The Best Tips for Cooking Fish at Home According to a Lifelong Fishmonger

The protein is not as intimidating as it seems, and you can even use a toaster oven.

red snapper fish spices fishes cook how to recipe toaster oven
Photo courtesy of Citarella
Photo courtesy of Citarella

Fish seems like an intimidating protein. There’s a lot to consider: the scales, the skin, the ratio of fat in a delicate filet. Overcooking fish will dehydrate one’s mouth, while undercooking is a step down from just opting for sashimi instead. 

Despite this, cooking fish at home isn’t as difficult as it seems. Joe Gurrera knows this—he’s been doing it all his life as a fishmonger and owner of Citarella, a New York-based chain of fresh fish markets that has been around since 1912. He’s even written a bible on the subject, aptly titled Joe Knows Fish. Gurrera wants cooking seafood to be less nerve wracking. “I want people to enjoy perfectly cooked seafood and love it as much as I do,” he says. 

Luckily, doing so at home is not as difficult as it may seem. You can even use a toaster oven! So whether you’re curious about how to achieve perfectly crispy skin on a whole fish or how long to to keep fish on the grill, Gurrera has the wisdom to bestow. Here are his insights, passed on to you:

Why you should grill your fish

It’s probably one of the easiest methods of cooking fish. “I always recommend grilling seafood for those cooking fresh fish for the first time. Most people know how to cook a beef steak so cooking a fish steak is familiar, not to mention easier and faster,” Gurrera says. To start out with, Gurrera suggests opting for either a tuna steak or swordfish steak to get the same, recognizable feeling of cooking other proteins. Like steaks, you want to sear the fish on the outside without overcooking it internally.

But Gurrera doesn’t want you to stop at fish steaks. In fact, to him, whole fish are the way to go. “I believe a lot of people have whole-fish phobia, but I assure you it’s worth getting over the fear because there is nothing like perfectly cooked fish with crispy skin,” he says. Instead of getting nervous gutting the fish or dealing with the complexities, Gurrera encourages visiting your local fishmonger and letting them do the hard part for you, so all you need to do is oil up the fish, coat it with your favorite seasonings, and toss it on the grill.

In terms of whole fish to use, he cites Mediterranean branzino as a great option, but doesn’t forego what he describes as the “underrated” porgy. Florida favorite, pompanos, also fare well cooked whole on the grill. If you wanted to get even fancier, whole fish can be cooked with lemons or banana leaves to imbue unique flavors right into the meat.

How to get perfectly crispy skin when cooking fish

It’s easier than you think. “The best way to achieve it,” mentions Gurerra, “[is to] give your fish an olive oil bath and season it with some sea salt and pepper, get your grill really hot, and rely on a timer. For a one-pound fish, cook for 5 minutes per side—and flip it only once. Crispy skin will happen without trying.” If you have a cast iron pan or skillet Gurrera recommends pulling that out for this step. 

And keep it simple—olive oil, salt, and pepper is really all you need. Fresh seafood can sing for itself when cooked correctly. 

cod baked recipe easy fish cook how to diy
Photo courtesy of Citarella

If grilling still feels too intimidating, try your toaster oven

That’s right—you don’t have to have an expensive cast iron pan or fancy ingredients to cook delicious fish at home. You can do it all in a toaster oven or air fryer and still achieve velvety, well-seasoned fish. Toss some vegetables right next to your fish on the tray and have an entire meal in roughly 10 minutes.

Baked Cod Recipe by Joe Gurrera

Serves 2


  • 2 (6- to 8-ounce) skinless cod fillets
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons herbes de Provence

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. (Use your toaster oven, its smaller and easier to use)

2. Rinse the fish and pat it dry with a paper towel. 

3. Put the fillets in a large bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Using your hands, gently rub the oil over the fish until fully coated. 

4. Season with salt and pepper and with the herbs de Provence.

5. Place the cod on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just cooked through. Serve immediately.

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn