How to pan-fry fish

How to pan-fry fish

© Andrew Ingalls / Bonnier © Andrew Ingalls / Bonnier


One of the simplest and most rewarding ways to prepare fish is to pan-fry a skin-on fillet. The method yields browned, crispy skin on the outside and flaky, moist meat inside, all in a matter of minutes. That is, if you do it properly. Here are a few ways to help make sure you do:

1. Choose the right fish for frying — red snapper, salmon, and sea bass are preferred by restaurant chefs because of their thin, quick-cooking, flavorful skin; avoid tough-skinned species such as tuna and swordfish.

2. Make sure to dry fillets completely using paper towels before cooking.

3. Slice a few shallow incisions along the edges if the skin is particularly thin, which will help prevent curling.

4. Season fillets with salt and pepper just before you cook them — if you salt too early, the salt will draw moisture out of the flesh, making the skin soggy and leaving you with a tough, dry fillet.

5. Use a pan that distributes heat evenly — cast-iron, stainless-steel, and heavy nonstick models work best—and bring it up to temperature, over medium-high heat, before adding a thin slick of oil.

6. Add the fillets to the pan skin side down. If using a cast-iron or stainless-steel pan, the skin may stick at first, as proteins bond with the metal surface, but as the fillet cooks and its proteins set, it will release on its own.

7. Gently agitate the pan to help keep the skin from burning as it crisps
. After a few minutes, turn the fish over so that the flesh side is in contact with the pan, to finish cooking through, about 1 minute. Serve with lemon wedges or one of our favorite French sauces, such as tomato-coriander broth, beurre blanc, or ravigoté.


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