How can I tell when fish is cooked enough, but not overcooked?

Five-Spice Tilapia with Citrus Ponzu Sauce
Photo: Jan Smith

About Our Expert

If you have a cooking question, our expert, Marge Perry, can answer it. Marge teaches home cooks in her classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She is an award-winning food writer, longtime contributor for Cooking Light and a number of other leading food magazines, author of the blog A Sweet and Savory Life, columnist for Newsday, and has contributed to over 20 cookbooks.

Send Marge your cooking questions

Like Marge on Facebook

Browse Marge Perry's Recipes

Video Tips from Marge

For many years, there was a "10-minute rule" that said for every inch of thickness, fish should be cooked ten minutes. I've cooked a lot of fish, and I would estimate that rule applies only about half the time. The type of fish you're cooking and the cooking method greatly affect cooking time.

I check for doneness when the fish looks like it is no longer translucent, when it feels somewhat more firm when I press the top center with my fingertip, and/or when it has cooked the equivalent of about 8 minutes per inch, if I can't tell at all from the first two. (That happens, for example, when I bake fish smothered in tomatoes, onions, and olives: I can't really see the fish well, and the other ingredients affect the surface color of the fish).

Many older fish recipes will tell you to cook the fish until it flakes: by that time, the fish may start to dry out. The ultimate check for doneness is to peek into the center of the thickest part of the fish. To do this and not serve fish with a big gash mark in the center, slide a butter knife straight down through one of the existing seams in the flesh (those little parallel lines that run through the fish). Gently pry the flesh back and determine if the fish has just lost its translucency. You should see lots of moisture, but the fish will be nearly opaque. If you see just the tiniest bit of translucency in the center, take it off the heat—by the time you serve it, the fish will be cooked through.

Recipe: Five-Spice Tilapia with Citrus Ponzu Sauce

Marge Perry
Jul, 2011

Printed from:

Copyright © 2014 Time Inc. Lifestyle Group. All Rights Reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy (Your California Privacy Rights). Ad Choices