Fri 05 Apr

Our Top Tips for Cooking Fish Fillets, Cutlets, and Steaks

One of the most common ways for Aussies to consume seafood is in the form of fish fillets, cutlets, and steaks: either pan-fried or thrown on the BBQ. And who could blame us - they are an extremely easy and delicious way to get your recommended seafood intake.  

If you’re not yet ready to graduate to cooking a whole fish, squid, or some mussels, or if you just need something simple and quick for a weeknight, this cooking guide is for you! 

The Basics 

Whole fish can be cut in several different ways, and you'll see them all on a visit to the fishmonger. So firstly, what is the difference between a fillet, a cutlet and a steak?  

A fillet is the whole side of a fish, cut away from the central back bone and rib cage. You may need several fillets from a very small fish, such as School Whiting, to serve one person, while those from a larger fish, such as a Snapper, are often the ideal portion size for one.  

Fillets from very large fish, such as Swordfish or Tuna, are usually sliced vertically into steaks that are a suitable serving size for one person. Steaks are generally round and thick, and should generally be served rare on the inside to avoid them becoming tough. 

Cutlets are a section sliced horizontally through the whole fish, leaving the bones in; Salmon, Grey and Spanish Mackerel, and Blue-eye Trevalla are often seen as cutlets. Many people (including us!) believe that cooking and eating fish with the bone in imparts more flavour to the meat, which is why cutlets are popular. 

Like most seafood products, when purchasing fillets, steaks, and cutlets, you should look for bright, firm, lustrous flesh, and a pleasant, fresh sea smell. Any dark muscle should be pink-red in colour, and there should be no discolouration, gaping or bruising. 


The Cooking 


Choose firm textured fish – such as Swordfish, Yellowtail Kingfish or Ling – as they hold together well on the BBQ. Ensure that the food is well oiled before placing it on the BBQ, to avoid sticking (oiling the food rather than the BBQ helps to minimise excess smoke). 

You can also consider wrapping fish to protect it from drying out, banana leaves, or aluminum foil lined with baking paper are good for this. 

Balsamic-marinated Swordfish Steaks with Seared Vegetables 

Barbecued Tuna Steaks with Walnut Sauce 


Pan Frying  

First up, make sure to pat the skin dry with a paper towel. Then sprinkle it with salt and pepper (some chefs say a thin dusting of plain flour helps too). Get your pan really hot, add a small amount of oil then put the fish in skin-side down and gently press down with an egg flip to prevent the skin curling. 

Cook the fish three-quarters of the way through on the skin-side; you should start to see the flesh turning opaque around the edges of the fillet, indicating that it’s cooked through, then turn the fish over to finish cooking (1-2 minutes). 

Don’t be afraid of a hot pan, and resist the urge to turn fish too soon. 

Seared Tuna with Salsa Verde 

Snapper Fillets with Pan-fried Potatoes 



When baking fish, you can baste occasionally to keep the fillets moist. Once the fish is removed from the oven, cover and set aside in a warm place to rest for 5-10 minutes (depending on thickness) to allow time for the juices that have been drawn to the surface by the heat of cooking to seep back towards the centre, keeping it moist throughout. 

Remember food will continue cooking in the residual heat once it’s removed from the oven, so the trick is to take it out just before it’s fully cooked. 

Roasted Alfonsino with Cherry Tomatoes and Herbs 

Red Mullet Baked in Paper 


Bamboo steamer baskets are inexpensive and widely available, and steaming is a great way to cook without the need for oil, keeping food moist and flavoursome. For added flavour, marinate your fillets before steaming, then reduce marinade over a medium heat to serve as a sauce. 

If the food is likely to release liquid, place it in a deep plate inside the steamer to catch any juices, which can then be poured over the steamed food as a sauce. Alternatively, placing food on parchment, baking paper, or banana leaves makes it easier to lift in and out of the steamer.  

Fillets usually only take around 5-8 minutes to steam, with cutlets taking slightly longer at 8-12 minutes. 

Steamed Whole Ocean Perch with Ginger & Soy 

Steamed Whole Bream with Green Chilli & Coriander