Your Guide to Never Overcooking Fish Again

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Maria Midoes)

Cooking fish at home can be tricky. Because it’s lean and relatively quick-cooking, the line between just-right and dry, overcooked fish is really quite thin — especially with baking and grilling.

But what if I told you there’s a nearly foolproof solution that will help you avoid overcooking and the super-dry, flaky result that comes with it? If you’re thinking it sounds too good to be true, it’s not. Here’s the secret.

Poaching and Braising Are Your Insurance Policy

Consider poaching and braising your insurance policy for tender, juicy, well-cooked fish every time. When it comes to preparing fish, whether it’s salmon, cod, halibut, or any of your other favorites, these two cooking methods are easily the most forgiving. Leave the fish in the pan for a couple minutes too long when poaching or braising? Good news — it won’t totally throw dinner off track with super-dry, unappealing fillets.

Here’s Why These Methods Are So Forgiving

When it comes to preparing fish, there are two basic cooking methods: dry cooking and moist cooking. Dry cooking includes oven-cooking, pan-searing, and grilling, all methods that don’t really rely on liquids (a slick of glaze or sauce doesn’t count). Poaching and braising both fall into the moist cooking category. These two methods rely on a cooking liquid — anything from water or stock to wine or beer — to cook the fish through.

Since fillets are at least partially submerged in liquid with poaching and braising, they are continuously infused with moisture (and extra flavor!) as they cook. So unlike other methods, the fish isn’t losing moisture in the same way. Leave it cooking in the pan a few minutes extra, and you can still count on serving up a totally tender fish dinner. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can skip setting the timer or forget about it entirely: A few extra minutes of cooking is no problem, but too long and the fillets will eventually get mushy.

The Difference Between Poaching and Braising

The main difference that sets these two cooking methods apart that is that braising starts by quickly searing the fish (or meat) before submerging it in the cooking liquid and simmering it to cook through. Food that is poached skips the searing; it’s added to the cooking liquid raw and then simmered over a low heat.

Recipes for Poached and Braised Fish