3.2. Fish and other seafood

Fish cooked sous vide is amazingly tender, moist, and succulent. Unlike fish that has been sautéed or grilled—cooking methods that can lead to a dry and rough texture—sous vide fish can have an almost buttery, melt-in-your-mouth quality. Other seafoods, such as squid, also respond well to sous vide cooking, although the temperatures do vary.

Time at temperature chart for fish and seafood.

Cooking fish sous vide is so straightforward that you don’t need a recipe to understand the concept. The following tips should help in your experimentation with sous vide fish:

  • Fish cooked to a doneness level of medium rare (131°F / 55°C) or more undergoes pasteurization by being held at temperature for a sufficient length of time (see the time-for-thickness graphs provided for lean and fatty fish).

  • Lean fish, such as sole, halibut, tilapia, striped bass, and most freshwater fish, require less time to cook and pasteurize than fattier fishes, such as arctic char, tuna, and salmon.

  • For fish cooked to a doneness level of only rare (i.e., cooked in a water bath set to 117°F / 47°C), pasteurization is not possible. Thus, if you are poaching salmon at 117°F / 47°C, be mindful that it will not actually get hot enough to kill all types of bacteria commonly implicated in foodborne illnesses. (Salmonella, fortunately, is not prevalent in fish.) Cooking fish at 117°F / 47°C for less than two hours presents no worse an outcome than eating the fish raw, so the usual recommendations for fish intended to be served raw or undercooked apply: buy sashimi-grade, previously frozen fish to eliminate parasites, and don’t serve the fish to at-risk individuals.


    The FDA’s 2005 Food Code excludes certain species of tuna and “aquacultured” (read: farm-raised) fish from this requirement, depending upon the farming conditions (see FDA Food Code 2005 Section 3-402.11b).

  • If your fish comes out with white beads on the surface (coagulated albumin proteins), brine it in a 10% salt solution for 15 minutes before cooking. This will “salt out” the albumin via denaturation.

Sous Vide with Prepackaged Frozen Fish

The grocery stores where I live sell frozen fish in vacuum-packed bags. In some cases, the fish, which has been cut into individual portions, is frozen in marinade, making it the perfect sous vide–ready food: it’s already vacuum-packed; it has been frozen per FDA standards, thus killing common parasites; and it has been handled minimally, having been frozen and sealed shortly after catch, reducing chances of bacterial cross-contamination. The time is ripe for sous vide to catch on big time: the food industry is already selling food in sous vide–ready packaging!

My favorite use of sous vide—well, besides making so many foods just plain delicious and easy to prepare for dinner parties—is using prepackaged frozen fish to make my daily lunch. My routine is fast, easy, cheap, and yummy:

Fill sous vide container (a pasta pot, in my case—I have an industrial circulator) with hot water from the tap. Using hot water means I don’t have to wait for the immersion circulator to heat up the water.

Drop frozen vacuum-packed fish in the water, as-is, straight from the freezer. Because it’s a single portion, the amount of time it’ll take to thaw is relatively short. Just remember: pasteurization times start once the core of the food has reached the target temperature. With a frozen item, you’ll have a hard time knowing when this occurs. I cook a single portion of fish for long enough to ensure that both thawing and pasteurizing have occurred. And because sous vide cooking is forgiving of longer cook times, for most types of fish leaving them in the water bath for an extra half hour won’t affect the quality.

Fish out the bag, cut it open, drop the fish on a plate with some steamed veggies and brown rice, and voilà: lunch.


If you’re preparing yourself a meal ahead of time, you can drop the cooked fish into a container with some frozen veggies, which do double duty by acting as ice cubes to rapidly cool the fish down.

The quality of frozen fish can really vary. Frozen salmon from one store can turn out mushy and unappetizing, while the same type of salmon from a different chain can come out moist, succulent, and perfect. This is mostly likely due to differences in freezing techniques: rapid freezing does less damage to the tissues by limiting the amount of time ice crystals have to aggregate and form larger, dagger-like shapes that can pierce cell walls. If you’ve had bad results with frozen fish, blame the freezing technique, not the fact that it has been frozen.

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