Certain cooking methods and preparations help to ensure that fish doesn't fall apart during cooking. Whatever methods you choose, keep two principles in mind:
- Choose the right fish for the cooking method.
- Choose the right cooking method for the fish.
All cooking methods -- including stir-frying. grilling, broiling and pan-frying -- are at your disposal with sturdy, dense-fleshed fish, such as:
Opt for cooking methods and techniques that help the fish stay intact when you're cooking thin fish with very flaky flesh, such as:
Rick Browne, author of Grilling America, recommends that you avoid marinating fish that you plan to grill, even sturdy varieties. Marinating breaks down the flesh even before you begin cooking.
Even sturdy fish with dense flesh can fall apart if you aren't careful. Follow strategies to minimize the chances that the fish will flake away before you get it to the plate.
Steaming and Microwave Poaching
Steaming and microwaving cook fish slowly and gently. As a result, the muscle fibers of the fish stay together instead of falling apart. The technique works well for tender, flaky fish, but you still need to be careful not to overcook the fish -- overcooked fish falls apart no matter how you cook it.
To steam fillets:
- Place the fish on a meat roasting rack or a baking cooling rack.
- Set the rack over 1 inch of water in a 7-quart Dutch oven casserole or large pan with a tight-fitting lid.
- Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil on the stovetop and steam the fish for 4 to 8 minutes, depending on the type and thickness of the fillet.
To poach fillets:
- Place the fish in a microwavable pan with 1 inch of water. Cover the pan with a plastic or silicon lid.
- Microwave on medium power for about 1 1/2 minutes per side.
- Let the fish rest for 1 minute before serving to finish cooking.
A clean, well-greased grill helps to prevent the fish from sticking to the grill and flaking. Use a spatula to turn the fish, rather than tongs, which will cause it to fall apart. Or use a well-greased grill basket that flips the fish without requiring you to touch it at all, a guaranteed way to keep the fish from falling apart.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking fish until it reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read meat thermometer.
Breading and Flouring
A coating of bread crumbs, cornmeal or flour helps to keep the fish intact during pan-frying or broiling. Simply dredge fish fillets or steaks in flour or cornmeal and fry them in a pan with at least 2 tablespoons of oil. To bread fish, dip the pieces first in flour, then in a bowl with 1 or 2 slightly beaten eggs. Finally, place the fish on a plate of bread crumbs and press the crumbs onto the fish on both sides before frying.
Invest in a slightly curved, longer-than-normal fish spatula to help turn fish fillets and steaks more easily in a pan or on the grill. The best fish spatulas are flexible and thin enough to slide under the fish, while firm enough to scrape up the fish's browned underside.