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I believe the rule is that fish which is 1 inch thick should be simmered for no more than 10 minutes.

What about fish like anchovies, whitebait and sardines which I think are less than an inch thick. How long should they be simmered for in order to avoid overcooking?

What if the anchovies, sardines or whitebait are cooked from frozen(due to perishability), how long should they be simmered for in this case?

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As with all fish, just don't cook it any longer than necessary - all you need is long enough to get the temperature up (to 145F/63C), and anything past that is just overcooking. Boiling is a really fast cooking method, and simmering or poaching is not much slower. Note that this also means removing it from the water as soon as it's done, since the water is way above the necessary temperature and will easily overcook seafood even if it's removed from the stove.

Tiny fish like you mention will probably be done in only a minute or two, similar to small. The best way to tell, though, is not to use a timer but to directly check the fish: it should be opaque and flaky. (For small fish, those aren't very big flakes, but you could still pull it apart or bend it and tell.)

  • To me, fish is like any other animal protein, time does not work other than as a rough guide for planning meals. A thermometer and leaning what the protein looks and feels like at the finish you want is the only way to get consistent results. Rules like 10 minutes per inch have no allowance for density of the meat, oil content, temperature variations, altitude, personal taste, etc. Experience and thermometers are hard to fool though. – dlb Feb 17 '17 at 16:38
  • Agreed, temperature (or checking for doneness), not time, for any meat. It's a little more important for fish perhaps because it cooks (and overcooks) so quickly, and gets unappealing so easily when overcooked. – Cascabel Feb 17 '17 at 16:49
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I'd use a similar method as I would if I were poaching in butter. Get a couple cups of it in a very heavy sauce pan, and get it in the oven at 350F. Give it 20 - 30 minutes to get up to temp.

A frame of reference here would be a portion of halibut taking approximately 15 minutes to be nicely cooked. So you're looking at maybe .. 3 - 5 minutes for mackerel, 2 - 3 for sardines.

You'd have to play with it, but poaching (in anything) is much better for fish than simmering or boiling.

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