6 Mistakes You're Probably Making When You Cook Fish

From mushy and bland to flaky and flavorful

You bought the freshest snapper at the market. You followed the recipe to a T. So why does it taste nothing like that amazing fish you had at your favorite French restaurant last weekend? Here are the six reasons your fish didn’t turn out right, and how to up your game. 

35 Totally New Ways to Cook Fish

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You Cook It Straight Out Of The Fridge

Putting a chilled (or worse, frozen) fillet in a frying pan can cook the fish unevenly. To keep it from drying out on the outside and staying cold on the inside, let it come to room temperature on the counter for 15 minutes before you cook it.

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You Boil The Entire Lobster

Sticking a whole lobster in a pot of boiling water causes you to overcook the tail,” says Luke Holden, CEO and co-founder of Luke’s Lobster. Remove the claws and steam them in a pot with a bit of water for 8 to 9 minutes, then remove the tail and put it in the broiler. The second the meat is no longer translucent, it’s done.

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Xsandra/Getty Images

You Don't Check For Bones

Even if a fillet is marked “boneless” at the grocery store, it doesn’t mean there aren’t a few stragglers in there. Run your fingers along the length of the fish, feeling for any pointy bumps, before you cook it. If you feel a bone, pull it out with a pair of tweezers.

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You Put The Fish In The Pan Before It’s Hot

We know you’re hungry, but tossing a fillet in a cool frying pan will make the fish stick and cook unevenly. Chefs Josh Ochoa and Andy Alexandre of Ruffian in New York City suggest pan-searing: Coat the pan with canola oil and heat it on medium-high. When the pan is hot, let the fish sear for 3 to 5 minutes, then flip and let it cook for another 3 minutes on the opposite side. After the initial sear, you can monitor the heat until it’s cooked the way you like it.

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You Don't Pat The Fish Dry

If you want moist, flaky fish, you’d think keeping it in its natural juices could only help the process. But to keep the fish from getting tough and mushy, always pat it dry with a paper towel before cooking it. That also goes for scallops, says Ben Conniff, co-founder of Luke’s Lobster. Avoid buying scallops that are packaged in liquid and opt instead for dry scallops, which should also be patted with a paper towel before searing to get that golden-brown crust.

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You Use A Dirty Grill Or Oven Rack

We know you’re a busy woman, but when you throw a piece of salmon on the grill immediately after cooking burgers and veggies, the delicate fish is more likely to stick and fall apart. Clean, dry and spray the grill liberally with cooking oil before cooking fish—and use a spatula, not tongs, to flip it.

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Freelance Editor

From 2015-2020 Lindsay Champion held the role of Food and Wellness Director. She continues to write for PureWow as a Freelance Editor.