Learning how to sauté fish fillets is a fantastic way to get dinner on the table fast.
But honestly, many of us struggle with sautéing because:
• The fish sticks to the pan
• It won’t brown
• It winds up overcooked or not cooked enough
Here are a few quick tips that’ll put a gorgeous crisp-crust on your fillet. I’ve also included an incredibly easy recipe, to guarantee your sauté success:
- Remove your fish fillets from the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking. This will take the chill off, so you’re not putting a fridge-cold piece of fish in a hot pan.
- Pat-dry the fish. If the fish has too much moisture it’s going to steam and not get that lovely crisp sear that you want.
- Preheat your pan on medium high heat. I like using a cast-iron skillet, but non-stick skillets practically guarantee success. You’ll know the pan is hot enough if droplets of water dance on the surface.
- Lightly oil the pan. You are sautéing… not deep-frying. Add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. When it shimmers, you can add your fish.
- Place your fish in the pan skin-side up. If there’s no skin, place the “presentation” or the pretty side down first. That’s the side that you’ll want face-up on the plate. When you put it in the pan you should hear a nice sizzle. If you’re sautéing more than one fillet, increase the heat. The pan will cool down as you add more fillets. Remember don’t crowd the pan!
- Leave it alone! When it’s crispy brown, it will release easily from the pan with very little sticking. The length of time you cook it before turning will depend on the thickness of your fish. After 2 to 3 minutes, gently try to lift it with the spatula… don’t muscle it!
- Flip it over. Again, how long you cook it depends on the thickness of the fish. But remember, it will continue to cook a bit even after you remove it from the pan. The fillet should be firm and opaque. It will become flaky while it rests.
That’s my method… have anything else to add? Here’s the recipe…
Quick Sautéed Tilapia
prep: 10 minutes
cook: 10 minutes
1 lb. tilapia fillets
1 tablespoon of your favorite seasoning (I like The Spice House Lemon Pepper Seasoning)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided (you may need a bit more depending on the size of your pan)
½ cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)
pinch of salt
let’s get to it…
Pat dry tilapia fillets and sprinkle evenly with seasoning.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add 1-tablespoon olive oil and swirl around pan to coat evenly. When oil shimmers, add tilapia fillets. Cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until golden and cooked through. Remove fillets from pan and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium low. Add 1-tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until onion is translucent.
Add the chicken stock, lemon juice and pinch of salt. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove skillet from heat. Return tilapia fillets to the skillet and spoon the warm lemon sauce on top. Serve immediately.
Cooking know-how: Substitute chopped red or green bell pepper for the onion.
How to thaw frozen fish fillets:
Never thaw fish on the kitchen counter.
Place frozen fish fillets in a dish in the refrigerator. You can leave it in it’s original packaging or cover the dish with plastic. Make sure the dish is large enough to hold the fillets to catch any juice from the thawing fish.
Thaw for 6 to 8 hours. Fish will be pliable, but some ice crystals may remain.
Cook the fish immediately.