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How to Perfectly Pan Sear Fish

By Christopher Stewart | May 9, 2013

pan sear, fish, dinner, how to

Photo: Susan H.

Have you ever had a crispy seared piece of fish at your favorite restaurant, tried to replicate it at home and your fish not only didn’t get crispy, it stuck to the skillet, and flaked apart? Yea, same here. Pan searing is a classic cooking technique in restaurants and its a great way to enjoy a crispy crust and a lightly cooked piece of fish. The freshness and flavor of the fish shine through using this cooking technique and we have narrowed down 3 key steps to making the perfect sear at home. 

Fish 101: 

Eating fresh is the absolute best way to eat! And your selection of fresh fish should be no different.  Your fish should be boneless (preferably), and skin on. Having too many bones in your fish may result in uneven cooking. Pat your fish completely dry. There should be no excess water, which can result in steam and your fish will not sear with a crispy crust. Season the skin side first. Once fish is in the pan, seasoning the skinless side will come later.

When Fish meets Skillet:

Having the right equipment plays a major part in preparing a great meal whether it be in your home or in a restaurant. When perfecting the perfect pan sear, your skillet must be able to withstand high heat. Great skillets and pans for searing include cast iron, stainless steel, and aluminum, all of which being able to hold a substantial amount of heat. Also you want to sear your fish in a fat that can stand high heat as well. Grape seed oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and clarified butter are all great to use.

fish, pan sear

Photo by: Justin M. 

The Final Moments: 

You are almost done with the final steps to the perfect pan sear. Now that you have your skillet and fresh dry fish, place your skillet over a high heat. The skillet must be roaring hot. Add your preferred oil and if the skillet begins to smoke, remove from heat for a few seconds. You want the skin to be crispy but you do not want a burnt flavor or texture. Place fish in skillet, skin side down and press down gently on fish. You want to press down on the fish due to the heat making the fish curl up. Flattening the fish will give you that beautiful crispy sear you desire. Do not move the fish in the pan until a crust has formed. You will know when a crust has formed and your fish is ready to flip by shaking your pan and the fish slides across the pan. Season your fish and flip over for a small amount of continous cooking.

Here are 5 recipes to practice your new found searing technique.

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