How to Boil Fish

Three Parts:Cooking the Potatoes and OnionsBoiling the FishArranging the Dish

If you've spent any time in Wisconsin's Door County, chances are you've enjoyed a tasty fish boil. Boiling the fish with only potatoes and onions allows the taste of the fresh fish to take center stage in this simple but delicious dish. Fortunately, you don't have to live near Lake Michigan to enjoy this tasty treat. You can recreate the fish boil experience at home with only a few ingredients and a single pot.


  • 1 ½ pounds (680 g) medium waxy red potatoes
  • 8 small onions
  • 2 tablespoons (36 g) kosher salt
  • 4 ½-pound (227 g) whitefish steaks
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ pound (113 g) melted unsalted butter (for serving)
  • 4 lemon wedges (for serving)

Part 1
Cooking the Potatoes and Onions

  1. 1
    Clean the potatoes and peel the onions. Take 1 ½ pounds (680 g) of medium red potatoes, and scrub them with a nylon brush to ensure that they’re clean. Gather 8 small onions, and peel the skins from them, but leave the stem ends in tact.[1]
    • Scrub the potatoes under cold, running water. If you don’t have a brush, you can scrub them with your hands.[2]
    • The easiest way to peel the onions is to slice a half inch (1.3 cm) off the top and peel back the papery skin from the top.[3]
  2. 2
    Combine the potatoes and onions in a large stockpot and cover with water. In a large stock pot, combine the scrubbed potatoes and peeled onions. Cover the vegetables with approximately 2 quarts (2 l) of water, or enough that the water level is 2 inches (5 cm) above the potatoes and onions.[4]
  3. 3
    Add the salt and bring to a boil. Stir 2 tablespoons (36 g) of kosher salt into the water with the potatoes and onions. Turn the burner up to high heat, and allow the pot to come to a full boil.[5]
    • While the pot is coming to a boil, it helps to partially cover it. Place the lid over the pot, but leave it slightly askew.
  4. 4
    Cook the potatoes and onions until the potatoes are nearly tender. Once the pot comes to boil, allow the mixture to cook for approximately 15 minutes. You want the potatoes to be almost tender when you stick a fork in them.[6]
    • It’s important to keep the heat steady while you’re cooking the potatoes and onions, so don’t adjust the burner or move the lid on the pot.[7]

Part 2
Boiling the Fish

  1. 1
    Place the fish on top of the vegetables. When the potatoes are nearly fork tender, take (4) ½ pound whitefish steaks and set them on top of the potatoes and onions. It’s okay if the fish aren’t completely covered by water, so you don’t need to add any more water to the pot.[8]
    • While traditional fish boil recipes use whitefish local to Wisconsin and Lake Michigan, you can use scrod, cod, and haddock if you don’t have access to local whitefish.
  2. 2
    Cover the pot and lower the heat. Place the lid back on, so the pot is partially covered once more. Lower the heat to medium to bring the pot down from a full boil.[9]
    • If you don’t have a lid for your pot, you can place a baking sheet over the top or even fold a piece of foil across it.
  3. 3
    Cook until the fish is flaky. Allow the whitefish steaks to cook with the potatoes and onions for approximately 10 more minutes. You’ll know the fish is ready if it flakes easily with you test it with a fork.[10]
    • Be sure to watch the fish closely. You don’t want to overcook it because it may start to fall apart.

Part 3
Arranging the Dish

  1. 1
    Remove the fish from the pot and put on a platter. When the whitefish steaks are flaky, use a slotted spoon to transfer them from the pot to a serving platter. Handle the fish carefully when taking them out of the pot to ensure that they don’t break.[11]
    • To keep the boiled fish warm, it helps to warm the platter before you place the steaks on it. You can warm an oven- or microwave-safe plate in the respective appliance to warm it, or simply run the platter under hot water to warm it up.[12]
  2. 2
    Place the vegetables around the fish and garnish with herbs. Once you’ve set the fish on the platter, transfer the potatoes and onions from the pot to the platter with the slotted spoon. Arrange them so they’re surrounding the fish, and then garnish with 2 tablespoons (30 g) of fresh flat-leaf parsley that’s been finely chopped.[13]
    • You should also season the entire platter with plenty of freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  3. 3
    Serve the fish with melted butter and lemons. When you bring the boiled fish to the table, have ¼ pound (113) melted, unsalted butter on hand to pour over it. Make sure to have at least 4 lemon wedges as well for guests to squeeze over the fish.[14]


  • You can add other vegetables to the boil if you want. For example, carrots are sometimes included with the potatoes and onions at fish boils.
  • Fish boils are traditionally cooked over an open fire on the beach or near the water, so it’s an ideal option for an outdoor summer gathering.
  • Coleslaw and some type of rolls or bread are usually served as sides to the boiled fish and vegetables.

Things You'll Need

  • A scrub brush
  • A knife
  • A large stockpot with lid
  • A fork
  • A wooden spoon
  • A slotted spoon
  • A large platter

Article Info

Categories: Fish and Seafood