We’ll admit it: we’ve tried cooking frozen fish fillets many times, mainly because we forgot to thaw them the previous night. It’s an honest error, but one that doesn’t leave you with enough time on your hands to properly thaw and cook the fish from scratch!
But here’s the thing, cooking frozen fish isn’t as easy as it seems. More often than not, the fillets end up cooking unevenly which results in terrible flavors and textures. The fish seems to lose all of its texture, leaving you with a pile of flavorless mush!
So the big question is, can you fry frozen fish? And is there a better way to do it that doesn’t result in disaster? The short answer is, yes. You can cook any type of fish fillet from frozen. However, there is a specific way to do it that preserves the texture.
White fish fillets cook best when fried. Oily fish should rather be slow-cooked into stews, soups, or curries. Furthermore, you have to properly prepare the fillets before the cooking even starts. And then, you have to cook the fillets using high heat for the perfect amount of time.
In today’s jam-packed article, we will explore every aspect of cooking frozen fish. We’ll take a look at which types work best, which techniques are preferred, how to prepare the fillets, and finally, how to cook them.
We also included some expert tips that will make the process even easier and ultimately, resulting in the best flaky, tender, and juicy cuts!
Why Do Most People Thaw Fish Before Cooking It?
There are actually a ton of reasons this practice has been in circulation for decades – centuries even! And while this is an article about cooking while fish is still frozen, we aren’t advocating that it’s a better option. Simply that it’s possible.
So, first of all, the main reason fish is thawed before it is cooked is that it cooks more evenly and uniformly.
When the fish is at a uniform temperature, it allows the heat to penetrate the flesh more easily. This results in the ENTIRE piece being perfectly cooked to give you that buttery, flake, soft, and tender texture.
Furthermore, it completely cuts out any possibility of some areas being undercooked while others are overcooked. This, as you probably already know, can lead to some serious food poisoning and even death.
The second reason for thawing fish before it is cooked is to preserve its flavor. If it slowly defrosts, the flavor and juices are “trapped” inside the meat and don’t leech out instantly.
And finally, cooking thawed fish takes a lot less time and effort than cooking fish from frozen.
Can You Fry Frozen Fish?
All of the points above sound very valid. So why would you want to cook fish from frozen? And is it even possible?
Cooking frozen fish is rarely a conscious choice. And more often than not, it happens out of pure necessity!
We have all been there! Coming home late after a long day at work only to find you completely forgot to thaw the fish in the fridge. It’s heartbreaking!
And other times, it’s simply a matter of impatience. You have the willpower to make fish NOW, not in 2 hours time when it’s finally thawed!
Again, we get it! And there isn’t any bad reason for wanting to cook fish from frozen. But now the next question is, can you?
Luckily for all of us last-minute meal-preppers, it’s entirely possible to cook fish from frozen – you just have to know how to do it!
When cooking fish from frozen, it’s possible to still get a uniformly cooked piece of fish. You can still have that uber-flaky tender texture with a ton of juicy flavors too.
And, obviously, you don’t have to wait for the fish to thaw for hours!
Does the Type of Fish Matter?
There are MANY types of common fish out there. And while the cut won’t affect whether or not you can cook it from frozen, the species may.
The two main types of fish people consume are oily fish and white fish. Oily fish would be something like salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring.
These are usually the types that don’t hold up well when cooked from frozen. The fattiness makes the fish break apart easily, creating a mushy mess. Oily fish is better cooked from frozen using stewing, braising, and boiling techniques. These help hide the unappealing texture.
That leaves white fish types, which are definitely the better option to fry. These include species like cod, halibut, sole, haddock, and monkfish.
These types of fish have less fat and a much firmer texture. This makes them ultimately hold up a lot better when exposed to high frying temperatures.
How to Fry Frozen Fish Fillets
Frying fish from frozen has two main parts to it. The first is preparing the fish and the second is the actual cooking (frying) part. Each of these is very important.
If you don’t follow the exact steps we’ve laid out below, you won’t end up with a flavorful, tender, flaky, and juicy fried cut.
Another important consideration to make is which frying method you are choosing. You can either pan-fry, deep-fry, or air-fry the frozen fillets. But, each of these cooking techniques has different steps. You can read up on them below.
The preparation step is arguably the most important. Please do not skip it or skip some parts of it. If you do, it will ruin your fried fish!
Step 1: Remove the Fish from Its Packaging
To start, remove the fish fillets from the freezer. Take them out of their packaging and make sure any sheets or film are removed.
Step 2: Rinse Off Excess Ice Crystals
Next, rinse the fillets under cold running water. This is simply to remove the ice crystals on the surface of the fish. It doesn’t even take a minute to do and will help the fish cook more evenly.
Step 3: Pat the Fish Dry
Once most of the ice crystals have been removed, pat the fillet dry on all sides. Use disposable sheets of paper towels or reusable kitchen cloths (blue cloth). Make sure the fish is dry and doesn’t have excess moisture on its surface.
Step 4: Brush With Oil and Season
This step mainly applies to pan-fried or air-fried fish fillets. If you are deep-frying the fish, you can try breading it. But personally, we don’t love this technique with frozen cuts.
Place the dried fish fillets inside a lined baking tray.
Use olive oil to brush all sides of the fillet. Then, season the fillets with sea salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper and some herbs or spices of your choosing.
How to Pan-Fry Frozen Fish Fillets
For pan-fried frozen fish fillets, you only need a heavy-bottomed skillet or non-stick pan. You can use any type of seasoning that you’d like. And, for this technique, you can even use a marinade.
To start, heat your pan over medium-high heat. You can add a little more oil to the pan, but it’s not absolutely necessary. The fish fillets have already been brushed with oil.
Once heated, add the frozen seasoned fillet to the pan. Leave it to cook on one side for 3 minutes or until it has started to brown.
Flip the fillet over and leave it to cook for another 2 minutes.
Then, make sure there is enough oil to act as a lubricant for the remaining cooking time. Add a lid over the pan or cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil.
Reduce the heat to medium and leave the fillets to thaw and cook for 6-8 minutes. They should become opaque and the internal temperature should be at least 145⁰F (63⁰C). If not, leave the fish to cook for another couple of minutes.
How to Air-Fry Frozen Fish Fillets
Air-fried frozen fish is even easier to make than pan-fried ones. Again, you can use any type of seasoning that you want, and using a basting sauce is also possible.
Preheat your air fryer to 380⁰F (193⁰C). You can put the fryer on the “air fry” setting. If you use a “bake” setting, the fillets will take longer to cook and may come out mushier.
If you’d like, you can line your air frying basket with non-stick parchment paper or basket liners, or even a sheet of aluminum foil.
Add the frozen fillets in a single layer. Then, leave them to cook for 8-12 minutes in total, or until they are fully cooked through. Remember to flip the fillets once half of the time has elapsed.
How to Deep-Fry Frozen Fish Fillets
Deep-frying frozen fillets is equally easy, but there are more limitations.
First, you can only cook breaded frozen fillets if they were frozen with the crumb coating. It is a VERY messy process to crumb-coated frozen fillets and we do not recommend it.
Only fry frozen fish as-is. You don’t have to pre-season it or brush the frozen fillets with oil.
Heat the frying oil to 360⁰F (180⁰C). Make sure the oil is hot before adding the fillets.
Once heated, add the frozen fillets and leave to cook for 5-8 minutes, depending on the size or thickness.
Again, test the internal temperature of the fillets before just serving them. This is an especially important step for deep-fried frozen fish because it’s much more difficult to tell when they are done just by looking at them.
Once they are cooked, remove them from the hot oil and drain off any excess oil on layers of paper towel.
How Long Do Frozen Fish Fillets Fry?
This is such a relevant question. It depends on the frying method you use, the temperature you are cooking at, the size of the fish, and the thickness of the fish. So at the end of the day, it depends.
If you are pan-frying fish fillets, on average, they will take around 10-20 minutes. The thicker and larger the fillets are, the longer they will take.
If you are air-frying the fillets on the air-fry setting at 380⁰F (193⁰C), the fillets will take between 8-12 minutes. Again, it depends on the thickness. But generally, this cooking time is much shorter because the hot air is distributed a lot better.
And finally, if you deep-fry frozen fillets, they will take roughly 5-8 minutes at 360⁰F (180⁰C).
We don’t recommend solely following the time frames set out above. They act more as a guideline than a definite “these-fillets-are-done” statement.
The best way to ensure that your frozen fish is safe to eat and has the best texture is to test the internal temperature.
How to Know When Frozen Fried Fish Fillets Are Done Cooking
Testing the internal temperature of a fillet is the best and most accurate way to tell how done a piece is.
Fish has to reach an internal temperature of at least 145⁰F (63⁰C) for it to be safe to eat. Anything lower and the fish is undercooked. Anything higher and it becomes slightly overcooked.
The best way to test the internal temperature is to use a digital probe thermometer. The probe part can be inserted directly into the fish. Place it in the center of the thickest part. The tip should be in the middle of the width, not completely pressed through the fish.
You can test every piece this way to ensure they are ALL cooked safely.
Tips and Tricks
Now, even though we have pretty much covered everything you need to know, there are still some tips and tricks that could make your life a little easier.
- If you have pieces of frozen fish that are stuck together, you HAVE TO separate them before cooking them. These should not be cooked together and it will cause the fillets to cook unevenly. To detach them, run them under cold water for a minute or two. Do not pull at the fillets to separate them. They will tear and ruin the shape and look of the fish.
- Only use olive oil for pan-frying and air-frying. Olive oil gives the fish a much better color and crispier texture. For deep-frying fish, you can use any frying or vegetable oil that can handle prolonged exposure to high heat.
- When pan-frying frozen fish fillets, avoid using spices other than salt and pepper. This cooking technique often burns the spices, not only ruining the flavor of your fillets but their appearance as well.
- If you are cooking breaded frozen fillets, use the air fryer or deep-fryer. Pan-frying these kinds of fillets is not super easy and often doesn’t result in crispy textures.
- Never overload your pan, air fryer, or deep-fryer. This is especially important when cooking frozen fillets because they need as much heat as they can get. If you overload the pan or appliance, the temperature drops drastically, while altering the way the fillets cook.
- The frozen fish fillets have to cook at high temperatures. The temperatures we’ve recommended above are the ideal options you can use. They cook the fish quickly enough to prevent a mushy texture, but not so quickly as to make it burn without cooking the inside.