I have received a lot of questions about how to cook fish from frozen to table-ready in 30 minutes or less. I am happy to report that it is possible and even preferred in some cases. While fresh fish right off the dock is best for flavor and texture, that’s just not always practical. As soon as a fish is caught, its quality starts to decline. In many cases, frozen is fresher than raw, as flash-freezing happens on most commercial boats within minutes of being caught.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been testing recipes using frozen salmon, cod, barramundi, tilapia and shrimp. Clams and mussels were fun to work with, too. When I say frozen, I mean straight from the freezer. A solid frozen block. Like in this photo below. What I learned through experimentation is that going from frozen to table-ready is pretty straightforward as long as you adhere to a few rules such as rinsing the fish to remove the ice glaze and cooking with relatively high heat, around 375 degrees and importantly prepare the fish en papillote. The is a method of cooking that steams the fish and retained its moisture.
Cooking en papillote
En papillote or cooking in parchment paper is a technique that I fell in love with years ago and use it several times a month. Its especially perfect for outdoor cooking – easy prep and clean up. You can watch a video of me cooking in this style using this link for cod and clams wrapped in banana leaf. Take a look and use it as a reference for this recipe.
When it comes to creating your packet you can use foil, parchment paper or something more exotic like banana leaf as your wrapper as long as you can ensure that the packet stays sealed tight while cooking. I prefer to use a combination foil and parchment paper for extra security. In my early days of cooking this way I had a few leaks in my parchment paper that resulted in me having to spend time cleaning my oven, which was no fun at all.
In addition to preventing leaks, creating a good seal on your packets helps the fish steam and holds in moisture. Adding ghee or olive oil to the packet is essential, and herbs and lemon are recommended. These ingredients combined with the juices from there fish form a nice sauce and makes it easy to add cooked rice, pasta or potatoes to the meal to help round things out.
Steps for going from frozen to table-ready
- Remove the fish from the freezer: Remove the fish from the freezer and from its packaging.
- Rinse off the ice glaze: Rinse the fish under cold water until at the thin layer of protective ice is removed.
- Dry the fish: Pat the fish dry with a paper towel or tea towel.
- Prepare the fish: Brush the fish with a thin layer of olive oil, ghee, butter or your favorite marinade, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and your favorite mix of herbs.
- Create the packet: Use a combination of foil and parchment paper to wrap your fish in for the best result. This method provides a double layer of protection.
- Cook the fish: Cook time for your packets will vary depending on the type of fish you are making. For example a 4 ounce piece of frozen salmon prepared with olive oil, lemon slices and dried herbs (as photographed) took about 15 minutes to cook at 375 degrees with 5 minutes of rest time before serving.