Salmon steamed in banana leaf

Be fearless with fish

Be Fearless with Fish

Some of you have let me know that you have a fear around cooking fish. I decided to tackle this head on with some tips and ideas for you to help you become more fearless with fish in the home kitchen.

Is it sustainable?

We know there is ongoing conversation around sustainability of all our food sources. Without a doubt, our seas have not escaped the over-reaping of our resources. If we can control our fishing and look for sustainability in purchasing fish to ensure there is enough left at sea, then it is an invaluable source of protein and a wonderful meal option.

Each fish is unique

Importantly in the kitchen, it is essential to understand that every type of fish is unique and each specific fish or fillet will cook at different speeds. So, when you cook fish, you will need to keep an eye on it. But, the good news is there are several techniques you can use to test for doneness. Don’t forget that fish will finish cooking through even once you remove it from the heat. So, removing your pan a little bit early is better than a little bit late!

Quick and Easy

The great benefit of cooking fish is that once you feel confident with it, you have a quick and easy meal option. It is a great choice for solo diners and equally for when you have a crowd. I believe that when you cook fish, less mucking about is needed. I had the pleasure of a Master Class with Simon Gault whilst a contestant on MasterChef back in 2013. He was adamant that a fillet of fish could be lightly cooked in a gorgeous golden pool of bubbling butter and olive oil and finished with a squeeze of lemon. Perfection!

But how?

In spite of the apparent ease of serving a perfectly cooked fish though, it does put the fear of dread into some, otherwise quite seasoned home chefs. It also has a long list of options open up when typed into google, with people searching for how to cook fish – in the oven; in foil; without frying; steamed and more.

Jono Beattie’s tips

Texture Catering
Texture Catering Fish

So, to help I called out to Jono Beattie who is the private Chef behind Texture Catering here in Auckland. I was rather chuffed that his tips were in line with my own thoughts, but I did love the way he expressed them for you.

  • Cook the fish on one side for 90% of the time so you can see the sides of the fish are becoming white. Then flip it over to kiss the pan for 10-15 seconds to finish the other side.
  • Don’t forget it will continue to cook out of the pan – COC (carry over cooking)
  • For larger fillets you can use a cake skewer and if there is resistance in the middle, then it needs longer. If it goes in without resistance then it is cooked through.

Here are my top cooking options for you

Shallow pan fry

Heat a little oil in a heavy based frypan. Add in a knob of butter and allow it to melt and bubble gently (but not colour too much). Lay your fillets into this bubbling and as per above, cook until virtually fully opaque before flipping briefly to finish the other side. (In my mind, it is rather like the pancake or crepe, where you need to wait until those bubbles appear on the surface before you flip, finish quickly and serve!)

Oven Bake (oily fish or whole sides of fish)

Oven Baked Fish
Oven baking Fish

Heat your oven to 200C. Place your fillets onto a baking tray. Drizzle with a little oil, add some delicate seasonings (garlic, herbs), dust with salt and pepper. Pop into the oven and cook until tested with a skewer. Aim for about 8 minutes per 200g – or about 10 minutes per 2.5cm thickness. These are guides though. Don’t forget you need to check yourself around these timings to be sure.

I have a neat vietnamese inspired recipe for a whole fragrant fish in my cookbook, The Fearless Kitchen, available here.

BBQ (firm fleshy fillets)

Oil your BBQ and place the fillets over the heat. Cook until done – around 8 minutes per 2.5cm of thickness – but again follow Jono’s advice, plus the moment a flakiness occurs you can remove from the heat.

Wrapped in banana leaf or baking paper

Salmon steamed in banana leaf
Oven baking salmon

Now this is really a trick way to steam your fish – wrapped up in the oven. It is simple and a great way when you need to feed a lot of people. It is a fabulously delicate way to treat the fish, which will emerge with a lovely clean flavour and fragrance. A full recipe for cooking fish in banana leaf is available in The Fearless Kitchen Cookbook.  There is also this one you can follow online 



Now as an aside, I have been teaching a young Asperger’s man to cook. His favourite and best dish to date is fish. It is simple and quick and he loves the flavour. We crumb it (without egg because he is allergic) and he gently fries it in butter. No disrespect to him at all because he is perfectly capable – but hey, if he can do this, with a fear of heat, you can too!



Let me know your favourite way to cook fish and what you find works for you and what is tricky. It’s great to be able to share these tips as it gives others the confidence to try alternatives they may not have considered.


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