Baking is probably the most common cooking method, but not necessarily the first thing you think of for cooking fish. It is a good choice though because it offers a wealth of variety. And you can bake fish with very little or no added fat. Unlike the moist heat of steaming or poaching, oven heat is dry, so your most important consideration is that the fish remains moist while cooking.
There are many ways to do this beginning with an even coating of seasoned breadcrumbs or a quick brush with olive oil or melted butter. You can top the fish with thinly sliced tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms or other vegetables, which help maintain the moisture in the fish as it cooks. You can even oven-poach fish by cooking it either partially or totally submerged in fish stock, wine or other liquid, covering the baking dish with foil, or laying buttered foil directly on top of the fish pieces. Wrapping the fish, in lettuce leaves, parchment paper or foil, is probably the best way to keep fish moist as it bakes. This in fact becomes oven-steaming because the moisture is sealed in.
Baking is so versatile that virtually any fish or shellfish can be baked, from the thinnest fillets to oysters on the half-shell to the largest whole fish that your oven can accommodate. Smaller fillets or fish pieces should be baked at higher temperatures (about 425 degrees F) to cook more quickly so there is less chance of drying out. Large pieces of fish and whole fish should be cooked at moderate temperatures (about 350 degrees F) so the heat can penetrate to the interior of the fish without overcooking the exterior.
How to Bake
1. Preheat the oven. Arrange the fish in an even layer in a lightly oiled or buttered baking dish, folding thin ends under if necessary to encourage even cooking.
2. Sprinkle the fish with the seasoning, coating, vegetables or whatever is called for in your recipe.
3. Bake the fish in the preheated oven until it is opaque through the thickest part of the fish. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fish and the accompanying ingredients.
4. Transfer the fish and vegetables, if appropriate, to individual plates. If there are any cooking juices remaining in the dish, spoon a little over the fish and serve.