For a lot of fishermen, actually catching the fish is the easy part. It’s what comes next that trips them up. Somewhere in between the de-scaling and the eating, something goes horribly wrong. You end up with either off-puttingly soggy or unpleasantly dry fish, that is, if it didn’t already completely fall apart in the pan. If you are not sure what you are doing wrong, check for these common fish cooking mistakes.
You Didn’t Check (and Double Check) for Bones
There is nothing that can ruin a nice piece of fish faster than having to fish out an unsuspected bone from your mouth. One little bone might be forgivable, but when you are getting bones every other bite, it kind of puts people off. Before anything, even the marinade, check for bones just one more time. A visual check isn’t enough to cut it either, you need to run your hands over the fillet and check. You’ll know any rogue bones when you feel it as they will be significantly harder than the firm fish flesh.
You Didn’t Dry the Fish
Are you aiming for that admirable crisp, golden crust on your fish? If you are getting pale and soggy fish, then the key you are missing is to pat your fillet dry before it goes in the pan. If the surface of your fillet is wet, when it hits the pan, your fish will steam rather than sear which will prevent you from getting that beautiful color and crispness without overcooking it. Be sure not to pat it after it is salted either. Salt does draw out moisture, so the ideal condition is to pat your fillet dry, salt it, and put it right into the pan without allowing any time for the salt to draw out moisture. This will allow it to form a perfect, golden crust.
It is also worth investigating another common reason that can ruin a golden sear – not letting your pan get hot enough. When it comes to searing any kind of meat and getting a great crust, you need to get your pan incredibly hot first before adding even the oil and especially the food.
You Didn’t Cook Skin Side Down
Not everyone likes or even needs to keep the skin on their fillet, but when it comes to cooking your fish in a pan, it is actually a huge help. When you pan cook fish, typically it cooks longer on one side than it does the other, and the idea is that the thick, fatty skin helps protect the fillet from drying out or flaking apart. You don’t have to serve it with the skin on if you don’t want to, as the skin should peel off easily after cooking.
You Keep Messing with It
Fish is an incredibly delicate meat and needs to be treated as such. As with any meat, once the sear starts, the meat will actually stick to the pan, which can cause some cooks to panic. However, it will stick to the pan right up until the moment that the sear is done. So, if you keep trying to pry your beautiful flakey fish up from the pan before the sear is done, it is going to flake prematurely and end up as a hash rather than a fillet.
You Used Too Much Salt in the Marinade
Marinade can be a great way to impart flavor to fish. However, if you don’t understand the underlying purposes of marinade, it is going to utterly devastate your fish. With sturdier meats like beef, the marinades are often saltier than recommended marinades for fish because the salt not only needs time to permeate those tougher proteins, but because it also helps break down the proteins. This creates a more tender piece of beef, but the last thing your fish needs is tenderizing.
That doesn’t mean you need to skip the salt all together, as it flavors fish wonderfully. However, you may want to go very light on it in the marinade itself. The proper time to salt a fish is right before it is seared off so you still get the flavor, but your fish holds together.