How To Make Pan Seared Fish With a Perfectly Crispy Skin
With this expert tutorial and the right equipment, you’ll be making irresistible seared fish fillets right at your own stove.
Cooking pan-seared fish to golden, crispy-skinned perfection may seem impossible like an impossible task, but I'm here to show you it's a lot easier than you might think. Here's what do.
First, choose a large non-stick skillet or ceramic pan. The pros use heavy stainless steel skillets are many, but if you’re a beginner, it’s not worth the stress or the risk of tearing a pricey fillet on an imperfectly prepared pan. To be safe, just use a non-stick skillet. Set it on the stove and get it hot over medium-high heat.
Next, choose vegetable oil or another neutral-flavored oil like canola, safflower, or grapeseed. These oils have a higher smoke point than olive oil meaning you can get them pretty darn hot before they start to smoke. Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of your skillet, about a tablespoon.
While the skillet and oil are heating up, pat the fillets dry on both sides. Any significant amount of moisture left on the fish can cause it to steam instead of crisp or, even worse, create splatters, which is downright dangerous.
When the oil is shimmering, and working with one fillet at a time, lay the fish skin-side down and away from you. That way, if there is any splatter, it will splash back on the backsplash (that’s where it gets its name—get it?). And be sure not to overcrowd the pan. This, too, can create steam: the enemy of crispiness.
Then, no touching. And I mean it. Once the fish hits the pan, let it stay in one place. Save for some gentle pressure to ensure the entire surface of the skin makes contact with the hot skillet, you are not to push the fish around the pan. Pushing or attempting to turn before the skin has had a chance to cook and crisp can lead to tearing and you’ll never achieve that crust you’re looking for.
Allow to fish to cook about 60 percent of the way through with the skin-side down. The skin helps protect the flesh from over cooking so don’t worry that you’ll go too far. Once the skin is crisp and the flesh starts to look opaque up the sides, it’s time to flip. Turn the fish using a fish spatula and cook it until it’s just cooked through but not flaking. Even though “flaky” is often used an indicator for fish doneness, it typically means that the fish is overcooked. Look for firm (when pressed with a finger) instead.
Finally, serve the fillets, crispy-skin side up. Placed skin-side down, the skin will steam, destroying all that great texture you worked so hard to create.
Whether you’re cooking salmon or striped bass (or anything in between), a squeeze of lemon and a smattering of chopped chives is all a well-cooked fillet needs. But the crispy potatoes and olive relish (shown above) would go swimmingly.