How to pan fry fish. Pan frying fresh fish is the most common and easiest way to enjoy fish on board. Its fast and not too messy. But that’s just me okay. A perfectly pan fried piece of fish is a something of immense beauty, perfect flakes of white flesh hiding under an outer golden crust. It’s quick and easy to prepare and it’s super delicious, but every cuisine has its own way of pan frying, so many pan fried fish recipes and so little time. Pan frying fish also works well with small whole fish as well as fish steaks and fish fillets.
There are many who proclaim that use of a heavy based and properly seasoned skillet is the best for avoiding fish sticking to the pan base. This technique advises that you heat the pan so its is up to temperature and then add in the oil. They also say that you don’t move the fish in the pan until it releases naturally.
What fish to pan fry? Some prefer Cod (I actually do as well) as it holds up well when pan frying. But you can use most anything, from Snapper to Grouper, fresh Sardines and Whiting, name a fish and it can be pan fried and its quick in the galley.
Coating the fish
I usually coat my fish
fillets with seasoned flour before pan frying. Plain flour with salt and pepper
and sometimes a few chilli flakes to give it some zip. The flour creates a
lovely crispy and golden brown crust and preserves and seals in moisture and flesh
flakiness. Use a plastic bag and throw in and coat the fillets. You can go the
extra mile and make a light batter and roll the fillets in panko crumbs, also
works very well.
Butter or oil or both? Usually I use butter and sometimes ghee, which is clarified butter an board as its easier to carry than butter, comes in cans and bottles. I have also tried using an oil and butter mixture. First you add in the oil or ghee to the heated pan, then add in the butter. Personally I like using butter as it gives a lovely burnt butter taste but my second choice is light olive oil. When pan frying fresh sardines I like using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and you end up usually with a lovely crispy coating. Oil temperature is crucial if you are after that crispy result. Olive oil will be at the right heat on a medium to high heat setting, just below smoke point. When you add the oil to the pan, you are at the right temperature when you see the oil creating ripples. Pat your fish fillets dry and coat in the seasoned flour. As a hint in a small and moving galley, put the seasoned flour in a plastic bag and add in the fillets, less to clean up and faster.
Add in 3-4 pieces of fish at a time, don’t hit the pan with too much as it will cool it down a bit and it takes time to recover. Always place the fillets in the pan with the flesh side down first. If you try and do too much fish at one time the oil temperature drops and you end up with spongy looking fish as it absorbs more oil. Better to do 5 batches than two large ones.
When testing for “doneness” you can test with a fork held at an angle at the thickest part of the fillet. Twist or turn the fork gently, and when done the fish starts to flake easily, and it loses its often translucent and raw look. I love watching the flesh color change as the heat works it’s way through until about halfway through the fillet. Then it’s time to turn it over and watch the same process and when there is just a thin line in the middle it’s enough.
Once the surface starts acquiring that golden brown color and fish flesh starts to flake, turn just once. When done after 3-4 minutes then put on paper towels and start the next batch. It’s always a good idea to turn the draining fillets on the paper towel. Pat each side to take off excess oil. Never cover pan fried fish once its complete.
You have landed yourself a couple of pan sized fish for dinner. If they are more than an inch thick consider pan frying fillets. I prefer pan frying in a 50% mixture of butter and vegetable oil (Canola, Sunflower and so on). If you are short on butter the oil alone works just as well. Keep your fish in the frig until ready unless its water to pan exercise. Clean, scale, gut and behead the fish first and wash the fish inside and outside. Always pat the fish dry using paper towels. Using your favorite pan or skillet in your boat, heat the pan and add the oil and get the oil sizzling. Dredge the fish in seasoned flour the same as we do pan frying fish fillets. Fry and turn at about 6-7 minutes, depends on how big and thick the fish is. Do the fork in flesh trick and see that its cooked and flaking. Again when done, place on a paper towel to absorb the oil. How to pan fry fish and all about how to cook seafood.