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Knowing When Fish Is Cooked

Most fish is perfectly cooked when the interior loses it opaque or raw coloring. Tuna is an exception, since it should always be served with an interior that ranges from raw to medium rare. Some cooks prefer slightly undercooked fish so that the thickest part of the fish has not quite lost its opaque coloring. This is a matter of personal preference.

Use one or a combination of any of the following techniques for determining doneness. When in doubt, err on the side of undercooking fish. If the fish is not fully cooked, it can always be returned to the barbecue, broiler, microwave, or sauté pan. Overcooked fish is a taste disaster.

Using a knife and fork, try separating the flesh. The moment the fish begins to flake when prodded with a fork, it’s done.

Using the blunt end of a bamboo chopstick, gently push on the fish. The fish is perfectly cooked when the chopstick sinks easily into the interior of the fish.

Insert an instant–read meat thermometer into the deepest part of the fish. Cook the fish to 135°F for slightly undercooked and 140°F for fully cooked.

“Flaky” or “firm” is a useful way to categorize fish and these terms help determine the cooking technique. The barbecue technique, for example, differs radically depending on whether the fish is firm or flaky. A lowfat firm fish such as swordfish quickly loses its moist interior even when slightly overcooked, while a less firm, higher fat fish such as salmon or black cod (sablefish) can be overcooked and still be moist. If you are new to fish cooking, choose a flaky fish with a high fat content; the results are more dependable.

Flaky fish has a rather loosely knit grain structure, which often appears in a herringbone pattern. When bent slightly the flesh will begin to tear. Examples of flaky fish, listed in order of fat content are: American sole, petrale sole, freshwater bass, sea trout, bluefish, butterfish, Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, pike, Pollack, rockfish, snapper, lemon sole, catfish, walleyed pike, tilapia, trout, black cod (sablefish), grouper, halibut, monkfish, orange roughy, striped bass, Atlantic salmon, arctic char, Chilean sea bass, coho salmon, sockeye salmon, king salmon.