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PAN-FRIED FISH --help me improve the second time

I am quite proud of how well my first attempt at making pan-fried fish turned out. Took my cue from Michael Colameco's PBS program from a few weeks back. Did standard breading procedure (rice flour, egg, panko) and shallow fried cut-up flounder filets and whole sea scallops in a mix of olive oil and peanut oil in a heavy dutch over (not non-stick).

Crust was excellent, fish did not stick, fish was perfectly cooked.

But it lacked personality--was a bit bland to my taste. Other than to add more salt, which is definitely needed and which I will do next time, what else can I add and should I add to the panko or to the flour or to both. (I added a touch of Aleppo pepper, maybe half a teaspoon, but the amount was far too small--I could not taste it) What about adding parmesan--seems sacriligeous, no??

Also, on other threads I have read not to use eggs when frying fish. Why not? Many people advocate using a batter--how would this improve the outcome?

Please add any tips because I want to make this again soon! Thanks.

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  1. This is a chance to throw open your spice cabinet and play...think about the flavors you like together. For example, I love smoky spice & heat so I use alot of ancho and chipotle pepper my food, as well as cumin, curry, garlic, etc. Also, keep in mind that you should season every layer of your dish so your fish should be seasoned as well as the flour AND the panko.

    I am one who disagrees with the no cheese on fish idea. I think cheese has it's place on certain things and can enhance a dish. I love seafood lasagna and I add a little smoked gouda cheese to my bechamel. Is it traditonal? No. Is it good, absolutely!

    The important thing is to ask yourself what you like...if you like parmesan, add some to your panko. If you like it, do it again...if not, don't.

    1. I would add butter pats to the oil you use to fry...you can salt and pepper the fish before you coat.... or season your flour. Yes you can mix Parmigiano Reggiano to your crumbs if you'd like.....nobody's watching. Flour or cornstarch only works well.... and or with corn meal is a nice twist as well.

      1. For additional "personality" the ideas are only limited by your imagination....

        Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, Jamaican pepper, garlic, powder, onion powder. A favorite spice blend...McCormick's Season-All, Old Bay Seasoning. lemon juice/zest. Soak it in Louisiana Hot Sauce..etc. etc, etc. Whatever you choose add it to the fish and all coating material...You mentioned Parmesan...Maybe a simple pasta, and red gravy with the pan fried fish on top, a good grating of Parmesan...Yes? No? Maybe? Or maybe a creole sauce atop rice with the fried fish on top..Mmmmm! Whatever....

        Have Fun!!!!

          1. sounds like you've almost got it. i'd add the seasoning to the flour. and when you think about how little is actually going to stay on the seafood it's time to go "big" with the seasoning. it's just a thin layer so bump it up. i go for being able to see it in the flour. and a taste of your mixture should taste way too strong.

            i like a light taste of parmesan on shrimp (yep sacrilege). or a bit of grated coconut on fish and shrimp. the parm or coconut i'd mix with the panko. less is more with scallops. their sweetness is so delicate i just dip in a little rice flour with salt and pepper, no egg or bread crumbs.

            i'm a fan of light crisp breading. batter except for a nicely done tempura can be overwhelming. and batter seems to need deep frying, not something i like to do at home.

            1 Reply
            1. re: appycamper

              I'm glad you mentioned coconut. I've got some dried, grated (unsweetened) that needs using. Great idea.

            2. It seems to me that most white-fleshed fish is a bit on the boring side. The British use malt vingegar to spice up their fried fish. We use tartar sauce and seafood sauce. It seems to me that most of the flavor is supplied by a sauce that you pour over the fish or dip the fish into, if you want to retain maximum crunch. Check out that Petersen (Peterson?) fellow who wrote the book on sauces. "The Saucier's Apprentice" is another helpful book for the sauces.

              1. If it lacks personality/flavor, the only thing you need is a simple sauce to slather your fried fish in

                1. This is why tartar sauce was invented.

                  1. I think a short marinade lie for 20-30 mins or up to an hour before cooking is good for breaded fried fish. Like a dash of lemon juice, a sprinkle of some type of chile powder (yummy suggestions above), and a dash of salt before you do the breading. You get layers of flavor this way.

                    1. Salt and pepper/season the fish before breading, let it set for awhile after seasoning. Sprinkle lightly with water just before breading (a spray bottle works well) but not enough to wash off the seasoning. Dredge through the flour then fry.

                      1. My standard fried fish seasoning mix is (in descending order of quantity) Hungarian sweet paprika, salt, pepper, thyme, cayenne, Old Bay. That's for white fish though, I'm not sure I'd use this with scallops. To let their natural sweetness come through I'd probably leave out the paprika, thyme and maybe the Old Bay. Haven't actually tried it since I usually grill my scallops.

                        1. Whenever I fry fish I always blend Italian breadcrumbs, panko, salt, pepper, garlic powder, parmesan and definitely a lot of Old Bay. Dust with flour, put in egg wash, coat with the mix.

                          1. A million thanks for all of these great tips! I have a lot of experimenting ahead of me!

                            1. I don't think you'll have as much luck with batter when pan-frying. Breading's the way to go.

                              I like the breading to be very light, as the flavor of steamed starch next to cooked fish is very, very unpleasant to me (and is the reason I wouldn't go near fish sticks as a kid).

                              I'm a Midwesterner, so I'm going to recommend you also experiment with corn meal as your breading. It's good on much more than just catfish. I live on a lake with abundant bluegill and yellow sunfish, and they're absolutely great just cleaned and scaled, then dipped in milk/egg wash then cornmeal, and pan-fried whole. This is how my maternal grandmother did them, and it remains my favorite way to fry fish.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dmd_kc

                                That's exactly how we fried what we called "perch", crappie, bluegills, red ears,, etc. in central Texas when I was a kid. For the original post, I'd suggest frying filets the same way, only I cut my cornmeal with a little flour and add a sasoning, I use Konriko, similiar to Tony Chachere's. I would suggest something other than flounder, it's just not that flavorful. I use speckled trout which I am lucky enough to catch myself. You can use red snapper, or redfish, although it's farm raised. Do not overcook, no more than 5 or 6 miinutes unless you have a thick filet. I also scale it and leave the skin on.

                              2. Humm, wonder how Chinese 5 spice powder would work? You could make a dipping sauce with some soy & toasted sesame oil...

                                1. This is a really different way to do fish, but it works. Forgo the flour-egg-crumb step. Melt butter, dijon, worcestershire, and lemon together, a little pepper, maybe. Let the mixture cool until it is a sort of "glue". Spread on each side of fillets with a brush, then dip in panko, and pan fry. Crunchy and tasty!

                                  1. erica hi,
                                    would you please share the breading recipe (google search did not bring up results)
                                    and how much oil
                                    (can I do it in cast iron/non stick ;generously brushed with oil)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: divya

                                      Divya: Sorry I did not see you post until just now. I do not have a recipe; I just watched Mike Colameco do this on his PBS TV program (now in repeats in my area of the US). He does have a new book out but not sure if there are recipes. I just used the standard procedure (see link) and used rice flour (for some reason this is the flour I have in my house; I think I read once that it was lighter and good for fried foods-no idea if this is true or not). I used good eggs from the farmer's market, and panko crumbs.

                                      I am sure you could do it in either of those pan options...I did use a fair amount of oil, though--more than just brushing the bottom of the pan with oil. But the fish was not greasy. Honestly, I had been fearful of making fried fish but it was really simple. And now I will try the suggestions her to spice things up. I put malt vinegar on my shopping list; I do not want the extra calories from tartar sauce although the fish were crying out for some!

                                      See this:


                                    2. For lean fish such as you were cooking - flatfish and scallops - I generally go quite the other way from all these recommendations. What I prefer to do is to pat the fish dry, then season lightly with salt and pepper and let sit out on a rack for about an hour, with maybe just a clean dish towel to keep the bugs off. Then I dredge it in flour, shake off the excess, and sauté it in sizzling hot butter and oil, hot enough to get it a bit crunchy around the edges. Then serve it with slices of lemon. To fancy it up, I'll add more butter to the pan, get it brown, then deglaze with wine and maybe a handful of capers to pour over the fish.

                                      1. Season the FISH well with salt & pepper (not the rice flour, which is perfect btw)

                                        1. I'd add paprika, the hungarian kind and then squeeze lemon over the fish after it's out of the pan. Maybe lemon zest too

                                          Mashed garlic and cumin go good with fish too, this is a rub you'd marinade it before you do the coating process. A squeeze of lemon on top wouldn't hurt either after it's finished.

                                          1. You are off to a great start since you did not use the words "burnt", "dried out" or "needed to order take-out to eat that night."

                                            As other have stated, have fun with spices and see what your palate likes. The peppers, the asian spices (jfood is into star anise at this point) and try to get the basic sweet, spicey, salty, acidy into the fray.

                                            A good way to learn about various ways to cook fish is a book that CH turned jfood onto last year, Rick Moonen's "Fish Without a Doubt." It teaches a great deal about different fish preparations as well as sauces to complement each variety. Fish has so many sub-groups that you need to understand the fattiness of the cut and the best way to prepare and serve differing categories.

                                            Good luck and keep going.


                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jfood

                                              Fish Without A Doubt bt Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore is a wonderful cookbook. Not only are the seafood recipes easy to follow but there are also recipes for condiments and sides dishes as well. Some of the recipes have a few recipes within the recipe... but everything is very easy to follow. FWAD was COTM in March 2009. Here's the link to the master thread with links to our report threads:

                                              One technique we all used was in the easy pan-fried fish recipes...here's a report that I wrote for sautéed fish:
                                              "Sautéed Char, Pg. 439:
                                              I had to substitute swordfish, one of the alternatives suggested.
                                              Each piece of fish is seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper and the skin side is lightly dusted with flour. (I used one pan for 2 pieces, if you're cooking 4 pieces per the recipe use 2 skillets.) The directions are rather specific for cooking the fish: heat a skillet over high heat, add olive oil, add the fish with floured side down, reduce heat to medium, press down on fish with a spatula to hear the sizzle which tells you that a crust is being formed. Then add a T of butter to the pan. When the butter melts, baste the fish and cook for 3 minutes. When the fish is almost cooked through turn over and turn off the heat. The fish sits for about 30 seconds then is transfered to paper towels."

                                            2. Breadings I've used include flour, Italian seasoned bread crumbs, & parmesean cheese. Flour, shredded coconut (processed a little finer with the stick blender processor attachment) & crushed macadamia nuts. Flour, crushed cornflakes seasoned with Mckormick Grill Mates. There are so many possibilites.

                                              Also you can use buttermilk as your 'coating' liquid instead of an egg. I use both. However if you use egg after you mix up the yolk and egg white, you should add a little cold water to it.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: crt

                                                For a Burns Night dinner one year I found a recipe in a Scottish cookbook for fried trout, egged and rolled in oatmeal. Not rolled oats, but steel-cut oats that I buzzed in the blender to chop them finer. It was possibly the nicest farmed trout I'd ever had. As urged above, it was the FISH that was seasoned, not the coating, though I did season the egg a bit.

                                                1. re: Will Owen

                                                  did the original recipe call for rolled oats? sounds intriguing

                                                  1. re: jcarlile

                                                    No, because rolled oats were not traditional there, and are still pretty much an American thing...though I know McCann's is doing them. I tried those and they're as bad as Quaker Instant. Blech.

                                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                                      One trick I picked up someplace helps boost the flavor of fried food. When you remove it from the pan, while it's still hot and shimmery, sprinkle a little of your spice mix (or just salt and pepper) on it.

                                              2. Erica--
                                                I grew up eating a lot of fried seafood and I often pan-fry and deep-fry fish, occasionally other seafoods. (When I have problems, it's usually in maintaining oil temp for deep frying.)
                                                Here's what I have learned about breading/flavor:
                                                1. As others have noted, "over"spicing, especially the flour/cornmeal, is key. Very little actually sticks to the fish. Here, use what you like--black, white, or different red/chile peppers, paprika, lemon pepper, garlic powder, parmesan, herbs, other spices--middleeastern, asian--whatever flavor profile you want. But put salt and pepper on the flesh too.

                                                2. I no longer bother w/the first flouring and the egg dip on delicate seafood. I like the lighter crust so i just dredge (or shake in a paper bag as my mother always did) fish/shrimp in heavily seasoned flour (I actually use a mixture of rice flour/corn meal--or a product we get here called Fish-Fri, which is a powdery cornmeal,and, I think, flour, blend). If the pan or the oil is hot enough, this works fine to create a light crust for the seafood. It is a lot less work/mess. I even use this method for thin-cut onion rings (which my niece nags me to make all the time, much as I hate deep frying).

                                                3. Rice flour is fine. I discovered it for frying just last year, and I love it as it makes for a crisper crust, I think. On the rare occasions I tackle fried chicken, I now use rice flour.

                                                4. My dad, who cooked very few things, was an expert fish fryer. I've never done what he used to do, but it was delicious and the fish was never bland. He would marinate the fish in a mixture of ballpark yellow mustard (which I have always hated on its own) and bottled Italian dressing and then coat it in seasoned cornmeal/flour and fry.

                                                5. I am also a big fan of tartar sauce or remoulades, so I always make some when we have fried seafood. You can play around with flavors here, too, and add another dimension.

                                                Good luck!

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                                  Re: #5, I agree, this is a good area for experimentation. We like spicy foods in my house, so I've developed a version where I mix mayo with lemon juice, hot sauce, and chopped pickled jalapeños. It's a big hit with all sorts of fried fish.

                                                  1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                                    Thanks so much, Nomad, and everyone else who was so free with tips. I have made the fried fish (flounder, no scallops anymore) twice since I posted this (I also made tartar sauce which certainly improved the meal). The results are hopeful but I am not quite there yet. I still need more flavor on the fish. The advice to amp up the spices in the four/bread crumbs was very helpful, as was the explanation of how little of the actual coating remains in the finished product. I think I added at least a tsp of salt to the flour and will add even more next time....I went with a cumin/smoked paprika combo last time and wold recommend. Next time I want to experiment with Old Bay, as I happen to have a packet sitting in the cabinet! How much Old Bay should I add to the flour mix for about one pound of fish? Should I add any to the crumb mixture?

                                                    1. re: erica

                                                      Do you want more flavor of the fish, or from the seasonings? If you want more flavor from the fish, I'd suggest a different fish. I fry speckled trout that I catch myself in Texas, or red snapper. Flounder, In my opinion, is much like halibut, a light fish that is not very flavorable, more inclined to benefit from sauces, not frying. I also think it is for people who are afraid of fish tasting like, well fish. I'm not sure what is available in your area, but I'd look for something different. Find a good fish monger and go with his advice. I think you're over thinking this. I posted above, simple seasoning is all that is needed, salt, pepper, and a light amount of cajun seasonings, and fry in whatever corn meal/flour mixture tastes best. I dip fish in two eggs, a smaller amount of milk, along with seasonings, then a 90/10 cornmeal to flour mixture. When it comes out, it needs to be salted immediately. My wife adds cajun seasonings to hers, but I do not. I like the fish to stand on it's own merit, and not cover it in seasonings.

                                                  2. Trader Joe's tartar sauce has dill & jalapeno in it & it really tasty. I smear a little of this on my fish, then dredge in panko. Tartar sauce helps the panko adhere and gives the fish a great flavor. Then I squeeze a lemon on it when I take it out of the pan.

                                                    1. This current thread reminded me of the most memorable fish I have ever had.....Freshwater Pike and Large Mouth Bass dusted in seasoned flour and pan-fried in bacon fat.


                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        Use Cake flour in lieu of APurp as it fries crispier--if thats what youre aiming for.