In this lesson we are going to tackle sous vide fish. Fish is one of the hardest items to recommend times and temperatures for due to the wide variety of preferences people have, ranging from sushi (or sushi-like) to flaky and fully cooked.
Fish are also a lot more sensitive than many items you sous vide and sometimes small temperature variations can result in large swings in texture. There is also such a wide variety of fish that it is hard to make blanket statements that will apply to all of them.
I'll try to give you my preferences for fish and explain what other people like and why they like it. Hopefully then you will have the information you need to successfully cook sous vide fish to your own tastes.
Unless you are heating your fish above 130°F (54.4°C) for an extended time, be sure to only use fish that you would feel safe eating raw and you are not serving it to immunodeficient people. This is true not only of sous vided fish, but also of fish cooked in a traditional manner.
Pre-Sous Vide Fish Preparation
There are a few things you can do to fish to make it more appealing when cooking with sous vide.
Brining Sous Vide Fish
The top suggestion is to brine your fish before you cook it. The brine will help firm up the fish, especially when it is cooked at low temperatures, and will also pull out the albumin, resulting in a cleaner finished dish.
The brine can either take the form of a wet brine or a dry brine.
A wet brine is usually a 5% salt to water ratio, and is applied for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the fish. Make sure the brine is cool when the fish is added.
A 5% brine can be made by combining about 4 cups of water with 1/4 cup kosher salt, heating it until the salt dissolves, then chilling it. Some brines also have sugar or spices added.
A dry brine is easy to use, just salt the fish and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes before cooking it. Dry brines typically result in a less watered down flavor and are faster to apply since you do not have to heat and cool water.
Portion the Fish
I recommend portioning out the fish before you sous vide it as well. Most fish becomes very delicate once it comes out of the sous vide bath and can tend to fall apart. Cutting it into portions first makes it much easier to handle.
Add Some Fat
If you are cooking more than one piece of fish in the same bag, it is usually best to add some olive oil or butter as well. This will help prevent the pieces from sticking together.
Sealing Sous Vide Fish
The flesh of fish is generally soft so be careful when vacuum sealing it. A strong vacuum can crush the flesh of the fish and change the texture. I often just use Ziploc bags when cooking fish because there is no added pressure to the fish itself.
Sous Vide Fish Temperatures
There is a wide range of doneness you can shoot for when cooking fish sous vide.
The lowest temperature most people use is 104°F (40°C). This just slightly heats the fish through, releasing some flavor but doesn't really change the texture. There are similar results at temperatures up to about 110°F (43.3°C). This fish is almost sushi-like.
From 110°F (43.3°C) to 120°F (48.9°C) the fish generally begins to have more pronounced texture changes, becoming slightly more flaky and firm, while still retaining a lot of moisture.
Above 120°F (48.9°C) the fish starts to become more and more flaky and starts to dry out. The top temperature I usually cook any fish at is 132°F (55.5°C), though some people like it up to 140°F (60°C).
Warning: Only temperatures above 130°F (54.4°C) will pasteurize the fish, and only when held for several hours, something that is usually not done with fish. I highly recommend only using fish you would feel comfortable eating raw, and not serving it to any immunodeficient people.
Different types of fish are best at different temperatures, so it's usually best to look at a recipe for a specific fish, or a similar type of fish, when you are trying to determine what temperature is right for the preparation you are after.
Sous Vide Fish Times
Almost all fish only needs to be heated through and not tenderized.
The length of time needed to heat it through depends on the thickness:
1/2" (13mm) thick in 14 minutes
1" (25mm) thick in 35 minutes
1.5" (38mm) thick in 1 hour 25 minutes
2" (50mm) thick in 2 hours
While those times generally work, many people don't cook their fish more than an hour because it can start to degrade in the waterbath. Using a shorter time on a thicker piece of fish means the middle will be cooler, but this generally isn't a bad thing.
Depending on your preparation, you can decide to sear the fish or skip the searing step. For lower temperature cooks, the sear is often not needed. This is also true for "poached" preparations where you want to keep the flavor and texture delicate.
For some preparations, you will want to dry off the fish really well then quickly sear it. Fish can overcook quickly, so you shouldn't go more than 30 to 60 seconds per side.
I will also often just sear one side of the fish, resulting in a better crust and presentation, without risking over cooking it as much. This also helps prevent the fish from falling apart when you try to flip it multiple times.
Most fish is eaten right after you cook it, but some fish is best chilled afterwards. This is usually best done by leaving it in the sous vide pouch and dunking it in ice water. It can then be refrigerated until it is time to serve it. This will help the fish stay safe to eat and help prevent it from breaking apart.
This article is by me, Jason Logsdon. I'm an adventurous home cook and professional blogger who loves to try new things, especially when it comes to cooking. I've explored everything from sous vide and whipping siphons to pressure cookers and blow torches; created foams, gels and spheres; made barrel aged cocktails and brewed beer. I have also written 10 cookbooks on modernist cooking and sous vide and I run the AmazingFoodMadeEasy.com website.
Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links on this site might be affiliate links that if used to purchased products I might receive money. I like money but I will not endorse something I don't believe in. Please feel free to directly go to any products I link to and bypass the referral link if you feel uncomfortable with me receiving funds.
Like What You've Read?
If so, please join the more than 19,000 people who receive my exclusive newsletter and get a FREE COPY of my printable modernist ingredient cheatsheet. Just click on the green button below!
Did you enjoy this?
I'd really appreciate you sharing it with your friends:
You're Almost Done!
Thanks for signing up! I look forward to sending you recipes, links, and exclusive content and offers that you can't find anywhere else on the site, and I'll send you a free copy of my modernist ingredient cheatsheet too!
Enter your first name and email below, and I'll see you on the inside!
You're On Your Way to Sous Vide Success!
Thanks for signing up! I look forward to guiding you through the process of discovering sous vide with amazing articles, recipes, and tips and tricks you can use to impress your friends and family by turning out amazing food time and time again!
Enter your first name and email below, and I'll see you on the inside!
Want to Level Up Your Sous Vide Game?
My FREE email course will help you make perfect meats, master searing, and discover the sous vide times and temperatures you need to make everyday food amazing...and impress your friends and family.