How to Cook Fish Fillets Perfectly

Delicious fish is quick and easy—follow my simple tips and it’ll be perfect every time!

Let’s just put it out there-fish can be tricky. It can be dry and flavorless. It can be fishy. Fish fillets are delicate can fall apart when you cook them. And for many, fish is just unfamiliar so, especially given that other stuff, it can be daunting.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s actually quite easy to cook up delicious fish. There are just a few tips to keep in mind.

First, start with good fish. Buy it from a good fish counter with knowledgeable staff. And if you have any doubt, smell—fresh fish shouldn’t smell fishy at all. It should smell like a fresh ocean breeze.

Second, use your fish within a couple of days. Or freeze it. And then when you’re ready to cook, take it out of the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes ahead of time. Not being ice cold when it goes into the pan will help keep your fish from sticking.

Third and most importantly, once it’s in the pan, don’t overdo it. Go for just a minute or two per side for a very thin fillet like sole or flounder, and 2 or 3 minutes per side for thicker fillets like cod or tilapia. (If your fillets are 3/4-inch-thick or more, they might do well with pan roasting—find out how to do that in this post.

Not overcooking your fish will help keep it moist and juicy. It’ll help keep it from falling apart. So how do you know when it’s done? Go for nice golden color, because browning means flavor, and a texture that’s barely firm to the touch—definitely not rigid.

To sum up all the above—start with good fish and then cook it just a couple/few minutes per side. That’s it! That’s the big secret to cooking really good fish fillets!

For those of you that want a slightly deeper dive, a couple more tips to help keep fish from sticking to the pan (in addition to making sure it’s not ice cold when you start cooking). Warm the pan first, then add the oil and warm it, too. Then add your fish and leave it alone until it gets brown on the bottom. Once it’s time to turn your fish, it should easily release from the pan.


How to cook fish flillets perfectly

  • Author: Allie McDonald
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 4


Delicious fish is quick and easy—follow my simple tips and it’ll be perfect every time!


  • 1 1/2 pounds fish fillets, with or without skin, whichever you prefer
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil (see note)


  1. Sprinkle both sides of the fish with the salt and pepper.
  2. In each of one or two large skillets (you need enough skillet surface area to hold the fillets without crowding), heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high.
  3. When the oil is hot, add the fish and cook undisturbed until golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Turn the fish and continue cooking until golden brown on the other side and barely opaque throughout, 1 to 3 minutes.
  5. Transfer the fish to plates and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving.


  • If your fillets are on the thin side, say 1/2 inch or less, you can use half oil and half butter. (I don’t recommend butter for thicker fillets because they need a little longer in the skillet and, in that time, the butter can burn.)