Do you love pan-seared fish, and want to learn how to sear fish yourself at home? This tutorial will walk you through how to pan-sear fish like cod, salmon, halibut, scallops and more!
The first time I pan-seared a fish at home– it was a revelation.
Suddenly, a whole new world of fishy goodness opened up. Pan-seared fish is juicy, crispy, and delicate all at once. And it is EASY.
Or at least– it’s easy once you know what you’re doing. And you will know– as soon as you read this post.
First, we’ll review the basic techniques you should know when pan-searing any type of fish. Then, we’ll look at specific types of fish, and check out a few recipe ideas!
How to Pan-Sear Fish: The Basics
Once you learn the basics, you’ll be able to pan-sear any fish! This basic technique will be helpful no matter which type of fish you’re pan-searing.
- The fish should be room temperature. Allow it to sit out on the counter for about 15 minutes before cooking.
- The fish should be dry. Pat it dry before cooking.
- Use a heavy pan, such as cast iron or carbon steel. A heavy pan will distribute the heat more evenly than nonstick or stainless steel.
- The pan and the oil / butter should be piping hot before adding the fish.
- Set the fish in the pan, and DO NOT TOUCH it until it’s time to flip.
- Adjust the temperature if needed– I usually lower the heat slightly once the fish is in the pan.
- Not sure how long it should cook? Try watching the translucent fish flesh turn opaque as it cooks from the bottom up. When it’s 2/3 cooked, it’s ready to flip.
- Use a thin metal spatula (such as a fish spatula) to flip the fish.
- If the fish doesn’t release easily (if it sticks to the pan)– it’s not ready. Leave it for 30 seconds, and try again.
- Flip the fish, and sear for about one more minute. Serve immediately!
Alternate technique to pan-roast fish: Another very similar technique is to pan-roast your fish. For this approach, follow the pan-searing techniques through step 6. Then, cook the fish half-way through on the stovetop, and then slide the (oven-safe) pan into a hot oven.
How to Pan-Sear Salmon (And Other Fatty Fish)
Salmon is one of my favorite fish to pan-sear, and it’s also the easiest. It’s natural fatty oils keep salmon from sticking to the pan, so you can use a little less oil or butter than when pan-searing other fish.
This is especially true with the fattiest salmon– king salmon.
How to Pan-Sear Cod + Halibut (And Other Lean Fish)
Want to try pan-searing cod, halibut, or other lean white fish? You’ll need to follow the basic steps with a little extra care. Make sure that the fish is as dry as possible before starting, and be very gentle when you flip the fish.
These fish need more fat added to the pan than oilier fish– I like to add a mixture of olive oil and butter.
Lean fish is also an excellent option for pan-roasting– a slightly gentler process.
Alternate pan-searing technique for lean fish: Add extra fat to the pan, and then cook fish halfway through instead of 2/3. Flip the fish, add MORE butter to the top, and let the butter braise the fish as it continues to cook.
How to Pan-Sear Sea Scallops
Sea scallops are a delicacy, and there’s one big thing that you should pay attention to if you want to sear them. You have to– HAVE TO— buy sea scallops without chemical additives. They’ll be marked dry packed or chemical-free, and the ingredients label will list only scallops.
If you’re not sure where to find chemical-free sea scallops, try looking at stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Not an option? Ask your local grocery store if they can order some for you.
Chemically treated sea scallops have chemical plumping agents added to them, and they simply have too much moisture to sear well. (Remember how your fish has to be dry? These can’t get dry.)
If chemically treated sea scallops are your only option, you can soak them in cold water with the juice from one lemon. The lemon-water bath will help your scallops taste more like the chemical-free scallops, but they still won’t sear well. Instead, try grilling your scallops, or make a broiled scallop gratin.
How to Pan-Sear Fish: More Recipe Ideas
Want to sear even more types of fish? Learn how to pan-sear fish like flounder, swordfish, and ahi tuna!