Pan-Frying Fish

Fried Trout Sandwiches

I’m depressed.  After a week in the Florida sun, enjoying Florida beaches, and eating Florida seafood, I’m having a hard time adjusting to life in land-locked Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s just not the same and frankly, not as fried.

When I think about seafood dinners, I think about chowing down on heaping plates of fried fish served with french fries and hushpuppies.  An iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing is a great beginning, but everything else should be glistening, crunchy, and very brown.  In short, I think frying is the absolute best way to prepare fish.  And while deep frying is messy and best for a crowd, pan-frying requires less fat and is a little more suitable when cooking for a few or just you! So, what’s involved? 

  • Choose the right pan.  First, find a heavy-bottomed frying or sauté pan.  You should use a pan with straight, not sloped, sides to keep the hot oil safely where it belongs.  The pan should be large enough to hold the items you wish to fry.  If you are frying several items, cook in batches for best results.
  • Choose the right oil.  Every oil has a smoke point which is basically the temperature at which an oil begins to breakdown.  When frying you want to choose an oil with a high smoke point to avoid flare-ups and get a better tasting product.  Peanut oil or refined corn oil, both with a smoke point of 410 degrees, are great choices. 
  • Go light with the breading.  There are millions of ways to season and bread food for pan-frying, but I recommend keeping it simple when it comes to fish.  While I had planned to come up with my own special breading in Florida, I came across Zatarain’s Seasoned Fish-Fri deep inside a cabinet at the beach house.  It worked perfectly, because it was a very fine breading that let the flavor of the fish shine through while adding a little crunch and seasoning.  I know that using a mix equals cheating to many of you, but we were on vacation and I wanted to enjoy that sunset.  A simple do-it-yourself coating would be flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little ground red pepper (cayenne).  When it comes time to coat your fish, don’t worry about dipping it in milk or eggs as the moisture from the fish should be sufficient to make the coating stick.
  • If you can’t catch fresh, buy fresh.  In Florida, I pan-fried flounder, red snapper, and soft-shell crabs, but the treat of the week was the fried trout.  I desperately want to say that its flaky texture, moist interior, and oh-so-good taste was the result of my excellent pan-frying technique.  In actuality, the trout was delicious because we had literally reeled it in only hours before we ate it.   The fresher the fish the better the taste so make a point to buy fish from someone you trust if you aren’t catching it yourself. 

Freshly Caught Speckled Trout

  • Strike a balance.  Pan-frying lies between sautéing and deep-frying.  To properly pan-fry, you need enough oil to come halfway up the side of the food you plan on frying, but no more or less. 
  • Get your oil hot.  I think getting your oil hot enough is the hardest part of pan-frying.  I know it’s difficult to be patient, but nothing is worse than adding your fish to warm oil. Rather than hearing that satisfying sizzle, you may only get a few bubbles, you’ll have poor browning, and your fish will be very greasy.  The best way to monitor temperature while learning how to pan-fry is to use a thermometer.  Heat your oil to around 350 degrees before adding your fish.  The temperature will drop when the fish is added, but this is ok.
  • Fry your fish.  Now is the time for finesse.  The first side of the fish in the pan will always be the prettiest so be sure to place the presentation side down.  You only want to turn your fish once during frying so keep your eye on the clock to give both sides equal cooking time.  While every fish is different, I tend to estimate 8 to 10 minutes total for every inch of thickness.
  • Eat immediately.  Fried food is best eaten immediately so make sure everything else is ready to go before you start frying.  If cooking in batches for a crowd, preheat your oven to 200 degrees and place inside it a baking sheet with a wire rack on top. As you finish frying, place fried items on the wire rack in the oven.  The wire rack will keep your food from getting soggy. 

And that it’s.  With these tips, that first mouthful of flaky, succulent pan-fried fish will take you to the beach if you aren’t there already!  Anybody want to go fishing?


Fishing for Labradors...Even our dog wanted in on the action!
Fishing for Labradors…Even our dog wanted in on the action!

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