the fish and the cooking method. However, these are the typical cooking times for different methods:
- 15-20 minutes
- 10-15 minutes
- 5-10 minutes
- 15-20 minutes
- Poached or steamed
- 8-12 minutes
Let's look at some typical dishes and great recipes for each cooking method.
Baking is a popular choice for whole fish because most ovens are large enough to fit even larger varieties of fish.
Traditional methods often involve seasoning the fish with lemon and herbs. This recipe for sea bass, mahi-mahi, or branzino from Gimme Some Oven does just that, baking for 18 to 20 minutes at 450 degrees.
Trout is another popular choice for this approach. In the classic French dish trout en papillote, a whole trout is seasoned and baked in a parchment envelope, as in this recipe from Serious Eats.
Cooking whole fish in a pan takes some negotiating to make sure their dimensions work with each other. However, when everything fits together, you're well on your way to a tasty meal.
Pan-fried whole fish is a traditional fixture at the dinner table for Chinese New Year. The Woks of Life brings us this recipe for pan-fried porgy (also known as sea bream) with the traditional flavors of soy sauce and Shaoxing wine.
Bon Appétit gives us a Mexican-inspired take with this recipe for sea bass or red snapper served with a tomatillo sauce and tortillas.
If you have enough space in your dutch oven or deep-fryer, you can even fry a whole fish. Large fish are best avoided, but many medium or small fish can work for this approach.
This fried red snapper recipe from The New York Times includes a flavorful adobo sauce that adds just the right amount of heat and flavor to this dish.
Finding a fish that fits your air-fryer can take some experimenting. One good option is tilapia, which is large enough to serve as a portion, but small enough to fit many air-fryers.
Posh Journal brings us this recipe for air-fried tilapia that is seasoned simply with garlic and lime. The tilapia finishes air frying in 15 to 20 minutes, but be sure to give yourself time to marinate the fish for at least 20 minutes beforehand for the best flavor.
Poached or Steamed
Poaching and steaming are both traditional methods for cooking whole fish, particularly in China. This cooking method is gentle, but because the heat surrounds the whole fish, it takes less time than you might expect.
This recipe from The Woks of Life only requires 9 minutes for steaming a whole bass. The New York Times also takes a Chinese approach in this recipe for whole sea bass or red snapper, which only takes 10 to 12 minutes of steaming.
How do you know when fish is done cooking?
While it's good to have a general sense of how long it takes to prepare your fish, it is essential to know how to check for doneness.
The most straightforward way to check that your fish is done is to use a thermometer. The FDA advises cooking all finfish to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, although many chefs prefer cooking fish to a lower temperature.
If you intend to cook your fish to a temperature less than 145 degrees, be sure to buy high-quality fish, such as sashimi-grade tuna or salmon.
When a thermometer isn't available, you can also check your fish's doneness through a few indicators. Check that the thickest part of the fish is flaky and opaque throughout.
Some prefer the center of their fish to be slightly translucent still but understand that there is a greater risk of bacteria or parasites surviving cooking.
Now you know how much time it takes to cook fish, both fillets and whole, with different cooking methods. We've also seen how to check your fish for doneness, even when you don't have a thermometer.
All that's left to do is go fishing, whether at the sea or supermarket, and bring home your next tasty meal!
You can learn more about the ins and outs of cooking fish in these great articles:
At What Temperature Should You Bake Fish Fillets?