Usually, for a number of reasons, I don't cook fish (I know, it was probably ill-judged of me). What with my recently imposed dietary restrictions, I decided to give it another chance to compensate for a lack of meats I could eat. I bought cod, filleted it, put it onto my non-stick grill pan (which turned out to be not as non-stick) and grilled it for just a few minutes on each side. It was tender (so I believe I didn't overdo it), but I could hardly flip it or take it off the pan: it easily disintegrated, fell to pieces. Is it supposed to happen to cod? Was it bad cod (it smelled fishy – not spoiled, mind, but I heard fresh fish doesn't smell at all)? Was it a method of preparation that didn't suit that kind of fish?


3 Answers 3


That's totally normal for cod, it's a flaky fish. The best way to keep it together is to leave the skin on, if possible.

If the fish is skinless your best bet of keeping it together is to handle it as little and as gently as possible. The way I do it is to flip it once, starting it on the top first, then after a minute flipping it to the bottom, which is where the majority of cooking takes place. There are spatulas for fish which are longer to help support the fish as you turn it and keep it in one piece as you take it out, I actually use a crepe spatula for the same purpose.

If you treat it gently and use the right tools and pans you can keep even flaky fish together.

  • 7
    Most fish is flaky @SergeyZolotarev, most people just learn to live with it as 'meatier' fish like monkfish and swordfish tends to be much more expensive.
    – GdD
    Nov 3, 2022 at 17:27
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    @SergeyZolotarev using a grill pan was your first mistake. I find fish on the grill-pan(or grill) a more tricky proposition than a flat pan. I actually suspect that chefs don't typically grill fillets that often either. Even grilled swordfish tends to be done with steaks instead of fillets. I believe that in a flat pan, the outer portion of the meat gets a uniform crust that helps hold it together, though again, you probably want to leave the skin on.
    – Dave
    Nov 3, 2022 at 22:22
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    Salmon is relatively non-flaky, as is Tuna; Tuna you can basically cook just like a steak. Salmon is in between; it won't fall entirely apart, typically.
    – Joe M
    Nov 3, 2022 at 23:21
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    I'd check the dietary guidelines @SergeyZolotarev, the fats in salmon are usually considered healthy and may be a good thing.
    – GdD
    Nov 4, 2022 at 8:25
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    Use a flat non-stick pan and use a very large spatula to flip it.
    – Daron
    Nov 4, 2022 at 12:16

Ideally, you should avoid turning it more than once or twice, to GdD's point of handling it as little and gently as possible.

You'll also want to use a good spatula (or two) to flip it. Additionally, make sure the heat isn't too high and you use enough fat (e.g. olive oil, butter)/liquid (e.g. white wine, lemon juice) to keep it from sticking to the pan.

You might find this tutorial/recipe helpful: https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-fish-on-the-stovetop-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-204805

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    fyi, OP is on a heavily restricted medical diet including very low fat. I suspect he's cooking with no added fat under this advice, and adding more is unfortunately probably not an option
    – Tristan
    Nov 4, 2022 at 13:05

If cod separates in pieces, it is overcooked. The flesh should still be slightly tender and in one piece. As you start cooking with cod, remember: You don't need to move the cod once in the pan. Instead, add some liquid (broth, wine, or just veggies) and the steam will cook it.

The simplest way I'd suggest: sauté leaks, onions and mushroom (or whichever veggies you prefer), then, once they're half cooked, just deposit the cod over them, add wine if you want, or broth if you want it a bit saltier. Let it simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, covered. The steam should bring the cod to the right texture without it separating in flakes.

Buy the thicker cod pieces you can find.

Also, not sure what the policy of this SE is on linking to recipes, but for reference consider: https://www.finedininglovers.com/recipes/cod-la-grenobloise-claude-bosi

The whole recipe is super complex, but the cod cooking part?

Place a saucepan over a medium-high heat filled with around an inch of water. Place a petal steamer inside and line with a piece of parchment. Season the cod with salt, place into the steamer and steam for around 6 minutes.

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