How To Bake Fish ~ Eating fish regularly can help to reduce your risk of chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, even aid in alleviating the symptoms of depression. For this reason, health experts recommend eating a serving of fish one to two times a week! On the other hand, the method of cooking fish will change its nutritional composition, especially when excessive heat and oil are used, as is the case in deep frying. For this reason, baking is considered as the best method for cooking fish while also preserving most of its nutrients.
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Baking is a dry heat method of cooking that has been proven to cause reduced loss of omega-e essential fatty acids and Vitamin D. Both are vital to the maintenance of good health. However, there are key steps in ensuring that baking fish goes according to plan. These steps will be discussed in detail deeper in this article, so let’s get into it.
Choosing The Fish To Bake
No matter what cooking method is used to cook fish, it will not change its overall texture and taste when it’s already stale. For this reason, it is important to choose the freshest fish possible.
Fresh And Sustainable Fish
Keep in mind that a baked fish dish is only as good as its ingredients, so it makes sense to choose fresh fish. If you live in an area where there’s no fish market, you can buy fish from supermarkets with a fish section. You should be able to choose from a wide range of fresh fish from several areas in the country, both saltwater and freshwater varieties, as well as imported fish.
Furthermore, you should choose the most sustainable option available; it’s among the ways of ensuring sustainable fish supply for generations to come. Choices include Alaskan cod, wild Alaskan salmon, striped bass, North American swordfish, red snapper, rainbow trout, and Arctic char.
In many cases, the fish is already frozen, especially when it has to be transported over long distances. Don’t shy away from frozen fish either since it can be as fresh as, well, non-frozen fish when it was correctly prepared. A few ways to determine the freshness of fish, whether fresh or frozen:
- The fish should smell like the sea or lake, not stinky or fishy.
- The frozen fish should have a firm and solid feel about it with no signs of freezer burn.
- The fillets should also be firm to the touch; if it’s mushy, it’s likely been frozen, thawed, and frozen a few times again, or it wasn’t fresh when it was first filleted.
While fillets are also great for baking, whole fish is probably better. It is because they retain their shape better, not to mention that there’s a certain appeal to a whole baked fish.
- The eyes of the fish should have a clear quality to them while the gills are moist and bright red. Ask the fishmonger to open the gills, if necessary.
- The skin should be taut, nearly brilliant, with the scales in place.
- The stomach should have a firm feel and look intact.
Don’t worry as you can ask the fishmonger to remove the scales, guts, and gills, also known as dressing, before bringing it home. You may also dress the fish at home, such as when you caught it on your own.
Storing The Fish Properly
Even fresh fish can become stale when it isn’t properly stored, particularly when it has to be transported over long distances. You should keep fish fresh or frozen by keeping it in a bag of ice, which will keep it cold; we suggest using the Jay Bags FL-340 Large Insulated Grocery Bag to keep fish cold for up to three hours.
Once home, you should continue storing it in its sealed bag, place it over a bowl of ice, and put it in the fridge’s coldest corner. But don’t let it sit for prolonged periods since it can go stale despite the cold temperature. The fish should preferably be cooked the day you purchased it since its “meat” can easily break down.
Preparing The Fish For Baking
Let’s assume that you didn’t have the whole fish dressed at the fishmonger, or you want a whole fish filleted. These are easy tasks when you have the necessary skills and tools, as well as be patient in practicing your skills.
Scaling And Gutting A Fish
Be sure to wear latex gloves as protection from the sharp guts and gills, as well as from the sharp knife, when dressing a fish. The scales and intestines should be removed as these are inedible; in some fishes, there’s no need to remove the scales.
- To scale a fish, hold it firmly by its tail and scrape its scales using the Kwizing Fish Scaler from its head to its tail; remove the scales in the belly and fins, too. Use a stroking motion.
- To remove the guts, make an inch-long incision in its belly about midway between its head and tail. Then, cut through the skin from this point to the head so that the gills, guts, and roe are exposed. Remove these three parts with a firm motion.
- Rinse its insides where the gills, guts, and roe were located; use cold running water and rinse until the water runs clear. Rinse the outside, too, so that the scales are completely removed.
- Shake the fish a little, place it on a piece of kitchen paper, and pat it dry. Cut off the fins.
If you’re baking sole or flounder fillets, just leave the skin on since it keeps the flesh together. Instead, score the skin with a sharp knife to prevent its skin from curling during the baking process.
Picking The Bones
Fishmongers can fillet and debone your choice in fish if you request it. But you should also recheck it for pin bones, the small white bones running through its sides since these can still become a choking hazard.
- Gently run your fingers over the filleted fish’s surface.
- Locate the pin bones, which have a tiny bump feel to them.
- Pluck them as you go along using either needle-nose pliers or tweezers; be sure that these tools are clean before using them on fish for safety reasons. Pull them out at a 45° angle toward where the fish head would be.
Like the scales, be sure to discard the scales, innards, and bones in the disposable bin lest pets get to them.
Skinning A Fillet Of Fish
In cases when filleted fish should have its skin removed, the skill of skinning a fish comes in handy. Yes, the fishmonger can also skin it, but it’s still a handy skill to master.
- Place the fillet, which should have been patted dry with a kitchen towel first, on a clean, dry chopping board.
- Hold it at its tail end, insert a sharp knife between its flesh and skin, and keep the knife’s blade flat against the board.
- Using a firm motion, push the sharp edge of the knife along the fillet while slicing through it. Do it until you reach the fillet’s top end.
Here’s a tip, use a sharp knife with a flexible blade. Clean and dry the fillet by patting it with a kitchen towel before skinning; the drier it is, the better grip you will have on it.
Thawing Frozen Fish
If you bought frozen fish for baking, you shouldn’t thaw it by dunking it in tap water and letting it sit there for an hour or two. It will adversely affect its texture and, thus, its flavor regardless of the spices and condiments you put on it.
Let the frozen fish thaw in the refrigerator; keep it covered while waiting for it to thaw from the freezer. Leave it in the fridge’s lower shelves for 8-12 hours before baking.
For faster thawing, place it in a resealable plastic bag, submerge both the fish and bag in a container, probably a bowl, filled with cold water, and change the water every 20-30 minutes. The fish should thaw within an hour or so without getting mushy.
The Right Type Of Fish For Baking
Nearly every fish is suitable for baking. But there are certain fish that are best for baking. It is because of their denser and thicker quality, as well as their fat level.
- Halibut – Halibut is a white fish that comes out moist and flaky when baked properly. It’s best to bake it uncovered, as well as set the timer to 4-6 minutes for every ½-inch thickness in a preheated 450°F oven.
- Snapper – It is a high-fat fish that is best when baked as a whole. Plus, it can be stuffed with spices and seasoned vegetables, wrapped in foil, and baked for 10-15 minutes at 450°F.
- Tilapia – It is a freshwater fish that can be filleted for faster cooking. Plus, it’s a low-fat fish that can be baked with various spices, herbs, and vegetables for added flavor.
Other Fish With Denser Cuts
You may also bake sablefish, Arctic char, and sablefish. Filleted fish cook well for 40-50 minutes at 250°F for low and slow cooking; add a pat of butter for soft and smooth filets.
Baking Tips For Better Results
In many ways, baking is an easier method of cooking than pan-frying and deep-frying, broiling, and grilling. Just place the fish on a baking pan, toss a few vegetables and herbs with it, and place it in a preheated oven for baking according to the time and temperature set on the recipe. Easy-peasy!
But there are still a few baking tips that will yield the best results from a baked fish recipe. These tips are huge factors between getting a dry fish with little flavor and a moist, juicy, and succulent fish with plenty of flavor in every bite.
To Prevent Drying Out
If you’re baking filleted fish, you should consider marinating it in salt and lemon. It will make the flesh firmer and taste fresher, as well as make it easier to handle. You may also soak the filleted fish in a water-vinegar mixture before baking. Doing so will make it sweeter and more tender, as well as aid in keeping its shape better. Both methods will also make the fish less dry and moister when it comes out of the oven.
When baking lean, white fish like plaice, haddock, and cod, you can prevent drying out by adding liquid to it. The liquid can be water, wine, milk, lemon, orange juice, lime, butter, oil, or even a small amount of fish stock. The fish will not dry out while it’s in the oven’s heated interior, so it comes out moist, flaky, and tender.
For fatty, oily fish like herring and salmon, the liquid can also be added to the fish. But use only a small amount of oil or butter since the fish can become greasy otherwise.
Yet another method to prevent fish from drying out in the oven is to coat it with a flour or breadcrumbs coating, which will prevent the fish’s natural moisture from escaping. Be sure to pat dry the fish first, roll it in seasoned flour or breadcrumbs coating, and place it in a tray for baking.
You may also add stuffing to the fish, as is the case for a whole fish for baking. Brush the fish with melted butter, stuff its empty stomach with your choice of stuffing, and close the opening with twine before baking the fish. Don’t overstuff fish if you want its stuffing to stay inside instead of making a mess by exploding during bake time.
Should I Cover The Fish When Baking?
Recipes for baked fish usually provide instructions on whether to cover the fish with foil or not, so follow these directions. But there are also general rules in deciding which one is recommended for the best results. (When using Reynolds Wrap Aluminum Foil, use a new sheet for hygiene purposes. Besides, you don’t want the flavors of two different baked fish recipes to blend.)
We suggest baking fish with a foil cover or a foil wrap because it’s more efficient. The foil acts as a protective covering for the fish by keeping its moisture, shape, and sealing in its aroma and flavor.
But baking a whole fish in foil also means a longer time in the oven, perhaps around 40-50 minutes based on the size of the fish. In general, every half kilo of fish requires 15 minutes of baking plus another 15 minutes. Once done, be sure to remove the fish from the oven as soon as possible and open the foil. Letting it sit longer can result in overcooked fish as the steam within the foil will continue cooking it.
Baking fish without a foil covering is also possible, even recommended, for fatty or oily fish since it will not dry out too soon in the oven. Examples include trout, mackerel, and salmon; a pat of butter and/or a bed of vegetables, even wine, can preserve the fish’s natural moisture. Place the fish on a baking tray, such as the Kitchenatics Roasting & Baking Sheet with Cooling Rack, before placing both in the oven.
Should I Preheat The Oven Before Baking Fish?
Many novice cooks don’t preheat their ovens because they think it’s a waste of energy, or they forget about it. But preheating the oven is a must in baking, whether you’re cooking fish, poultry and meats or bread, cakes, and cookies!
Food cooks faster when placed in a preheated oven. It is because the oven already has the right temperature for the dish so it can begin cooking as soon as it’s placed inside the oven.
Don’t think of preheating as a waste of energy, too, even when it seems like it. Once the thermostat reaches the desired oven temperature, the oven stops using either gas or electricity while also maintaining the temperature for a specific time. But when the temperature drops below the desired temperature, the heating elements turn on again and use energy.
For this reason, it’s essential to prepare the dish at least 15 minutes before placing it in the preheated oven. The actual preparation time will depend on the recipe’s ingredients and complexity, but 15-30 minutes should be sufficient for the preheated oven to maintain its desired temperature.
Also, avoid opening the oven’s door one too many times. At times that you open it, you’re letting heat escape that, in turn, will affect the fish’s cooking time.
You can check the baked fish while it’s in the oven. You can see through its clear glass, for example, or you can open it just slightly ajar, take a quick look at the fish, and close the door quickly. You can also check the fish’s temperature, perhaps make adjustments like turning it over, but quickly return it to the hot oven, so there’s minimal heat loss.
Do it just once, it is because opening the oven door too many times can mean significant heat loss.
Baking A Whole Fish
Baking a large round fish and a whole flatfish have many similar techniques. There are also differences to account for their different thickness. If you’re baking a grey mullet or a sea bass, which are flatfish, you should make several diagonal cuts on its skin for a quick and even baking, as well as for keeping its shape.
Then, season it with salt and pepper, both on its skin and inside its cavity. Brush the skin with melted butter, garnish with herbs of your choice, and drizzle with lemon juice, perhaps even place a few slices of lemon for added flavor and moisture. Stuff the cavity with your choice of stuffing, too, and then secure it with kitchen twine or cocktail sticks.
Put the fish on top of a baking tray lined with greased paper, bake in the oven for the recommended time and temperature, and serve while hot. Baste it with the juices on the tray while it is cooking. It is to preserve its moisture and seal in its flavor.
The steps for baking a whole flatfish are also similar for baking a large, round fish with a difference. Since a flatfish don’t have a cavity to put stuffing in, you can create one by cutting through its flesh from the gill part to the backbone. Then, loosen the flesh away from the bone, which will create a cavity for the stuffing.
Just put a small amount of stuffing, so there’s no need to seal it with twine. Place a pat of butter or brush melted butter on the fish’s skin and bake.
And speaking of stuffing, it’s easy enough. You can make your stuffing or get recipes for it. A basic stuffing for fish recipe includes:
- 2 ounces of fresh breadcrumbs
- Chopped herbs like parsley, onions, and celery
- 1 beaten egg
- 1/2 cup of milk (or to taste)
- Chopped bacon
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all these ingredients until a paste shows up. Then, fill the paste into the cavity of the fish.
Make Your Flavor Combinations
The great thing about baking fish is the opportunity to experiment with a wide range of flavor combinations from herbs, spices, and condiments, as well as fruits and vegetables. There are hundreds of baked fish recipes to choose from, which are inspired by world cuisines like Mediterranean, Indian, and Asian cuisines. In most of these recipes, the goal is to enhance the fresh, unique flavor of the fish. And not to overpower it with too much spice or condiment.
While nearly all spices, herbs and condiments can work well with fish, there are a few that are already tries-and-tested for their flavor. These include lemon and lime, which add a fresh and bright flavor to the fish, as well as salads with thinly-sliced onions, radishes, and/or cucumbers to complement the tenderness of the fish.
Below is a few more examples of herbs that will elevate the natural flavors of whatever fish you’re baking:
- Parsley – It is ideal to only add parsley to baked fish once it’s done cooking, or a garnish, perhaps with a squeeze of lemon. It brightens the flavor of the fish while also adding freshness to it.
- Chives – With their slightly onion-like flavor with a dash of garlic is best for pollock, pollack, and tilapia, which are milder whitefish. Drizzle a teaspoon of Greek yogurt for creaminess.
- Ginger – It adds zing to baked fish, as well as make it more aromatic. Use it in a honey-glazed recipe for a balance of sweet and savory flavor.
- Fresh Dill – It is suitable for mild-flavored fish because of its slightly sweet taste. Mix chopped dill and softened butter, pat it on a baked fish fillet and let it melt, and then garnish with your choice of garnishing, perhaps even a summer salad.
- Summer Savory – It has a delicate, sweet aroma combined with a slightly peppery taste. Utilize it as a baked fish garnish, too.
- Tarragon – It has a nice smell to it, too, similar to black licorice or anise. Mix it with the breadcrumb mixture for stuffing or breaded fish.
- Smoked Paprika – This spice has a distinctive taste combined with a spicy-sweet flavor that pairs well with fish fillet. Mix it with grated parmesan for a smoky, creamy baked fish meal.
You should have the spices and condiments for your baked fish recipes ready. So, consider getting the Kamenstein 5123721 Ellington 16-Jar Revolving Countertop Spice Rack Organizer. It comes with pre-filled glass spice jars containing nearly all of the known dried herbs and spices used in Western cooking, such as thyme, basil, marjoram, coriander, garlic salt, parsley, oregano, and rosemary. Plus, you can have it restocked for the next five years, so you never run out of the spices.
Cooking Time And Temperature
Keep in mind that there are specific baking times for fish, so be sure to check the recommended baking time for the baked fish recipe. In general, fish has to bake for 10-15 minutes for every inch of thickness at 450°F. Also, if the fish is more than an inch thick, it should be turned halfway through its cooking time to achieve even cooking. Again, open the door quickly, get the baking pan with the fish out, and turn the fish before returning it to the hot oven.
Turn the fish just once because turning it a third time will likely make it fall apart. Use two spatulas, which have a flat surface, in flipping the fish, so there’s less risk of it falling apart in the middle.
The importance of following the recommended baking time and temperature cannot be overemphasized! Fish can easily become overcooked, faster than thicker and denser poultry and meat. When it does, it becomes dry, tough, and unpalatable.
You may notice that some baked fish recipes call for a lower temperature, say, 350°F. While it extends the baking time, it may be necessary to allow the other ingredients like vegetables to cook. It also helps in terms of moisture retention in the fish since the oven isn’t too hot; wrapping the fish in foil will also help in this regard, as previously mentioned.
But if a browned surface or a crusty skin is the desired result, you may consider increasing the oven temperature but decreasing the time.
Things To Consider When Deciding On The Baking Time For Different Fish And Cuts
Fish fillets and steaks are usually ready to cook, sliced using a crosscut method, and with a thickness ranging from ½ to 1 inch. The most common fish used for steaks are swordfish, tuna, salmon, mako shark, and halibut. In contrast, filleted fish are usually catfish, red snapper, grouper, and tilapia.
If needed, use a ruler in measuring the thickness of the steak or fillet and then use it to determine the cooking time. As previously mentioned, bake for 10-15 minutes in a preheated oven at 450°F for every inch of thickness. Bake uncovered, too, if the recipe calls for it.
Pan-dressed fish, also a ready-to-cook whole fish, should ideally be baked according to weight. In general, it should be baked in a preheated 350°F oven for 6-9 minutes for every 8 ounces of weight.
Slow roasting fish can also be done, but it can be tricky, especially for beginners. The rule of thumb here is that fish should be cooked for 20-30 minutes at 300°F, a time-temperature combo that can result in a fish that seems to be undercooked. You may find that slow-roasted fish has a slightly translucent appearance to it that belies its doneness.
If you gently press on the baked fish and it easily separates into flakes, then it’s already cooked, slow-roasted style. You may also use a metal cake tester to determine its doneness. Gently press the tester into the fish, pull it out after a second and place its tip on your lower lip – if it’s hot, the fish is overcooked; if it’s cold, the fish isn’t done yet; if it’s warm, then the fish is good to go.
Testing Fish For Doneness
The abovementioned testing for doneness on slow-roasted fish can also be done on baked fish cooked in a hotter temperature level for a shorter time. But you can also use a thin-bladed knife instead of a metal cake tester.
Insert the knife or tester into the flesh of the fish at the thickest part. A perfectly-cooked fish has an opaque appearance at the center so you can check for it.
Also, you can place a fork into the flesh, twist it slightly, and check if the flesh flakes easily or not. Check the fish juices, too; if it runs clear, nearly milky white, then the fish is done.
You may also use a cooking thermometer, such as the ThermoPro TP20 Wireless Remote Digital Cooking Thermometer, in checking the fish’s temperature at its center. Insert the thermometer at the thickest part of the fish, wait for a few seconds, and read the temperature reading; a reading between 120°F and 135°F means that the fish is cooked.
It is ideal to remove the fish from the oven about a couple of minutes before it’s done since it will continue cooking when it’s still inside the oven. It is especially true when fish is cooked wrapped or covered in foil.
Now that you have your baked fish, you should serve it while it’s still hot! That’s what we call a complete meal, especially when it has vegetables on the side. You will love baked fish because not only is it easy to prepare, but it’s also healthy and delicious. We couldn’t ask for more in a meal, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.