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Sitting fish outside at room temperature?

Does anybody leave their fish out at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before they cook it?

I do that for meat, but never thought about doing that for fish until I recently noticed that technique in some chef book where they did that to their fish. I don't know if this is something people have been doing all the time or something that started only with the popularity of cooking fish medium-rare, but I don't recall ever seeing this specified in any fish recipe before.

Instead, I always seemed to remember or, maybe, just assumed to keep the fish refrigerated all the time until just before you cooked it because of how quickly fish spoils outside the cold temperature of the fridge. Otherwise, why worry about keeping fish on ice for the short 7 minute trip from the market to home when I'm going to keep it outside for 30 minutes?

The chef book had a small sample size with only a few fishes and few cooking techniques so I'm curious if one should sit fish outside for all different types of fish and cooking techniques? Or, if one should only do this for certain types of fish or cooking techniques?

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  1. I have, but not for 30 minutes. Sometimes, when prepping, I get the seafood and other ingredients out, start chopping onions or whatnot and by the time the fish/shrimp is ready to go in the oven/pan, it's been 10 to 15 minutes. But I do that with beef, chicken and pork, too.

    The fishmarket I use always packs the seafood on ice when you purchase it, but I also live in south Tx.

    1. And I am interested in the technique - what is it supposed to do to the fish?

      1. I let it get to room temp. Or at least I try too. It take less time to cook, cooks more evenly and doesn't absorb too much grease when you put it the fryer or frying pan. They do this a lot in the fish shacks and restaurants of Colombia. And it's probably the best simple prepared fish you'll taste.

        2 Replies
        1. re: David11238

          I'll betcha the Colombian fish is extremely fresh. When a fish came out of the ocean that morning, it'll be fine for a few minutes at room temp. Lots of fish in America is flash frozen at sea and then thawed at the supermarket. It's called "fresh" but if you know fresh fish, you know that it is not by the taste. And, I'll bet you are spot-on about the wonderful fish in Colombia, because some of the best fish I've ever had was prepared just as simply, in a shack-type restaurant on the beach in Isla Mujeres, 25 years ago - I still remember it often. Simply done and simply delicious. Wonder if the place is still there, since I hear the island is substantially changed.

          1. re: sancan

            You're preaching to the choir, brutha. I went to a shack on the beach in Cartagena called El Boxer. Fried whole and plopped in a coconut milk based fish stock. The only thing fresher was at island an hour off Cartagena (I forget the name). The guides literally plucked the crustaceans and fish out of the water and steamed them in sea water and put them on the grill, respectively.

        2. I usually let fish or seafood rest on the counter for 5-10 minutes but never 30. Room temp fish, or any meat, will cook according to recommended time. When it is ice cold it may get dry on the outside before the center is done. A big turkey should sit out for a bit longer.

          1. It would be worthwhile for applications when you want even, thorough cooking, as in, say, a halibut filet.

            That also means that it would be a bad idea for those restaurant-style seared tuna steaks, which are to be raw in the middle with only a thin band of seared outside. (In fact, some people actually put tuna steaks briefly in the freezer before cooking, to magnify the effect!)

            1. The amount of time fish can sit out in room temperature.....really depends on what that temperature is. In a commercial kitchen, I would say probably not recommended....but in the home the answer is probable fine depending on the time of year, or whether the kitchen is above basement level, as these are variable that can affect the fish. The two biggest enemies of seafood in my opinion are temperature and time., but I wouldn't fret about a fish fillet sitting out for 30 minutes in the spring,fall or winter........the summertime though, I would not.

              6 Replies
              1. re: fourunder

                The biggest enemy of fish sitting out in our house wouldn't be temperature or time- it would be four hungry cats!

                1. re: fourunder

                  In my experience in commercial(restaurant) kitchens we always bring the proteins to room temp. before cooking.
                  Even in a warm environment the amount of time 10-30 min. is not enough to have a large amount of bacterial growth, assuming that you are starting with fresh ingredients.
                  I am sure that the health department would disagree, but every kitchen I have worked in or ran it was the practice.

                  1. re: chefj

                    Actually, bacterial growth is not my biggest concern, nor even entered my mind......it's the possible deterioration of the seafood.....along the lines of a lobster dying and the flesh becoming soft from the gases from its internal organs......Fish sitting out on a plate or on ice is two completely different scenarios. Whether the fish is fresh, or defrosted, the flesh is so thin and delicate, bringing it to room temperature is really not necessary since it cook so quickly. I've been in a lot of kitchens over the years and I've never seen any bring any fish or sea foods to room temperature......or even steaks for that matter either.

                    1. re: fourunder

                      Fine for filets or whole fish, but Id leave the shellfish in the fridge.

                      The only time I would use this technique is if I had a really thick cut and I wanted it cooked through.

                      1. re: fourunder

                        Still doesn't change my experience. Everywhere I worked we brought proteins including shucked scallops and shrimp.
                        I think it allows for more even cooking even when you want a fairly rare interior without the center being cold.
                        As for deterioration of the fish akin to lobsters and crabs, not an issue in the kind of time span we are talking about and I believe that enzymes that are released by the innards of crab and lobster are what cause it which are not present.

                  2. I've seen Japanese recipes call for giving fish a light sprinkle of salt and then leaving it out for ~30 minutes. This is seen as helpful with less than perfectly fresh fish (though still far from over-the-hill).

                    If i wasn't salting fish ahead of time, I wouldn't bother unless the fish is really icy. You can cook refrigerator-temp fish just fine without sitting at room temp. At the same time, I doubt 30 minutes is enough to cause any noticeable damage.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      I always take it out of the fridge, pat it dry, salt and pepper it and let it sit AT LEAST half an hour before cooking. If there's a chance of flies getting into it, well, that's what those cheap dish towels from IKEA are for. If I'm going to spread on a coating of something, like maybe wasabi mayonnaise, I will need to pat it off with paper towels again so the stuff will stick.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        >> (....)so I'm curious if one should sit fish outside for all different types of fish and cooking techniques? Or, if one should only do this for certain types of fish or cooking techniques? / -Hobbes http://www.chow.com/profile/82890

                        Hi Will - and everybody -,
                        - Why do you let your fish sit out the fridge?
                        - In sum, which are the advantages of letting fish sit outside the fridge before cooking?
                        - Can someone cite related sources?


                    2. I leave fish out sometimes longer than 30 minutes, esp. if I am poaching or steaming the fish.

                      By contrast, if I am searing fish (e.g. tuna or salmon), I'll actually pop it in the freezer for 30 minutes so that I can sear a nice crust and still get it nice and rare in the middle.

                      There's nothing wrong with keeping fish at room temp for 30 minutes -- either from a food-safety standpoint or from a culinary one. But I think once you approach the hour mark, you should start eying the fridge ... or a nice bed of ice.

                      1. I do bring my fish to room temp as well as all my proteins. I use that time to prep. Most health dept. have a law requiring food to be used within x - hours or thrown out. My health dept. requires me to use foods withing 4 hours or throw it away. The reason for this is is that bacteria grows most rapidily between 40* - 140*. So that is the risk of leavimg your food out. For 30 minutes your fish will grow more bacteria. Cooking will killl most bacteria, especially if you cook your food to 165*. I cook my fish medium rare, 118*. I am willing to take the chance of 30 minutes, but not when buying and storing. I ensure my fish is fresh and refrigerate if not eating right away. Study up on what types of fish are more suseptible to bacteria and most important, know where your fish came from.

                        1. I don't mean to gross anyone out, but if we are talking sea to table, many fish spend 4-5 hours on a boat in the hot sun before they even get cleaned, especially in resort areas and islands where most fishing is rod and hook. That's just the way it is.

                          1. No problem letting fish sit for 30 minutes. I usually salt and lemon juice fish when I put it in the fridge which kills bacteria. Really water is the enemy of fresh fish, the bacteria thrive in it.

                            Bacteria make fish go bad. Don't let the fish sit in liquid.

                            It will fry up better if you leave it out for a while.