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Recipe: Pan Seared Fish

This weeks recipe is inspired by our new partnerships with some of San Diego’s local fisherman. Our assistant Chef, Cindy, works closely with many of them to promote their industry and find new outlets for their amazing product. Through her continued work we are utilizing more and more of the fantastic variety of seafood we have available in San Diego. I strongly encourage all of you to check out the Saturday morning Tuna Harbor market near the seaport where you can talk to our local fishermen and get the freshest seafood available! Also, be on the lookout for more and more opportunities to taste some of these local delicacies as part of our offerings in our Family Meals, Saturday MAKE Café, Private Events, and more!

So, for this week I wanted to share one of the simplest preparations that can be used for a wide variety of fish and its one that I feel a lot of restaurants utilize that many home cooks do not. I’m talking about that “pan seared” piece of fish you see on so many menus. Fish is a delicate protein and can be a little tricky. Its not always as forgiving as a piece of beef or chicken and a little overdone can be very noticeable and take away from the beauty of a nice piece of seafood. Pan searing can be used on a wide variety of fish and I particularly like to use this method when I want to enjoy the skin which, if done properly, can get super crispy like a potato chip. And one little secret restaurant trick that almost ensures a crispy skin… dust it lightly with Wondra flour (a precooked flour that is used to thicken gravy). Hey, if its good enough for Le Bernardin, its good enough for me! This works particularly great on skate. So, pay attention to the method and reach out if you have any troubles!

Pan Seared Fish

1 6 oz fillet of fish such as Red Snapper, Striped Bass, Salmon, etc… - skin on and scales removed

Cooking Oil – High temp such as Canola or Vegetable oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Wondra Flour – For dusting, optional

Thin, fish spatula


1) Place the fish, skin side up, on a cutting board

2) Using the back of knife, gently scrape the skin of the fish with the grain to sort of “squeegee” any excess water out of the skin. Scrape the water onto a paper towel. Removing this water will help dramatically with crisping the skin.

3) Once little or no more water is coming off on the knife, set the fillet aside.

4) Heat a saute pan (don’t use a nonstick pan as the high heat will degrade the Teflon and they tend not to crisp the skin as nicely) over medium high heat.

5) Add enough oil (you want one with a high smoke point here such as vegetable or canola oil) to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Heat until a few wisps of smoke are coming off the oil (and be sure to turn on your hood fan if you have one!)

6) Pick up the fish and season the flesh side with salt and pepper. Dust the skin side lightly with the Wondra flour if using but definitely not required!

7) Gently place the fillet skin side down in the hot pan. Lay it away from you and don’t drop it in the pan to prevent oil from splashing. Be brave!

8) Using the spatula, gently press down on the fillet for about 20-30 seconds. You’ll notice the fish immediately seize up when it hits the hot pan. Pressing it a little with the spatula will force the skin into contact with the hot pan to ensure it crisps. After about 20 seconds you’ll notice the fish relax a little and you can stop pressing.

9) Turn down the heat a bit to medium or medium low and allow the fish to cook. Don’t move it around or the skin will tear.

10) After a few minutes you’ll begin to see some browning around the edge of the fillet and the edges will begin to turn opaque. You’re going to continue to cook it on the skin side until its golden brown, release easily from the pan without any fighting, and is about 80 percent cooked through.

11) Once the fish releases easily and the skin is golden brown and crispy, gently flip it over.

12) Cook a minute more depending on the thickness of the fillet and lightly season the skin side with a little salt.

13) Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel for a second to remove any excess oil.

14) Enjoy with a simple sauce or squeeze of lemon!

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