How to Bake Fish to Flaky Perfection in Just Minutes

For a quick, healthy dinner, use this guide to transform fresh or frozen filets into a delicious baked fish entree in as little as 4 to 6 minutes.

Cooking fish can be as simple as turning on your oven and baking it for a few minutes. Yes, literally a few minutes. One of our favorite things about fish dinners (like this baked fish recipe starring cod, lemon, and dill) is how fast they cook. You'll find out exactly how long to bake fish soon, we promise. If you're cooking fish fillets, fish steaks, or a dressed whole fish, our baked fish tips will help you make an excellent seafood supper. Oven-baked fish cooks at different temperatures depending on the cut of fish you're using, so be sure to check the correct temperature to bake fish in our methods, too.

white fish on sheet pan with lemon, butter and seasonings

Jason Donnelly

How to Prep Fish for Baking

Use these methods before starting any baked fish recipe and even if you're baking fish without a recipe.

  • Thawing: If fish is frozen, allow enough time for it to thaw, covered, in the refrigerator. For faster thawing, transfer fish to a resealable plastic bag and submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. Continue the process until thawed.
  • Fish skin: For fillets with skin, if desired, use a sharp fillet knife to remove the skin from the raw fish. You can also remove the skin after baking. If any scales are on the skin, scrape them away before baking fish.
  • Pin bones: Even if pin bones were removed at the market, there could be a couple of these tiny bones left behind. If you find any, remove them using clean needle-nose pliers or these WÜSTHOF fish bone pliers, dedicated for kitchen use only. Pull out bones at a 45-degree angle toward where the head would be. You'll enjoy your baked fish much more if you avoid bites with unexpected bones.
  • Dry fish: It used to be recommended to rinse fish before baking, but fear of splattering harmful bacteria that might be on the fish changed that. We recommend not rinsing unless you need to rinse off any scales. Pat dry with paper towels whether you rinse or not.
  • Preheat the oven to 450°F for fillets and steaks or 350°F for dressed fish.
  • Even thickness: Place the fish in a single layer in a greased shallow baking pan (like a baking sheet). For fillets, tuck under any thin edges so they don't cook faster than thicker areas. Brush fish with olive oil, melted butter, or pesto to keep it moist, and season as desired with snipped fresh or dried herbs, spice blends, minced garlic, and/or salt and pepper.
measuring fish with ruler to see thickness for baking time

Jason Donnelly

How Long to Bake Fish

How long you'll bake fish depends on the cut and fish thickness. Because fish cooks quickly (yay!) and dries out if overcooked, use these guides to estimate minimum cooking time for baked fish.

Fish steaks and fillets: A fish steak is a ready-to-cook crosscut slice from a large fish (usually ½- to 1-inch thick). Popular fish steaks include salmon, swordfish, tuna, and halibut. Fish fillets are ready-to-cook boneless pieces of fish cut from the side and away from the backbone (may or may not be skinned). Favorite fillets include catfish, salmon, grouper, red snapper, and tilapia.

  • How long to bake: For fillets and steaks, use a ruler to measure the thickness of the fish before cooking, then bake, uncovered, in the preheated 450°F oven 4 to 6 minutes per ½-inch thickness of fish.

Pan-dressed fish: Pan-dressed fish means ready-to-cook whole fish with organs, scales, fins, gills, head, and tail removed.

  • How long to bake: Weigh a pan-dressed fish before cooking, then bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350°F oven 6 to 9 minutes per 8 ounces of fish.

Related: Our Best Healthy Fish and Seafood Recipes

frozen fish fillets thawing on paper towel with scissors

How to Bake Frozen Fish

Fish freezes beautifully for later, but you'll want to make sure you thaw it correctly (and safely) first. The best way to thaw fish is to gradually let it thaw in the fridge overnight. If you must thaw it quickly, place it in a resealable bag and immerse in cold water. If it will be cooked immediately after thawing you can microwave it on the defrost setting, stopping when fish is still icy but pliable. Once thawed, it can be used in place of any recipe calling for fresh fish.

Baking Fish in Packets

Not a fan of washing dishes? By baking fish in foil or parchment paper in the oven, the flavors will meld together and steam in their very own packet that doesn't need cleaning later. You can create a delicious, mess-free meal in no time. Try our parchment-baked fish with lemongrass or this 20-minute (from start to table!) salmon packet with lemon-dill sauce.

using fork to flake perfect baked fish

Jason Donnelly

How to Test Fish for Doneness

How to tell if fish is done can be perplexing because it's not temperature dependent. Always check fish at the minimum baking time to ensure your baked fish doesn't get overcooked. Insert a fork into the fish and gently twist. The fish is done as soon as it begins to flake. The fish juices will be milky white.

Test Kitchen Tip: A traditional accompaniment to baked fish is tartar sauce. This crispy fish and tartar sauce recipe takes under an hour to stir together from scratch.

Your baked fish dinner is as simple as that. These methods work for almost any cut of fish as well as baked breaded fish if you're craving some crunch. Next time you see a deal at the seafood counter, buy a few filets and put these baked fish directions to good use.

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