Perfect the Sear: How To Sear Fish Like A Pro
Theres nothing quite like seared seafood. Crispy, golden brown outside and perfectly cooked inside.
This is an everyday struggle for seafood lovers. Trying to recreate that restaurant experience at home only to have an outcome of seared-less overcooked fish.
There are some rules to accomplishing the perfect sear. Today, I’ll walk you through the process of how to sear fish, step by step. Never more will you have to worry about sad fish dinners or seafood searing mishaps.
Let’s get started…
What You’ll Need
There are a few equipment needs that go into perfectly seared seafood.
- First, a good pan. Stainless steel is ideal or a nicely seasoned cast iron skillet. You’ll be cooking on high, and these pans can stand the heat. Nonstick pans are a no-go. Their nonstick capabilities only go so far when bringing the heat and are notoriously unreliable for pan searing fish.
- Next, a fish spatula. Unlike your typical kitchen spatula, fish spatulas are thin and springy. Able to gently tuck under delicate pieces of fish with ease.
- Thirdly, paper towels (or a very very clean kitchen towel). Moisture is not our friend for searing. It is the moisture that collects on the outside of our seafood that causes a no-searing situation.
- Finally, the ingredients. An oil with a high smoke point (smoke point being the max temperature an oil can handle without burning). Avocado oil, grapeseed oil, vegetable and peanut oils have some of the highest smoke points around. Not using a high smoke point oil runs the risk of imparting a burnt, acrid taste to your seafood~not good.
- Salt is a secret ingredient for pan searing fish. Yes, flavor. But instrumental in creating a nonstick surface in your pan…more on that later.
Searing Fish (with a little bit on skin on it)
Crispy skin is the goal. Cameron’s Seafood has an impressive selection of skin on fish, red snapper, sea bass and rainbow trout for starters.
- Before we even begin to put our fish in the pan, first we bring it to room temperature. Remove your, skin on, fish fillets from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you plan to cook. Colder temperatures tend to lock in excess moisture, letting the fish rest at room temperature will release this excess. You’ll see the pooling of water, trust me.
- Once your fish has rested pat that baby dry! Apply slight pressure when patting the fillets with a paper towel. This will draw out any leftover excess moisture. Let the fillets sit on additional paper towels while waiting for our pan to preheat.
Chef Talks Moisture: Moisture is our enemy when it comes to searing, but I don’t want anyone to think that these steps will ‘dry out’ your fish. There’s still plenty of liquid locked inside and by properly searing, you further lock in that moisture. A ‘wet’ fish fillet will steam when adding it to a hot pan, not sear. To get the desired outcome the outside needs to be as dry as possible.
- ‘Pre’ pre-heating the pan. This is an important step and one that may surprise many a home cook. We’re going to prep our pan by preheating and seasoning. First, get that pan pipping hot~high heat and smoking (have someone on standby if your smoke detectors are close to your kitchen or open a window or two). Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of your high heat worthy oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Heat for 2 minutes, and once the oil is smoking, remove the pan from the heat and carefully (I put some wadded up paper towels at the end of my tongs) and wipe clean. Viola! Seasoned and non-stick pan!
- Return the pan to the heat and drizzle in another (1) tablespoon of oil. Once the oil is hot, and you’ll be able to tell this when the oil is shimmering. Carefully lay your fish, skin side down, in the pan. Try to lay the fish in the pan going away from you, to keep any oil from splattering.
- Using your fish spatula, apply some pressure to the fillet to hold it in place. Fillets tend to arc, resulting in an uneven sear. A light pressure to support the sear, maybe 30 seconds to 1 minutes, and the fillet will relax and rest flat into the pan.
- Cook the fillet (still skin side down) until the flesh is opaque and nearly cooked through. You’ll see just a little spot, in the middle, where the fish is still underdone. Depending on the thickness of your fish, this can be anywhere from 1-3 minutes.
- Flip, using your fish spatula, and cook the fillet for 1 minute on the other side.
Chef Talks Sticking: When you go to flip and the fish sticks, hold tight. That’s the fillets way of telling you it still needs some time to sear. Once crispy the fillet will flip easily.
Searing Fish (without skin)
There’s not much different from searing fish with skin or without skin. The only minor change occurs with the flip and timing. Cameron’s Seafood has some incredible skinless fillets! Atlantic salmon, tuna, mahi mahi and rockfish, just to name a delicious few.
- Repeat the same steps above for drying and preheating. Once the oil (1 tablespoon) is pipping hot (shimmering et all), place your skinless fillet into the pan.
- Sear for about 2-3 minutes per side. The time will vary depending on the thickness of your fillet but keep in mind the ‘Chef Talks Sticking’ rule and you’ll be fine!
What about seasoning or marinating my fillets?
Season with salt and pepper before searing. For other spices, after the sear. Often times, high heat will cause some spices to burn. Marinating is fine! Just remember that we want those outsides super dry and marinating may cause a few more ‘patting dry’ sessions.
Buy Seafood Online-and cook good food at home!
All of the seafood listed in these searing tips are available at our online store. As we say, ‘from shore to door, 3 days fresher than the grocery store’-all of our seafood is delivered right to your door when you schedule it, guaranteed! That’s convenience you need, especially for dinner prepping and planning.
About the author
Patterson Watkins is a professional chef with over 17 years of experience. With a robust career in restaurants, contract dining and catering (including 4 Summer Olympic posts preparing food for the athletes!) Patterson joined the Cameron's Seafood team at the end of 2018 to concoct some delicious recipes with our premium seafood items as the centerpiece.