How Long to Marinate Fish? [+Marinate Recipe]

Fish are one of my favorite proteins to cook. Their specific flavor is refreshing and light while being satisfyingly filling, making them the perfect entree for any dinner.

However, whenever I cook them, the same question always arises. How long am I supposed to marinate fish before cooking?

I find myself caught between wanting to marinate long enough so that the fish adopts the flavor of my marinade but fear doing so will ruin its delicate texture.

Finally, I decided to compile a master guide to full proof methods of marinating fish.

If you’re in the same boat as me, this guide will answer all of your most persistent questions when cooking fish.

It will help you provide fish that’s perfectly moist, tender, and tasty.

Typically, you should marinate fish in citrus marinades for only 20-30 minutes. Other sauce marinades can be used for 2-8 hours. Some marinades, like teriyaki sauce, can even be used over night.

Whether you’re just getting started in the kitchen or looking to up your repertoire of mouth-watering cuisine, you can always benefit from learning to cook fish.

Continue reading to learn about the key takeaways for how long to marinate fish in a variety of marinades.

How Long to Marinate Salmon

Unlike red meat and poultry, salmon benefits from marinating for short time periods. Its delicate flavor can be overpowered if salmon sits in marinade for too long.

However, if done for the correct amount of time, marinating salmon can enhance its flavor and elevate your dish.

How long to marinate salmon depends on what type of marinade you are using.

Acid-based marinades generally alter flavors faster while the flavor of  oil and herbs is subtle.

Salmon and Acid-Based Marinades

Acidic marinades like lime and lemon juice are cornerstones to flavor enhancement. The acidity brings out all of the dishes elements and showcases its natural taste.

However, lemon and lime juice is extremely powerful. Only a few drops is enough to make a noticeable difference in taste.

So how long should you marinate salmon in acidic marinades? Marinate salmon in vinegar or citrus juice for only 20-30 minutes.

If you keep salmon in acidic solutions any longer, the salmon will start to break down.

Salmon and Oil, Herbs or Spices

Oil is a gentle substance that doesn’t alter the taste of protein unless heated.

Keeping salmon in an oil-based solution with herbs or spices will add it’s own flavor to salmon’s natural taste.

This complementary quality means salmon is safe in oil marinades for up to 6 hours.

While oil marinades are gentle, marinating salmon for over 6 hours could alter its texture.

Exposure for longer than recommended enables the protein to become saturated with oil, making salmon chewy.

How Long to Marinate Tilapia

Known for its light, mild flavor, tilapia is notably amenable to marinades. The key to optimally capturing the delicate flavor of this fish is to not marinade for too long.

Doing so will cause the marinades flavor to overpower the taste of tilapia.

Whether acidic or oil-based, marinate tilapia for only 20-30 minutes. Marinading for this brief of a time allows tilapia to adopt the flavor of the marinade while keeping its lauded light, buttery taste.

How Long to Marinate Fish for Ceviche

A hallmark in South American cuisine, ceviche is famous for using lemon or lime juice to preserve raw fish.

Because of the preservative measure, there’s the misconception that raw fish much be marinated for long time periods to kill parasites.

While it won’t hurt, marinating raw fish for longer than 30 minutes is not necessary to ensure ceviche is safe to eat.

Ceviche is a wonderful fish because it packs the flavor of fresh fish in a refreshing savory salad.

While properly prepared ceviche is completely safe to consume, always use only the freshest fish.

Using days-old fish can increase chances of food poisoning even if marinated.

How Long to Marinate Fish in Lime for Ceviche

How long you should marinate ceviche for depends on how raw you want your fish to taste.

The following table illustrates various “cook” times for ceviche to achieve your desired texture:

How Long to Marinate CevicheDegree
30 MinutesRare
2 HoursMedium-Rare
4 HoursWell-Done

While you’re not actually cooking the fish, the term “cooked” is used because the lime juice kills bacteria.

Additionally, the lime juice denatures proteins, which changes the texture of the fish. The longer the fish marinates, the tougher the meat will be.

How Long to Marinate Fish in Lemon

The acidity of lemon can add a vibrant, fresh taste to any fish. However, the acidity denatures proteins in fish, causing it to become firmer.

This means you have to be careful about the type of fish you marinate in lemon juice and for how long.

Fish with tender meat, like tilapia and snapper, should only marinate in lemon juice for 20-30 minutes.

Fish with tougher meats, like cod and flounder, can marinate in lemon juice for approximately 1.5 hours.

Tougher meat means it takes longer for the acid in lemon juice to denature proteins. This delay means it can last longer in lemon juice without jeopardizing texture.

How Long to Marinate Fish in Buttermilk

A Cajun favorite, marinating fish in buttermilk gives fish a tender texture.

Additionally, buttermilk is creamy but tangy, which makes any fish dish your go-to comfort food.

Buttermilk marinade is especially good for frying, as the creamy texture is great for making breaded fish.

You can let fillets of fish marinade in a baking pan, completely covered by buttermilk for a minimum of 30 minutes.

At this point, the fillets will be saturated enough for bread crumbs to easily adhere to. However, you can even let the fillets marinade overnight.

Doing this will thickly coat the fillets in buttermilk and yield a highly creamy texture.

Whether keeping for 30 minutes or overnight, make sure that the baking dish is stored in the fridge at 35-40F.

Both buttermilk and fish are perishable, and unlike with citrus juices, buttermilk has no preservative properties and is highly perishable

How Long to Marinate Fish in Milk

Like buttermilk, marinading fish in regular 2% milk provides a creamy texture for your fillets.

Using milk differs because it lacks the sharp tang of buttermilk, which causes the flavor to be mild to slightly sweet.

Milk is an especially useful marinade for strong-tasting fish, like salmon or cod. The prominent mildness of milk is a great tool to mitigate the fishy taste inherent in some of our favorite seafoods.

The amount of time to marinate fish in milk is entirely up to you, at least to a point. You can let the fillets marinate anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours.

The longer you let the fish marinate, the more it’s natural flavor will be toned down.

If you still want to preserve the taste of fish while adding a bit of creaminess, try marinading for only 20-40 minutes.

How Long to Marinate Fish in Soy Sauce

Fish and soy sauce are a match made in heaven. The umami, bitter flavor of soy sauce is a natural complement to the flavor of fish.

However, it’s best not to marinate fish fillets in soy sauce for longer than 30 minutes.

The flavor of soy sauce is very strong. While it works well when not overdone, marinating for too long can overpower the taste of fish.

This can cause fish to taste too salty or too bitter to consume.

How Long to Marinate Fish in Teriyaki Sauce

Like soy sauce, teriyaki sauce is an excellent marinade for fish. It’s also sweeter, and can be blended with other ingredients, so it’s suitable for longer marinade times.

Depending on your personal preference, you can marinate fish fillets in teriyaki sauce from 20 minutes to 3 hours.

In 20 minutes, the fish will have had time to sit enough in the teriyaki marinade to absorb hints of its flavor.

In such a brief time, the fish will mainly retain its natural flavor with only subtle notes of the marinade.

If you choose to marinate fillets for over 1.5 hours, the taste of the marinade will be prominent. However, it will not be overpowering.

Another cool aspect about using teriyaki sauce as a marinade is that its thick consistency is ideal for grilling.

The thickness of teriyaki adheres to the surface of fish and forms a flavorful, zesty encasement one on the grill.

How Long to Marinate Fish for Grilling

How long to marinate fish for grilling depends largely on the type of fish you are grilling.

Flaky fish, like salmon or tilapia, should be marinated for only 30 minutes. The delicate texture of these fish makes them susceptible to breaking down, especially in citrus marinades.

Marinated Fish

Additionally, the heat from the grill will further break down the meat, so excess marination is not ideal.

For firmer fish, like tuna, it is good to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

The meat’s toughness causes it to take longer to mingle with the flavors of the marinade. Additionally, steak cuts of fish can marinate anywhere from 1-2 hours:

TypeMarinating Time
Fillets of flaky fish30 minutes
Fillets of firmer fish30 minutes – 1 hour
Steaks of fish1-2 hours

While these times are guidelines, they are tried and true methods to marinating fish perfectly.

How Long to Marinate Fish for Frying

For frying, fish should be marinated for less time than for grilling. This is because the more saturated the marinade is, the harder it will be to achieve a crispy texture in the frying pan.

Most marinades for fry fish require you to only briefly dip the fish once on each side for about 30 seconds.

In this amount of time, each side should be entirely coated. This gives the marinade a chance to stick to the surface of the fish instead of penetrating it.

Briefly dipping fish fillets into a buttermilk marinade is a common way of making crispy, friend fish and yields delicious results.

However, if you’re frying salmon or wish to use a citrus marinade, you can leave the fillets in a covered bowl in the fridge for up to 45 minutes.

Can You Marinate Fish for too Long?  

Unfortunately, the old adage that there can be too much of a good thing is true when it comes to marinading fish.

Depending on the type of fish you have, even 2 hours can be too long.

The  risks of over-marinating fish include ruining the texture, as flaky fish like salmon can become crumbly.

Also, you run the risk of overpowering the natural flavor of fish instead of enhancing it.

For example, if you leave a fish fillet in a citrus marinade for over 30 minutes, it could make the entire fish taste sour.

How Long Can You Marinate Fish in the Fridge?

Fish should only be allowed to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours. While fish can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 day, marinating is different because the fish is uncooked and opened.

When fish sits in marinade, it is hard to make the packaging airtight, which is a necessary step in storing perishable food.

To keep fish marinade in the fridge, place the fish in a bowl or Ziplock bag with the marinade. Store the mixture in the fridge on the bottom level, and you’re ready to go!

Best Marinade Recipe

While this section might be heavily contested, I have to claim that the best fish marinade is a combination of soy sauce and wine.

The taste of soy sauce intermingled with other flavors elevates fish to next-level flavor.

This recipe is also easy to make, which allows me to make it a cornerstone of my weekly meal plans:

  1. To start, combine ½ cup of soy sauce with ½ cup of dry white wine in bowl.
  2. Then add ¼ cup water, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 3 cloves garlic, minced.
  3. Stir quickly.
  4. To marinade, place mixture in a plastic bag with your choice of fish and let sit for 30-60 minutes.

I love this quick and easy recipe because it contains ingredients that are usually always in my pantry.

This makes it a reliable crowd-pleaser that I can whip up at last minutes notice.

Final Thoughts

Once you know how long to marinate fish properly, you can face the last minute upscale dinner with ease.

Whether it’s a picnic or you’re having date-night at home, you can rest assured you’re ready to serve a seafood feast. Happy cooking!

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