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How to Pan Fry Fish

By George Steckel
Sep 23, 2020
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Pan-fried fish is a favorite food for many, and it’s easy to see why once you get a taste of that melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Flaky, buttery fish is as decadent as it is healthy, and you don’t need to spend hours preparing fish in the kitchen. Cooking fish in a large skillet is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to satisfy your seafood cravings and serve your family and friends a meal they won't forget. Once you know these tried and tested secrets to pan-frying delicious fish, you can whip up a fresh batch of pan-fried fish in no time.

How to Pan Fry Fresh Fish Fillets at Home

Pan-fried fish is ideal for healthy weeknight meals and requires less oil with less of a mess than deep frying. Plus, pan-frying is the preferred method for cooking non-fatty fish, as it keeps the fish moist without exposing the delicate flesh to direct heat. Learning how to pan-fry fish starts with finding the freshest fillets around. You can check out the seafood department at your local grocery store or get fresh fish delivered right to your door. Pay attention to the texture and scent, as you want fish with a relatively mild and clean smell without any noticeable bruises or soft spots. When in doubt, spending a little bit more to get higher quality is well worth it.

Crunchy, Crispy Breading

Once you have fresh or just frozen fillets, it’s time to prepare your chosen coating or breading. With the best breading ingredients, you can get that perfect golden-brown crust that pan-frying is famous for. Use flour, egg, and your choice of cornmeal, panko or bread/cracker crumbs to thoroughly coat the fish. You need one cup of flour for every pound of fish. Add a touch of sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to the flour if you like a little spice. In a shallow bowl, whisk two eggs for each pound of fish. Pat each fillet on the plate of flour, making sure to coat both sides and shake off the excess.

This flour and shake process will be enough if you just want a light coating for better browning. However, you can also add the egg and crumbs for a complete pan-fried flavor. Dip each fillet in the egg mixture, coating completely and letting any extra drip off before placing it in the crumb tray. Nex, coat the fish with the crumbs on both sides before laying on a baking sheet. You can leave the fish coated and chilled for a few hours before pan-frying.

Freshly Cooked Flavors

Once you’re ready to cook and serve, you can cook the fillets in a stainless steel sauté pan with butter, vegetable oil, or olive oil. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and melt butter or warm up the oil. Next, add fish to the sauté pan and start cooking. You can get crispy browned fish in about six minutes. Look for the fish to be flaky in the center, and use your best judgment as the timing can vary based on the variety of fish. If the fish is golden, it should be good to go.

Put the cooked fillets on a warm tray and add more oil for each batch if required. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and remember that browned and crispy fish is best served with lemon wedges and your favorite sauce, whether it be lemon butter, homemade aioli or tartar sauce. Any sides will taste nice with fried fish, especially crispy french fries and veggies like broccoli and cauliflower. Finish your fabulous fish meal off with some lemonade, a delicious glass of wine, or a fun and tasty beverage like rose margaritas.

If you want to try alternatives to pan-frying, consider baking fish in foil or parchment or grilling the fish whole and see what you like best.

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