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A Complete Guide to Cooking Fish

Want to cook a 5-star fish dinner at home? Here are all of the tips and tricks you need to know!

People love eating fish, but often do not know how to prepare it. If you’re new to seafood, it can seem intimidating to get started. It doesn’t have to be. If you’re tired of running to the nearest restaurant and spending $100 on a meal that could have cost half that at home, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about properly cooking that 5-star dinner from the comfort of your own home, from cook times and temperatures to pairing the right seasonings and side dishes.

Fish Cooking – A Tradition Thousands of Years Old

It’s no mystery that catching and cooking fish for a meal has been around pretty much as long as we have. Fish was an important part of a regular diet and was recorded as such during moments of history like the ancient Chinese Dynasties and Biblical Times in the Middle East. Sometimes fish was consumed almost daily in most regions of the world.

We have certainly reached a new era of food consumption that does not include a regular fish meal. Most people don’t even eat it on a weekly basis, which forces them to consume the vital nutrients that come from fish (such as Omega-3s) through other means like supplementation. 

According to NOAA Fisheries, seafood consumption in the U.S. increased to 16.1 pounds per capita in 2018. While the nation did see a 0.01% uptick, the number can be interpreted as low based on The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation that every individual consume 26 pounds of seafood per year.

Looking at seafood consumption on a global scale, numbers in the United States tend to be lower than in other countries. For example, on a list comparing 14 countries around the world in 2017 provided by Our World, the U.S falls tenth in line. 

It is time to fix that narrative and simply… cook more fish! While it’s nice to go out to your favorite seafood place and order a nice Salmon Salad or Fish n Chips, eating seafood out has become more expensive in recent times. There’s no need to be daunted by the idea of cooking fish regularly like in times of old! Once you know what you’re doing, fish is one of the most versatile, delicious, and easy proteins to prepare. Thankfully, you have your fishmongering experts here at Fisherman’s Dock to serve as your guide along the way.

Where To Find Fish For Cooking

While running to your nearest Publix or Kroger might be the first place you thought of buying fish, you may want to rethink that choice. 

Local fish markets are an excellent place to find the best quality fish or shellfish near you. There is usually better freshness and quality, traceability of fish, and experts on staff to help you prepare the exact cut of fish you need.

Now that you know where to find your fish, let’s talk about what to look for when buying fish. How can you really tell what a good piece of fish looks like when they all look the same? Just like choosing the best avocados, there are things to look for to help you pick the best cut of fish:

  • Either buy fresh or buy frozen
  • Filets should feel firm and slightly resistant to touch, never mushy
  • When buying frozen, make sure the fish is solid with no signs of freezer burn
  • Fresh fish should smell like the sea, but never “fishy”

You might be surprised that we recommend frozen fish. That’s because freezing locks in freshness and there is no sacrifice to taste or quality. So never avoid frozen fish! Both fresh and frozen taste amazing! 

Whole Fish Or Filet?

When you think of buying and cooking fish, you probably only consider fillets, and never whole fish. The fact is that whole fish are actually excellent for grilling, as the skin and bones of the fish keep the juices from evaporating too quickly. They also act as insulation for the fish meat when cooking. 

When selecting a whole fish to buy from the market remember this: Whole fish should have brilliant, taut skin with scales firmly in place. Eyes should be shiny and clear. Gills should be bright red and moist. The stomach should be firm and intact unless it’s pre-gutted.

If you aren’t ready for the thought of cooking a whole fish, no worries! Fishmongers like ours are always ready to “dress” it for you at no extra charge, which means removing the guts, gills, and scales. Thank goodness for fishmongers, right?

Ways To Cook Fish

As we’ve mentioned, fish is one of the most versatile proteins out there, with countless recipes and ways to prepare it. Some of these include:  

  • Pan-frying
  • Poaching
  • Baking
  • Grilling
  • Broiling
  • Roasting
  • Deep-frying

We show more of an in-depth look into each of these on our recipe page when they are called for in the corresponding recipe. 

The important thing to remember when cooking fish using all of the above methods is to know when it is fully cooked, especially with regard to the internal temperature and visual cues. That entirely depends on the fish being cooked because each has a different cook time. For example, Salmon, Flounder, and Halibut have thin, flavorful skin which is great for pan-frying and only needs to be cooked on a pan for about 3 minutes. It would take an entire book to go into the details of cooking each fish in a variety of ways, which is why once again we want to direct you to our recipe page for inspiration and step-by-steps!

Now, there are a few important reminders we want you to make note of when it comes to the bones and skin of fish while cooking:

Bones – Nearly all fish are sold already filleted and deboned (if you didn’t choose to buy the whole fish), but it never hurts to check for “pin” bones, which are the small white bones that run through the sides. Run your fingers gently over the surface of the filet to locate any bones, which feel like tiny bumps, then pluck them out with tweezers or any other kind of clean plier. Do this before cooking the fish.

Skin – Fish may be already skinned before cooking, but, if you’re working with delicate filets like flounder, it is useful to leave the skin on because it helps hold the fish together (especially in instances like pan-frying as we mentioned above). To prevent curling while cooking, score the skin into hash marks with a knife. Be sure to also pat your fish dry with paper towels before cooking so the skin can get nice and crispy.

Storing Fish

There are a few recommendations we have when it comes to storing fish if you plan on buying it and then waiting to cook it right away:

  • If you’re traveling far from the market to your home, ask for a bag of ice to keep your fish cold.
  • Store your fish in a sealed bag, over a bowl of ice, in the coldest corner of your fridge.
  • We recommend cooking your fish the day you buy it or the day after at the latest. It starts to break down pretty quickly after that.
  • If it smells “fishy” after any storing time, toss it!

Seasonings, Sauces, and Side Dishes, Oh My!

It’s one thing to know how to cook fish, it’s another altogether to know how to flavor that fish perfectly with the right seasoning and pair the right side dish with your meal. We have so many chef-tested recommendations available on our recipe page! 

If you are a visual learner, we have another way for you to learn how to prepare the perfect fish or shellfish meal! Fisherman’s Dock hosts a number of cooking classes throughout the month, whether you want to learn to make the perfect cocktail sauce for oysters or tasty rice pilaf for a salmon dinner, you’re sure to learn something new and maybe taste some delicious food in the process! Not currently living in the Jacksonville, Florida area? No worries because our classes are also online!


Hopefully, you feel that you have an extra tool in your tool belt after reading this article. We want you to feel confident when preparing fish, and hopefully, you plan on preparing it more often! Once you know what you’re doing when cooking fish, you will find that it is one of the most versatile, delicious, and easy proteins to prepare. From salads to soups to roasting it whole with a side of rice, there are so many ways to prepare this classic meal that people for thousands of years have enjoyed.

And, if you happen to be in the Jacksonville area looking for some high-quality fish, you’re in luck! Fisherman’s Dock is currently stocked with the freshest fish and shellfish in the sunshine state and the locals love them!

Still hungry? Here’s more!