Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Mar 22, 2010 09:02 AM

I simply CANNOT cook fish... please, can someone help me?

I did it again last night -- ruined two beautiful, expensive pieces of halibut. I was trying to make a pan-seared halibut with a pan sauce, but both sides of the fish stuck to the pan, so I had chunks of fish instead of nice fillets, and when it came time to deglaze the pan there were chunks of fish and skin that had to be scraped off the pan first, and in doing so, I'm sure I removed what little fond there was as well. The finished dish tasted okay, but looked like a real mess on the plate.

This happens to me not once in a while, but EVERY time I try to cook fish. And the thing is, I was sure I was doing everything right this time. There was a nice "sizzle" when I placed the fish in the saute pan, and I left the fillets undisturbed for 4 minutes thinking that this would ensure that a nice crust would develop and I'd be able to turn the fish easily.

I'm so tempted to use a nonstick pan for cooking fish, but I don't think I could get a good pan sauce if I do. I've got a nice variety of fairly decent pots and pans. Maybe I'm just using the wrong ones? FWIW, yesterday I used a 12" All-Clad saute pan (which truthfully, I've NEVER been happy with). Should I use a copper pan instead? Although I don't own a copper saute pan (just too heavy for me), I do have an 11" copper brazier/saute pan that would work just as well. I've also got a 12" nonstick saute pan (Calphalon, I think).

I need some guidance and direction; can anyone help me? Thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Why do you need a pan sauce for fish?

    Anyway, I'd recommend you usinga non-stick until you get the hang of it, and then start using the regular frypan (I have All-Clad saute pans as well and don't use them for fish; frypan or French skillet).

    Your fish is dry and you're using oil/butter, right?

    1. I always use a non-stick pan for sautéing fish. Shaking the pan periodically without lifting the fish will ensure it's not sticking while still allowing the formation of a crust.

      If you use seasoned flour to coat the fish, some of it will end up browning into a usable fond, from which you can make a pan sauce. Or do as I usually do and make a sauce separately. My favorite is a sort of spicy remoulade, mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice, hot sauce, and chopped pickled jalapeños.

      1. Don't be afraid to use the non-stick pan. If you don't wish to use Teflon, try cast iron. I always blacken in a cast iron. Now for steel:

        1. Hot oil, ~380 - 400F
        2. Dry fish: rinse and pat the fish dry with paper towels.
        3. Skin-side-down first.
        4. Wiggle the pan for first 10 sec.
        5. Leave alone for 3-5 min depending on thickness, or until a golden crust forms on skin.
        6. Give pan a quick jerk to loosen fish. Wait 30 sec and repeat once or twice if necessary.
        7. Flip fish away from you with a wide spatula. You may need to pry a little with the spatula.
        8. Wiggle the pan for the first 10 sec.
        9. Leave alone until fish is almost done but not flaky.
        10. Remove from pan and serve.

        You should be using 1-2 Tbl fat in a 10" skillet for this. If you prefer butter, be sure to go 50/50 :: cooking oil/butter to increase the smoke point. Also, some fish are just difficult to pan fry. If all else fails, don't be afraid to dredge the fish in a light seafood breader before frying.

        note: I've used the above technique to prepare a parmesan crusted tilapia in an aluminum pan - it can be done.

        1. You may simply be using too much heat.
          For your practice sessions with your All-Clad (my favorite) try this method.
          Crumple up a piece of waxed paper and use it to spread some room temperature unsalted butter on the bottom of the pan while the pan is warming up but not yet hot.
          Oil the surfaces of the fillets using vegetable oil, not butter, to prepare them for the pan. Butter is 15% water and, if it's salted butter, it will exacerbate the sticking problem if yo coat the fish with it. Put the oil on your fish, not the pan, and heat the pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot enough to accept the fish (which is a temperature that will lightly brown not burn the butter, put the fish in the pan. Allow the fish to cook for about one minute, then shake the pan to prevent sticking. Shake the pan every minute or two until it's time to turn the fish over (fish cooks very quickly so that won't take very long) and use a spatula that is capable of supporting the entire body of the fillet to turn it. If you don't have a spatula large enough, raise one long side of the fillet with a spatula while holding the opposite side with another similar tool and roll the fillet over gently.
          Remember that the fat in fish is not the same as other fats you may be accustomed to working with in cooking - it will stick to just about anything (save for non-stick pans).
          If you want butter flavor in the fish, use a pat of butter to finish it when it's plated.

          1. You can try the following:

            1) Make sure the pan is heated through, it don't have to be rocket hot but I think it is worst to start cold as a lot of people mention that you need to heat steel pans enough to "open the pores" to take in the fat
            2) Make sure the fish is dry on the surface
            3) Set the fish and try not to move it too much. It take sometime before the proteins release itself from the pan.
            4) If you want try frying eggs on the pan 1st before wasting good fish. It is a lot cheaper and sticks just as much. If you can manage that then fish should be no problem.

            1 Reply
            1. re: snowpuppy

              I took the fish out of the fridge about 20 minutes before I began cooking it. I dried the fish with paper towels and salted and peppered it top and bottom. I heated the pan, then added 2 tablespoons of canola oil, let the oil heat, then I added the fish to the pan. The recipe said to put the fish into the pan "presentation side down." I chose to present the fish skin side down, so I put the fish in the pan skin side up. I let the fish set for 4 minutes before I tried to move it, but it was stuck.