Because seafood can go from underdone to overcooked and dry in a matter of seconds, it's easy to be intimidated by cooking it. Luckily the key to expertly cooked fish is as simple as knowing how to tell when fish is done. Our Test Kitchen has cooking temperature and doneness testing tips to help you avoid overcooked fish forever.

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One of our most favorite reasons to cook fish is that it's fast. Really fast. Depending on how thick it's been cut, a fish filet could bake, broil, poach, grill, or sauté in as little as 4 minutes! With speed like that, quick and easy seafood recipes are an awesome choice for busy weeknights. The only downfall to that speedy cooking time how quickly you could accidentally overcook fish. (If you haven't had the misfortune of biting into overcooked rubbery fish, consider yourself lucky.) Thankfully there are two simple ways to tell when fish is done so you'll only serve up just-right cooked fish.

How to Tell When Fish Is Done

The two ways to tell your fish is cooked are visual cues that require no special equipment. When fish reaches the proper cooking temperature it will display these cues.

  • Opaque color. When you start cooking fish it's rather shiny and translucent. When it's done, fish will be opaque.
  • Flake easily with a fork. When fish is finished cooking, it'll flake apart with a fork (more on that next).

Undercooked fish resists flaking and is translucent. If your fish is undercooked, just continue heating it until it's done. But remember, fish cooks fast, so check it often.

Test Kitchen Tip: Check fish at the minimum cooking time to avoid overcooking.

fish on a fork
Credit: Scott Little

How to Flake Fish with a Fork

This tried-and-true testing technique is easy to master.

  • Insert the tines of a fork into the thickest portion of the fish at a 45° angle.
  • Gently twist the fork and pull up some of the fish. If it flakes easily, without resistance, the fish is done.

What Temperature Is Fish Done?

While the fork test and opaque color are excellent giveaways that fish is done cooking, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends a safe temperature for cooked fish of 145°F. Use an instant-read thermometer ($15, Target), to test this.

How to Cook Fish

Knowing how to how to tell if fish is cooked is of no use until you've actually cooked fish. Get all the info you need on how to bake fish, how to fry fish (including pan-frying), and how to grill fish.

Now that you know exactly how to tell if fish is done, you can prepare seafood pasta, fish tacos, grilled fish recipes, or any fish dish just right! No matter what seafood dish you're in the mood for, a restaurant-caliber dinner awaits.


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