The Secret to Perfectly Cooked Fish

The Secret to Perfectly Cooked Fish


Seamus + Healthyish

July 18, 2017  •  By Seamus Mullen 

In my latest piece for Healthyish—Bon Appétit's online community devoted to the love of good food—I tell the story of how I accidentally discovered the best way to cook fish... And it's all about the ideal summer cooking method: grilling! 

Try all three recipes and see just how easy making the perfect fish can be! 

read the full essay below

Grilled Halibut with Tomatoes and Hearts of Palm

Photo by Alex Lau


These 3 Healthy Fish Recipes Couldn't Be More Simple

The first time I figured out how to perfectly cook a piece of fish, it happened by accident. I was visiting friends on Fire Island, and I was grilling a piece of swordfish. I had just seared the outside when I realized that the heat was way too high and it would overcook, so I moved it to a cool part of the grill with the lid open, then I got distracted by an intense game of badminton. When I remembered the fish a few minutes later, I sprinted back to the grill, convinced I was going to find it ruined. Instead, what I found was that the combination of the high heat followed by gentle grilling yielded a juicy, delicious result. After that, I fell in love with cooking fish. Maybe it was the challenge of cooking something so delicate. Well-made fish always seemed like the mark of a truly skilled cook. Or maybe it was just because I had eaten so much bad fish as a kid, yet everyone else seemed to love it, and I needed to know what all the hullabaloo was all about.

Fish is now, without question, my favorite protein to make. It requires a lot of focus, and I love how that pulls me into the job of cooking. When you’re working with fish, there’s a real moment of reflection and attention; it’s those moments that remind me why I became a cook.    Over the years, I’ve learned that different fish respond well to different techniques. But I continue to stand by my accidental discovery for the best way to cook meaty steaks like swordfish, albacore, and halibut: an initial kiss of high heat, from a grill or a cast-iron pan, followed by cooking at a lower temperature in the oven or on a cooler part of the grill. The high heat breaks down the connective tissue in the muscle of the fish, while finishing it over low heat allows it to cook through without evaporating more moisture.

The beautifully cooked piece of fish doesn’t need much, but I like to serve it with a simple vinaigrette. First and foremost, the oil in a vinaigrette can help mitigate some of the dryness of a slightly overcooked piece of fish. (Let’s be honest, nailing a perfect fish temp requires some practice.) Second, vinaigrettes give you the chance to take the flavors in different directions.These three approaches to grilling halibut come from memorable meals I’ve had in different corners of the world: the bright flavors of Mexico and the crunch of pepitas; the luxurious and rich coconut of Southeast Asia; and the combination of simple Mediterranean cooking with the hearts of palm of Hawaii. Every time I cook these dishes, I take a mini vacation in my mind to paradise.