You’re a master of steaks, chicken, and burgers. You do alright with pork and lamb. But fish? Fish is a crapshoot. It’s delicate and finicky. And while you’ve nailed it a few times, it normally turns out overcooked, bland, or just plain unappetizing.
No more. Chef James Briscione, director of culinary development at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, offers this simple broiling method for delicious, appealing fish—every time.
Start with filets. They provide fewer challenges than whole fish, and you can usually buy them de-boned, which removes one hurdle. Unlike steaks or pork, you don’t want to pull them out of the fridge too long before cooking. “They tend to turn out better if they haven’t been sitting out,” Briscione says.
Turn on your broiler (and give it at least five minutes to get up to the proper temp). Briscione says he likes broiling because the intense heat gives fish a nice crust, and it doesn’t involve any flipping or adjusting, which causes fish to fall apart.
Next, be sure to pat your fish dry with a paper towel. Moisture or wetness causes it to stick to your pan, prevents it from browning, and may also create steam, which leads to overcooked filets. “They’ll come out looking like bad baked fish if you skip this step,” Briscione says.
The spices you choose will depend on your fish. But salt, pepper, olive oil, and some lemon juice work with everything from salmon and cod to halibut. At home, Briscione says he likes to mix all those with some mustard and a little honey. “I rub that on salmon, and it makes a nice glaze,” he says. Dill, basil, and thyme are all classic fish herbs.
If you have a top-of-the-oven broiler, you can put your fish on any type of baking sheet or oven-safe dish. Just be sure to position your rack six to eight inches from the heating element. Too close, and you’ll burn the top of the fish, Briscione says. Too far, and you won’t get that nice brown crust.
With a bottom-oven broiler, you want less separation between your fish and the element. Position your rack just four inches above the broiler, Briscione says. Also, use a thin baking pan or sheet. “The bottom of the pan will block heat, so you need to get a little closer,” he says.
He also recommends setting your fish on a piece of tin foil, and turning up the foil’s edges to keep in the marinade and fish juices. “This is more for cleanup than anything,” he says. “It just saves you from having to scour that pan.”
When you slide your fish into the oven, make sure it’s right in the middle of the rack—not up front or pushed to the back. “You want the heat hitting it to be as even as possible,” Briscione says.
Cooking time will depend on your oven and the thickness of your filet. But eight minutes is a safe bet your first time through, he says. “To check for doneness, use a fork to pull at the edges of the fish,” he says. “If it flakes off easily, it’s there.”
Once the fish is out, let it sit for just a minute or two before serving. “You don’t want to dig in immediately, but it doesn’t need a lot of time to sit like steak would.”
That’s it. Enjoy.
Once you’ve got this broiling method down, Briscione offers this “next-level” recipe: Mash together some butter, bread crumbs, and herbs. “Work it into a cookie dough consistency, and then palm it onto the top of your fish,” he says. “It gives it a nice crust.”