How Long to Bake Fish: From Halibut to Mackerel

how long to bake fishFish is a great source of vitamins that are super beneficial to our bodies. All fish contain certain levels of Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s, proteins, potassium, iron and other nutrients. Learn more about healthy cooking fundamentals in this course. If you are looking to bake fish, there are a few different methods to consider. And, above all, the baking method and time are dependent on the type of fish you are preparing. Most recipes will include a baking time, but just in case, here are two rules of thumb to remember.

1. If you are using a cooking temp of 400F, cook the fish 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.

2. Always check the fish by cutting it open to make sure it’s flaky all the way through. Don’t ever overcook fish – it will become dry and undesirable.

Baking Methods

There are many methods to choose from when deciding to cook your fish. There is pan frying, steaming, searing, baking and even deep frying. I can’t cover all of these within the scope of this article so we’ll just focus on some popular baking methods. You can bake fish fillets or a whole gutted fish. Filet’s will take less time to bake than the whole fish (especially if it’s stuffed or breaded). Baking for a dinner date? Learn how to cook like a man for your next date!

Baking with foil

This is one of my favorite ways to cook fish. Probably because it is reminiscent of living on the beach in Texas where fresh caught fish being cooked in tin foil over a beach fire was a nightly occasion. This is one of the best ways to cook white fish since white fish tends to dry out quicker. Using tin foil to bake fish essentially steams it and keeps in all of the moisture.

To tin foil bake, pre-heat your oven to around 400F (of course this can vary depending on what your recipe calls for!). Grease the foil with butter. If you are cooking the whole fish make sure it is scaled and gutted prior to baking. Season it with salt and or herbs (you can always stuff it, too). There is a cool cooking trend called Ayurveda cooking. It focuses on herbs and spices for healing. Check out more about it in this healing foods course. Add lemon juice if you’d like and then fold up the tin foil around the fish. Put it in the oven for about 12 minutes. Again, remember the rules as explained above.

Baking without foil

Baking without foil is just that – baking without foil. You just need to make sure the fish is gutted and scaled and then you can season it however you’d like and put it in a baking dish. You can add a sauce or vegetables to bake with the fish if desired. Baking times will be a bit higher than baking with tin foil.

Pan frying and then baking

This method is pretty self-explanatory. Start off by frying the fish in a pan on the stove for a few minutes to brown the sides. Use a skillet that is oven safe so you can transfer the pan fried fish into the oven to finish baking. Usually you will pan fry for around 2-3 minutes and then bake for another 10-12 minutes.

Whole fish

If you are baking a whole fish the baking time is going to increase. Regardless of foil or not, you are looking at somewhere between 20-25 minutes to ensure the fish is cooked thoroughly.

White Fish

Since white fish tend to dry out quicker than other fishes you usually want to bake white fish in some kind of sauce. It will help give the fish fantastic flavor and it will keep it moist which obviously makes it more delectable. Tin foil baking is another good way to handle this type of white fish. It maximizes the amount of moisture retained. If you choose the tin-foil method you can expect the baking times to be a little shorter than if you were baking it uncovered. Tin foil is a heat conductor and will help the fish cook quicker. There is no real set time because it depends entirely on the size of the fish, your oven and the temperature you prefer to cook it at. Just as an average, if you cook a medium thick filet in the oven at 400F you should only bake it for about 12-15 minutes.

Examples of white fish are: Cod, Haddock, Halibut, Flounder, and Mahi-Mahi. Here are some other sustainable and delicious fish choices.

Here’s a recipe for Halibut:


  • 3 pounds halibut steaks (1 inch thick)

  • 1 cup sour cream

  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • ¼ cup softened butter

  • ½ teaspoon dill weed

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • ½ teaspoon pepper

  • Pinch of paprika


  • Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

  • Grease a square pan. It should be about 13 x 9 inches and oven safe.

  • Mix together the parmesan cheese, butter, sour cream and spices in a small bowl.

  • The halibut should be in the greased baking pan ready to go into the pre-heated oven.

  • Dump the cheese-y mixture over the halibut.

  • Bake the fish for 20 minutes, covered.

  • Take the cover off of the dish and sprinkle some paprika (if you want) over the halibut.

  • Bake 10-15 minutes longer or until the fish looks ready and fully cooked. The inside should be flaky when cut with a fork.

This recipe calls for a little bit longer bake time because the fish is covered with a topping which will keep the heat out a little bit longer.

Oily Fish

Oily fish like herring and salmon require a different type of preparation and a different amount of baking time. Typically these type of fish can be baked on a baking sheet or in a baking dish. Without tin foil baking is the prime method for these fish as it already has so much moisture you actually want some of that to bake out of it. Use a baking dish as mentioned before and just put the whole fish or fillet on the baking dish to cool.

Examples of oily fish are: Herring, Mackerel, Tuna, Salmon, and Bluefish


2 two-pound mackerels
1 carrot, diced fine
1/2 green pepper, chopped

3/4 cup vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon thyme


  • Preheat oven to 400F.

  • In a pan on low heat, mix all ingredients (not the fish) together and cover for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure everything gets cooked evenly.

  • After the 20 minutes is up, take out the bay leaf (this way someone won’t end up biting into it later).

  • Put the mackerel in a baking dish, a square 13 x 9 dish will do, and pour the sauce over it.

  • Bake for 30 minutes at 400F.

In the end, as you can see, the baking time varies. It’s probably a pretty safe guess to say that a filet should be baked somewhere around 15 minutes and a whole fish should be baked somewhere around 25 minutes – but these are not set in stone. If you are all about fresh fish (which I’m assuming most people are) and you’re not the fishing type, think about having a fish farm! Learn more about aquaponic gardening and growing fish in this online tutorial.