How To Defrost Fish Safely And Quickly

Thanks to modern food processing, you can get high-quality fish that is immediately frozen in order to preserve freshness.

Not only does the fish taste like it was just caught from the sea, but it is generally cheaper than the other ‘fresh’ fish items.

However, most people are hesitant to get frozen fish because they aren’t sure how to defrost it appropriately.

Some can be cooked from frozen, but the higher-quality fish require you to defrost them first. You can also eat raw fish which is why it is a good idea to learn how to defrost salmon when making raw fish dishes like sushi.

So, we have compiled a guide on how to properly defrost fish to give you the best results.

Ideal Method

This method is the best middle ground between speed and safety. It involves defrosting the fish in cold water.

In order to do this method, you must put the fish in a ziplock bag so that way no water comes into contact with the fish, and then place the full bag in a larger container filled with cold water. Ensure that the fish is fully submerged and use a plate if need be to weigh it down.

With the fish being completely surrounded by water it allows for even defrosting. 

Make sure you use cold water to defrost the fish and swap out the water if it gets too warm before the fish completely defrosts.

The time to defrost can vary based on the size of the fish but it usually takes about 30 minutes.

Fastest Method

The fastest method to defrost fish is to do so in the microwave. The packaging on the fish may give instructions on how to defrost the product in the microwave.

We do not recommend using this method unless you are very pressed for time. It can take about 6 minutes to defrost fish in the microwave, compared to the cold water method it is not really worth it when comparing the time.

The reason to not use a microwave is that it isn’t completely reliable. You can find that certain parts might heat too much and cook, whereas the middle might still be frozen.

Once you are done defrosting your fish in the microwave then start cooking it immediately.

Slower Method

While this is the slowest method, it is ultimately the best way to defrost fish.

It involves moving the fish from the freezer to the fridge in order for it to slowly defrost. Make sure you put it in a bowl to catch any water or drippings and defrost it away from food that is ready to eat. Ideally, you want to defrost fish on the bottom shelf of your fridge.

This is the best method because it keeps the fish below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This slow defrost allows the fish to keep its texture and flavor better.

The low temperature of the fish ensures that no bacteria can develop.

For best results place your fish in the refrigerator the night before you are planning on cooking it. Or early in the morning if you are planning to cook it in the evening.

How Not To Defrost Fish

While we have laid out the best ways to defrost fish, there are certain methods that you must avoid.

The main one is to not defrost your fish at warm or hot temperatures. This means you shouldn’t leave your fish out in order to defrost as that is where bacteria can manifest. This bacteria can cause illness or food poisoning.

How To Tell If Your Fish Has Gone Bad

Once your fish is completely thawed, now is when you can tell if the fish is still fresh to eat. While most store-bought fish will be fine, it is still a good habit to check your fish.

The first indication that your fish has gone off is a stronger smell. This strong ‘fishy’ smell will be off-putting and suggest your fish is past its best.

Finally, you need to check your fish visually for any dry spots or ice crystals. This could indicate that it was briefly thawed before refreezing.


Once your fish is completely thawed then cook it immediately. You can’t refreeze fish so make sure you only defrost the amount you need.

Fish is a great way to add omega-3 and vitamins to your diet. Not only can you make delicious meals, but there are many different types of fish to bring variety into your diet.