Most nutritional advice says that you should be eating more fish. Yet, while it may be good for you, cooking fish can often go wrong. In fact, it's easy for fish to go soggy, or become unpleasantly dry, or fall apart in the pan. Generally speaking, cooking fish is quick and easy, but it is very delicate too making it surprisingly easy to mess up. So, what are you doing wrong?
1. You didn't check for bones
Even if the fish you bought was labeled as boneless it likely still has tiny bones inside. So, before prepping your fish, use your fingers to feel for any rogue bones (a visual check isn't always enough) and if you find any, pull them out with a pair of tweezers.
2. Your marinade is too salty
While some salt is essential for flavoring your dish, it may also break down protein and draw out moisture. If you let your fish sit in a too-salty marinade it will likely end up mushy and dry instead of firm and moist. To be on the safe side, add a pinch of salt to the marinade and add the rest of the seasoning before putting the fish in the pan.
3. You didn't pat your fish dry
For a crisp, golden crust the surface of your fillet it must not be wet - as it will steam rather than sear in the pan. So prior to cooking it, pat your fillet dry.
4. The pan was not quite hot enough
One of the main reasons to cook fish is because it cooks quickly. But, a little patience is required at the start. You need to be patient and let that pan get hot - the oil should be shimmering (not smoking) before you start cooking. A pan that is too cool will cause your fish to cook unevenly, and will likely cause the fish to stick to the pan.
5. You didn't cook the skin side first
How much of a difference does cooking your fish skin side up first, really make? A lot! The first side of your fillet tends to cook longer than the second side (the thick fatty skin) helps protect the delicate flesh. If you don't want to eat the skin you can peel it off after the fish is cooked.
6. You kept flipping or prodding at your fish while cooking
If you try to flip a fish before the bottom side is cooked you will only make it stick and tear. Let the first side cook through until the fish is able to release evenly. Flip it once the second side does the same and then stop.
7. You cooked the fish for too long
Perhaps one of the most common mistakes is overcooking the fish. If you have left your fish in the pan for too long it will likely become dry and tasteless. While cooking times vary for different types of dish, stay within the range of 3 to 5 minutes per side. If in doubt, use a meat thermometer. To do so, remove the fish from the heat and when it reaches 140°F in the thickest part of the flesh. Then let it rest until it reaches 145°F, which is the USDA's recommended minimum internal temperature.