How do you sear a fish and create that crispy chip-like skin? This question has been asked and attempted many times. I had this same question many years ago and wanted answers. Read many articles and cookbooks that show you step-by-step processes to achieve the perfectly seared fish–which means no torn skin and moist flesh. Because, for real, who wants soggy torn skin?
I failed many times. But like anything, if you want to master it, you gotta keep trying. And that I did! Here is a method for seared fish that I like and works the best for me. This is the most important part:
- Fish needs to be dry, very very dry and not wet when it hits the pan. The more moisture your fish has, the longer to achieve that crispy doneness you are after, and that is if it happens at all.
- A cast iron pan or stainless/carbon steel pan is the way to go. Do not use non-stick! You need a skillet that will get very hot!
How to Perfectly Sear a Fish?
- 2-4 fillets of fish
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- a wedge of lemon
- With paper towels, you want to dry the skin and fillet thoroughly. Use the back of a butter knife to scrape the skin gently. your filets sit out at room temp for 15-20 minutes before cooking. Season with salt on both sides.
- In a hot cast iron skillet, add the oil and then add the fillet (make sure it is still dry). The fish will arc, so press down with your spatula for 30 seconds or so. Turn down the heat.
- Do not touch the fish! Be patient. Continue to press down on the fillet off and on. Cook for 5 minutes, the edges will begin to brown and the flesh will start to turn opaque. You want most of the cooking to be done on the skin side.
- Gently slide the spatula under the fillet. Remember, when it’s ready to be flipped, the skin will give away from the pan.
- Once flipped, add the butter and fresh thyme. The butter will bubble and foam. Swirl the pan around and baste the fish with the butter by tilting the pan a little. Cook for about 2 minutes. Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon.