Perfectly cooked fish without breaking a sweat

16-05-2019 in Ingredients
Perfectly cooked fish without breaking a sweat

Cooking your products to perfection is an art! It's the Holy Grail for chefs, as the perfect preparation is what makes a dish. While everyone immediately thinks about a perfectly cooked steak, perfectly preparing fish gives just as impressive a result. If you want a soft and juicy piece of fish, then cooking at a low temperature is the perfect method to use. You might think that this automatically translates into slow-cooking, but with fish nothing could be further from the truth. We'll tell you about the perfect preparation techniques and how to see when the fish is ready.

Fish versus meat

It's quite obvious that the structure of meat differs quite a bit from that of fish. You can see it immediately: the muscle fibres are not as tightly connected, making raw fish softer than meat. But the biggest difference is not something that you can see with the naked eye. That's because fish is made from a different type of protein than meat. This protein is more sensitive to temperature changes and coagulates much faster. Fish protein starts to coagulate at 40°C, while the protein in meat only starts to coagulate at 50°C. This and the structure of your product partly determine the cooking time. As a result of its looser structure, fish therefore cooks quicker than meat which is more compact.

Don't stress, let time do all the work 

Slowly cooking at a low temperature has a positive effect on the result. By keeping the temperature low, the proteins in the fish slowly solidify, thereby reducing shrinkage. As the muscles contract less, less moisture is lost during preparation, leaving a juicier end result, while the low temperature also ensures an even cooking. You can take cod fillet that is cooked in the oven at 180°C, for example, and compare it to the same fillet cooked in a low-temperature oven at 80°C. The fillet cooked in the oven will dry out around the edges as the proteins are exposed to too high temperatures. This also makes the structure of the cod very flaky. But if the cod is cooked at a low temperature, the heat spreads through the fish more gradually and the edges are less exposed as well. This ensures that the fillet stays soft and juicy. It is clear that cooking at a low temperature has several advantages: 

  1. Even cooking. 
  1. Less change of flavour. 
  1. Juicier end result.

Mise en place technique 

Low temperature cooking is often considered to be a mise en place technique, but with fish nothing could be further from the truth. If you have one of the following machines in your kitchen, you are assured a beautifully cooked piece of fish at serving.

  1. Low-temperature oven 
  1. Sous vide system 
  1. Pan (poaching
  1. Heat lamp 
  1. Alto-Shaam 

Is it done yet?

Know when it's done: the line between perfectly cooked and near-perfect is very thin. Prick a needle into the meat while cooking to see if it is done. If you feel little to no resistance, then it's ready! When cooking whole fish you check whether the fillet on the side of the head releases easily. If you are cooking white fish, you can see if the fish is done if the meat has a pearly sheen. If the segments separate easily, the fish is ready.

Soft and juicy, not brown and crispy 

While cooking at a low temperature has many advantages, it is a pity that it does not allow for the Maillard reaction to occur which adds so much flavour. If you do want to add some extra flavour to your fish, you can cover it with a herb crust and briefly place it under the salamander grill or quickly scorch it with a kitchen blowtorch for that roasted flavour. This ensures that your cod combines the best of cooking at a low temperature with the burst of flavour from the heat. It is actually quite odd that we cook fish at a high temperature, as you simply get the best result from cooking at a low temperature. Sure, it is an exact art, but the result is worth all the effort for the guest and the chef who presents a perfectly prepared fillet.

If you're interested in exploring the possibilities, take a look at the technique pages poaching and confiting. Not yet a member? No problem, try Gastronomixs for fourteen days without any obligation.