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12 Practical Tips For Cooking Fish At Home

Everything you need to know about cooking fish at home — from how to pick the freshest product to getting that perfect golden sear.

Cooking fish can be intimidating. It's not a cheap protein, so you really don't want to mess it up — we get it!

So we rounded up 12 helpful tips for cooking fish at home — from how to properly store it to how to get the crispiest skin ever — so you can feel more confident. You got this!

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1. Make sure you're buying the freshest fish...

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When buying fresh fish, make sure it has a mild scent and avoid anything that smells overly fishy. The eyes should be clear, and the gills should be reddish pink. If anything seems off or the fish itself looks beat up, don't bother.

Learn more: How to tell if fish is fresh.

2. And feel free to ask your fishmonger to remove the pin bones for you.

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Pin bones are the tiny bones found along the thickest part of a fillet. They're too tiny to remove with just your fingers, so you need to use special tweezers or needle-nosed pliers. If this sounds like a pain (which it is), feel free to ask your fishmonger to remove them for you. Most will do it free of charge.

Learn more: See how to remove pin bones from fish.

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3. Don't be afraid of frozen fish. It's usually cheaper and the quality is often the same.

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While some people may associate frozen fish fillets with lower quality, this is not always the case. A lot of fish is flash frozen at sea, meaning it's frozen the moment it's caught. Much of the "fresh" fish you buy in stores is actually just previously frozen fish that has been thawed, so don't be scared to buy the frozen stuff! It's cheaper, easier to store, and often the same or higher quality.

Learn more: How to thaw frozen fish.

4. Once you get home, make sure you're storing it properly.

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Because fish spoils quickly, it's important that you store it properly when you get home. One way to do this is to transfer your fish into Ziploc baggies and place them on top of a bowl of ice. This will keep them nice and cold, and the bowl will collect any ice that melts so there's no watery mess to clean up.

Learn more: See how to properly store fish.

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5. If you're new to cooking fish, try searching for fish en papillote recipes — aka recipes that cook the fish in parchment paper packets...

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Cooking en papillote is just a fancy way of saying cooking something in parchment paper. The little packets trap moisture and gently steam the fillet, preventing it from drying out. This is a great technique to start with, as it's both easy to make and very forgiving. Load the packet up with aromatics such as lemon slices, herbs, and garlic, and you're on your way to perfectly cooked fish.

Get a recipe for Mediterranean fish en papillote.

6. Keep in mind that fish cannot be marinated for very long.

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Fish is gentle, and a highly acidic marinade can actually "cook" the fish — which, unless you're preparing a ceviche (which is "cooked" using acid), is not ideal. Steaky fish (such as swordfish) can be marinated for one to two hours, but flaky fish (such as trout) should not be marinated for more than 30 minutes.

Learn more: Check out a complete list of marinating times for fish and other seafood.

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7. Invest in a fish spatula to avoid accidentally ripping your fish.

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If you're serious about cooking fish, you should buy yourself a fish spatula. These spatulas are super thin and flexible, meaning they can get underneath delicate fillets without ripping them apart. If you try to do this with a regular spatula, you risk tearing it apart or accidentally removing the skin.

Get a fish spatula on Amazon for $5.95.

8. If you're pan-searing your fish (aka cooking it on the stove), make sure to pat it completely dry before adding it to the pan.

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A general rule for searing any type of protein is to dry it before you cook it — and fish is especially moist, so this is extra important. Just pat your fillet dry with a paper towel before searing it and you'll be A-OK.

Learn more: Watch how to make pan-fried salmon fillets with crispy skin.

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9. If you're keeping the skin on, make sure you properly prep it so it gets nice and crispy...

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If you're aiming for crispy skin, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. You need to use a pan that can withstand high heat (like a cast-iron skillet or stainless steel pan) and get it nice and hot. Once you add your fish to the pan, press it down so the skin completely touches the pan (it'll want to curl up, so you'll need to fight it) and be patient. You'll know it's ready to flip once it unsticks itself — so don't rush it.

Learn more: How to get crispy skin on your fish.

10. And coat it in Wondra flour (aka instant flour) for extra insurance that your skin will turn out nice and golden.

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Wondra flour is a pre-cooked flour that has a somewhat gritty texture. It's mainly used to make lump-free sauces and gravies, but also makes searing skin-on fish fillets so much easier. After drying your fillet, season it with whatever spices you desire and give it a light dusting in Wondra flour. It helps give your fish a beautiful golden color and nice, crispy texture. It's not completely necessary, but it's added insurance that your fillets will come out nice and golden.

Learn more: Read exactly how to cook fish using Wondra flour.

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11. If you're grilling your fish, brush it with mayonnaise to prevent it from sticking to the grates.

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Chef Michael Cimarusti of Providence restaurant in Los Angeles swears by brushing his fish with mayo before throwing it onto the grill. Brushing a thin coating of mayonnaise on skinless fillets can actually prevent them from sticking to the grill and help promote even browning. It sounds weird, but mayo is basically just fat, so it's not actually that weird.

Learn more: See how to perfectly grill fish using mayonnaise.

12. Once you feel comfortable cooking fillets, try cooking a whole fish. It's a lot easier than it sounds.

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If you're ready to take your cooking to the next level, try roasting whole fish. You can ask your fishmonger to prepare it for roasting (they can scale, gut, score, and rinse it for you if you ask) so all you have to do is season it up with whatever spices and aromatics you want. You can stuff the cavity with things like lemon slices, herbs, or garlic cloves, then roast it in the oven for 18-20 minutes at 450°F. That's it!

Learn more: How to cook a whole fish.

Looking for even more helpful cooking tips? Check out these posts:

9 Restaurant Cooking Tricks You Can Use In Your Own Kitchen

23 Tips That'll Trick Others Into Thinking You're A Chef

17 Cooking Tips Every One Should Know

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