Flaky or Steaky? A Top Chef’s Tips on Cooking Fish 8 Different Ways


Lent began yesterday with Ash Wednesday, and for many Christians, that means fish is on the menu for dinner on Fridays.

Problem is, fish is something many cooks have the least amount of experience preparing. Ask us to grill a steak or roast a chicken — no problem. But cook a fish? Suddenly we’re fearful.

At least I am.

So I turned to Brian Galvin, the owner of Ocean House in Croton-on-Hudson and one of the best fish cooks around, for some tips. And he was a great help — at least after he stopped laughing.


Flaky v. Steaky: Steamed branzino (flaky) with roasted tomatoes, capers and olive oil (Tania Savayan/TJN) and Grilled Tuna with Curry Vinaigrette and Chili Oil (Seth Harrison/TJN)

See, I figure fish falls into two main categories: <FZ,1,0,22>flaky and steaky. And that’s how I asked for his help: To give me pointers for four common cooking methods — grilling, broiling, baking and steaming — for both flaky and steaky fish.

Flaky fish are, well, the kind that flake on your fork. These include black sea bass, wild striped bass, sole, trout, branzino, halibut, pampano, skate, fluke, cod and tilapia.

Steaky fish are, on the other hand, fish that you can cut into big steak-like pieces: tuna, swordfish, hamachi, mako, marlin and opa, otherwise known as moonfish.

Galvin says there is a middle ground, too — half flaky and half steaky, if you will — and those fish include bluefish, striped bass, monkfish, mahi mahi, and even salmon.

Brian and Paula Galvin, owners of Ocean House in Croton-on-Hudson. (Seth Harrison/TJN)

But for the purposes of this lesson, we’re going to stick with flaky and steaky.

He prepared two dishes for us: a flaky branzino, which he steamed and served with a tomato-caper sauce, and a steaky tuna, which he grilled and seved with a curry vinaigrette and chili oil. You can find those recipes after the jump.

But a good rule of thumb for all of his recommendations?

“Keep it simple,” he says. “And don’t mask the flavors too much.”

So consult the chart below for his recommendations for broiling, baking, steaming and grilling — whether for flaky or steaky.

Because really, there are only so many fish sticks you can fry.

Want to download a PDF to print out? Click right here: Flaky-Steaky Chart.

Steamed Branzino with Tomato-Caper Sauce

Steamed Branzino with Tomato-Caper Sauce


  • Yield: 4 servings.
  • For the tomatoes
  • 8 plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • For the sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 4 (6-ounce) portions of branzino, boneless and filleted


  1. To make the tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 300. Cut the tomatoes in half. Toss them with 1/4 cup olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper and place them, cut side down, on a sheet pan. Roast the tomatoes for about 30 minutes, until they are darker red and aromatic. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, slide the skins off and dice the tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces.
  2. To make the sauce: Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a saucepan until shimmering. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes; stir. Bring to a boil; turn down to a simmer. Add the capers, salt and pepper and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Squeeze in the half-lemon.
  3. Meanwhile, steam the branzino. Prepare a bamboo steamer or a metal steamer. Season the fillets with salt and pepper. Place them in the steamer over boiling water and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. To serve: Drizzle the sauce in a decorative pattern along the plate. Place the branzino on top and spoon more sauce on top. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

Grilled Tuna with Curry Vinaigrette and Chili Oil

Grilled Tuna with Curry Vinaigrette and Chili Oil

Yield: 4 servings.


  • For the chili oil
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 clove garlic
  • For the vinaigrette
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon of minced shallots
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 1/2 cups grapeseed oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • For the tuna4 (1-inch thick) tuna steaks
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper


  1. Start the day before: in a glass jar, combine the olive oil, chili powder and garlic clove and let them sit overnight in a dark place.
  2. To make the vinaigrette: combine the egg yolk, mustard, shallots, vinegar, curry powder, salt and pepper in a blender. With the blender running on low, slowly add the grapeseed oil until it is emulsified. Set the vinaigrette aside.
  3. To make the tuna: Prepare your grill for direct cooking over the coals or flame. Brush the tuna with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sear for 2 minutes per side for rare; 3 to 4 minutes for medium rare to medium.
  4. To serve: Brian Galvin likes to serve this dish in a bowl with sauteed spinach. Place the tuna on top of the spinach, spoon the vinaigrette around the spinach and fish and drizzle with chili oil to finish.


About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.


  1. Thanks for letting us know how to cook properly. I am married to a man who loves to fish and eat fish as well – and sometimes I overcook the fish. I have a great receipe for blue fish – that would be the fillets. Make a paste of dijon mustard (1-2 tabl), fennel seeds(1 tsp. crushed), garlic (2 cloves crushed) , lime juice (2 tabl). Spread it on the fillets like you were buttering toast. Marinate for at least 1/2 or up to 1 hour. Heat over to 400 and place fillets in foil and sprinkle red hot sauce on top – depending on taste. Bake for about 20 minutes until fish is flaky (ha). It is a very tasty receipe and the blue fish does very well with this marinade.

    Thanks again for the tips

  2. Great post Liz, and not at all Flaky!
    I can’t wait to try these recipes and this reminds me I need to get back to Ocean House, love that place.

    I recently found the cookbook “For Cod and Country” by Barton Seaver and it is a real gem. It is organized by season and promotes using sustainable fish. The book has helped me overcome my fear of cooking fish. Great photographs and useful tips. Maybe your readers would enjoy it too.
    Here is the link to Barton’s website http://www.bartonseaver.org/

    Thanks much and welcome back,

  3. One of my favorite ways of cooking fish is in parchment. Just season the fish and add whatever you like to the packet you are creating. Think colors. You can pre-saute the vegetables before adding them. Pour in a bit of wine, sake or lemon juice. Add some source of fat like olive oil or butter. Pop the entire package, tightly sealed, into a hot oven for 12-15 minutes. Serve in the packet. The thing with fish is that you can cook it simply using any of the methods but add something savory with it.

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