Cooking fish -- when is it done?

Joined Aug 26, 2010
I can't find any specifics that lead to my question, but I swear I have read a few times that if fish is flaky, it's overcooked.

Obviously, there are fish which are served rare, but for most fish, at what point is it cooked correctly?  The thought of a raw whitefish simply is disgusting. 

(Perhaps I'm crazy and made up the whole flake=overcooked.)


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
The rule of thumb used to be 10 minutes total per inch of thickness (on a grill or in a pan--oven is slower). That produces fish that is a bit overdone by modern standards. Now, the rule is 8 minutes total per inch of thickness, so about 4 minutes per side per inch thick.   So thin cuts can cook in a minute per side.

Of course, times vary more for specific fish and how they're treated so tuna is often cooked much less to offer that raw/rare center.
Joined Aug 6, 2010
I think it depends completely on 1) what type of fish you have, 2) how you are preparing it, and 3) what your personal preference is. Some fish are better cooked a bit longer, others are best left on the undercooked side. Some people like fish to be flakier, others like it to be a bit raw. I tend to gravitate to the latter. With the exception of chicken (for obvious health reasons) I would prefer anything undercooked to overcooked, especially fish.

If you're looking for a hard and fast rule as to time or internal temperature, I don't have it. I think it all comes down to preference and experimenting with different fish/methods of preparations..
Joined Oct 30, 2010
Fish is done when it changes from the raw fish color to the cooked fish color.  For fish that is going to be fully cooked, take it off the stove just before it get to the point that it "flakes"   by the time it's out of the pan and onto the plate, it should just be starting to do this, and be moist, not bone dry.  
Joined Aug 26, 2010
For most whitefish, their raw color is almost like raw shrimp.  Cooked whitefish is, well, white.  Are you saying that by the time it is opaque and very white, it's overcooked?  I always thought that translucent=raw, white=done.  I've never had "seared" tuna or other such "rare" cooked fish.  Is there a middle ground in freshwater fish between raw and cooked?  I know there is an obvious stage of "overcooked" where it's just mush, but I'd never thought of fish as having different levels of "doneness" like beef.  Aside from the odd fish like tuna that is allowed to have different levels of "doneness", do normal freshwater game fish also have this and I've just missed it?
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Ultimately, Gobblygook, the right amount of doneness is a matter of personal taste. But fashion comes into play too.

Recipes used to specify "cook until it flakes readily with a fork." That worked out at 10 minutes per inch, at the thickest point. But it also produced dry fish.

Today's fashion is to allow moistness. So Phil's suggested 8 minutes makes sense if that's how you want your fish. It will be opaque, cooked through, but still moist. This actually makes a better tasting dish, IMO.

Keep in mind, too, that all these rules of thumb apply primarily to white-fleshed fish. Oily fish have their own rules.
Joined Feb 26, 2007
I concur on the opaqueness/translucency.  It will keep cooking for a while even once it is out of your pan, so bear that in mind too.  Better under than over-cooked.

You can also go the route of getting a thin knife, popping it into the thickest part of the fish without going the whole way thru,just halfway, for a few seconds, then putting it onto your bottom lip.  If it's cold, cook some more.  If it's hot, it's certainly done.  This applies to any fish, white or oily.

With Tuna and the like, you want to sear it just on the outside to get that sandwich look.  Layer of white top and bottom, layer of pinish red in the middle, kind of the same appearance as a beetroot sandwhich.  That is when to take it and plate it.  Mind, this is only with really fresh fish.

Hope this helped.
Joined Jan 2, 2007
Apart from tuna i'm assuming you mean fish that is cooked through? With a fillet of white fish it can overcook in seconds and is a real bugbear of mine in restaurants. A simply baked piece of white fish is hard to cook perfectly but is perfectly achievable with a little practice, I use a pallet knife to gently lift the fillet in the middle, if it separates down to the skin it's done and needs to be plated straight away. As said by others, under is infinitely preferable to over.
Joined Sep 5, 2008
I'd never thought of fish as having different levels of "doneness" like beef

You can totally think in terms of different levels of doneness like beef for some fish, for example salmon or tuna. In fact at some restaurants I've had my waiter ask me "how would you like your fish cooked?"

Salmon and tuna tartare (raw) are very fashionable right now here in SoCal (or maybe it was last year: usually by the time I learn that something is fashionable it already no longer is /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif). It can be very good if well prepared. Seared ahi tuna is very good too. I can also enjoy a medium-rare salmon steak or fillet.

Funny I was just watching an old Iron Chef Battle of the Master where Sakai prepares trout tartare by first barely barely grilling the trout fillets over a charcoal grill. The fillets are just barely white on each side, you can barely see grill marks, when he pulls them out and starts cutting them to make his tartare. I'd never seen this (or thought of it) before.
Joined May 5, 2010
I'm surprised that no one has mentioned using a thermometer to check done-ness.

I have always cooked food by temp not time. To that end 138 degrees internal temperature works great for most fish and seafood.

I agree that there is degrees of done-ness for fish. Salmon is gross fully cooked, as are whitefish and tuna.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
All depends on type of fish,thickness of fish ,and amount of oil in fish. In some cases your preference as to how cooked ie broil, grill, saute.I prefer to cook mine on a sizzler platter with a mixture of wine,lemon juice and melted clarified butter on it. This keep it from drying out. Another old time trick is put a few lettuce leafs on top of fish when broiling . This stops the top of fish from over browning while letting it cook thoroughly(the lettuce contains large amount of water which insulates top of fish) I cook till slightly opaque 7-8 minutes an inch .
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