How to Tell If Fish Is Cooked, Plus Two Sure Signs It's Done

Avoid overcooked (or undercooked) fish with our handy Test Kitchen tips on how to tell when fish is done.

One of our 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 four 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 is how quickly you could accidentally overcook fish. If you haven't had the misfortune of biting into overcooked rubbery fish, consider yourself lucky. The key to expertly cooked fish is simply knowing how to tell when the fish is done. Our Test Kitchen has cooking temperature and doneness testing tips to help you avoid overcooked fish forever. 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 or thermometers. When fish reaches the proper cooking temperature and is fully cooked, it will display these cues.

  • Opaque color. When you start cooking fish it's rather shiny and translucent. When it's done, the 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). It should flake easily without any pushing or tugging. Fish will firm up as it cooks.

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

Test Kitchen Tip: When making a recipe, check fish at the minimum cooking time to avoid overcooking. Check the fish frequently as it cooks past the minimum cooking time.

fish on a fork
Scott Little

How to Flake Fish with a Fork

This tried-and-true testing technique is easy to master. You'll need just one fork to test your fish for doneness.

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

At 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 degrees F. To test this, use an instant-read thermometer and insert it into the thickest part of the fish to ensure an accurate reading.

How to Tell if Cooked Fish Is Bad

It's easy to tell if cooked fish is bad simply by using your nose. There shouldn't be any fishy smell with cooked fish. It should smell fresh. When in doubt, throw it out! It's best to buy fresh or freshly frozen fish and eat it quickly after cooking.

How to Cook Fish

Now that you know how to tell if fish is cooked, you can put your knowledge to work and actually cook some fish. We're sharing our Test Kitchen's favorite methods for cooking perfectly 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. Each of these cooking methods results in tender, flaky fish perfect for weeknight dinners or dinner parties.

With your newfound knowledge, you can prepare seafood pasta, fish tacos, grilled fish, 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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