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Oct 26, 2010 02:04 PM

pan-roasting in a non-stick skillet

i'm trying to perfect pan roasting, starting with halibut filets.

i tried it last night with my cast iron, (which is somewhat seasoned, but definitely could be better) and it didn't go so well.

i had warmed up the skinless filet to room temperature, neglected to pat it dry, and just put it directly into the hot cast iron.

the fish stuck immediately. i waited about 2 minutes, and i could see the sides turning white and the edges turning light brown. the pan was still pretty hot, and the fish was fully stuck, so i pulled it free with a fork. total disaster. it never made it to the oven. i just finished it off with a lid on medium-low and ate it. it was a pale white/brown color. not great.

a couple questions come to mind
- was not patting it dry such a big deal?
- if i just used a non-stick skillet (i have an inexpensive NSF skillet from costco business), can i put it in the oven? if so, i guess i better not go above 350/400F. is that hot enough to get the desired doneness in the fish?
- maybe dusting with flour would have helped?
- what's the ideal oil for this? i went with canola, but perhaps there's a better choice?
- salt before or after?


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  1. Don't use a non stick for this type of high heat cooking, and not in the oven.

    Did you oil the fillets first? Sometimes they will stick a bit initially but I allow them to cook to the point of release, before turning. The sticking may have been due to a wet fillet, which is a moderately big deal when trying to get good color on a piece of fish or meat, or also have something to do with the seasoning in your cast iron. Possibly your pan was not as hot as you thought. Adding fat (oil or butter) the a super hot cast iron pan is a no-no, either brush your fillets or add the oil before the pan gets ripping hot. Use a spatula for turning, fish fillets can be delicate. No forking fillets.'-))

    Pat the fillets dry, season well, dust with a bit of flour (adds to browning) shake off excess flour, place into hot cast iron or sauté pan, allow to brown; depending on thickness of fillet, flip after 3-4 minutes with less for thinner fillets, finish briefly on flip side. I wouldn't necessarily dredge halibut fillets in flour, but pat dry and season them well first.

    Canola is a very neutral flavored oil; I prefer something more flavorful, like olive oil, for starters.

    8 Replies
      1. re: bushwickgirl

        According to calpholon's website, their nonstick is safe up to 450, all-clad says 500. I regularly use my nonstick in the oven at high temps.

        1. re: donovt

          The OP posted that he/she has a inexpensive NSF skillet from Costco, with no mention of whether the manufacturer recommends it for high temp oven use. Although manufacturers like Calphlon and All Clad routinely recommend that their non stick coatings are safe for high heat applications, and I believe them, the long term enemy of non stick is high heat:

          "Heat is the enemy of nonsticks. Use of low to medium heat will preserve food nutrients as well as protecting the nonstick finish. Make sure that food, oil or water is in the cookware before heating unless the recipe calls for preheating the pan before adding food. Aluminum nonstick pans heat extremely quickly."

          "Beware of any manufacturer’s claim that the FDA has “approved” or has certified a coating. Nonstick coatings can be comprised of ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe” (known as the GRAS list) but the FDA does not test, certify or otherwise approve any coatings applied to noncommercial housewares products." -quoted from the Cookware Manufacturers Association website.

          Another caveat with non stick pans is using an aerosol vegetable oil spay as a fat choice for high heat cooking, which causes the oil component in cooking spray to polymerize, forming a glaze which can be very difficult to clean, which leads to damaging the surface of the pan. The OP didn't mention using a vegetable spray, I just thought I'd throw it in here.

          I have Calphlon as well but the only non stick piece I have I use for omelets; the other pieces go in the hottest oven without issues, as the surfaces are anodized, and is somewhat similar to non stick, and behaves in that manner. It's a matter of personal reference that I don't use my non stick skillet in the oven, as I'd like to get my money's worth from it. Since the OP has cast iron, I felt that that was the best choice for cooking the fish.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Thank you! As always your reply was very informative!!

        2. re: bushwickgirl

          This is great advice, many thanks!

          Question: How far in advance of cooking should fish be removed from the frig?

          1. re: erica

            Well, depends on the size of the portion(s), 15-20 minutes for small fillets, longer for whole fish or larger pieces or sides. The point is to let it come pretty much close to room temp, doesn't take very long with fish. You can tell by touching it for temperature.

            When I was a chef, we didn't bother with this step, from the frig to the frying pan, but we had higher heat capabilites and the temperature of the food item didn't matter much.

            1. re: bushwickgirl

              Thanks very much, yet again, BG!!

              I have had good luck with this recipe last night, good for beginner's, but you need to be prepared for handling a heavy, very hot pan!


              1. re: erica

                That sounds nice and simple, and I think Rick Moonen's book is very good. All I can add is use two hands and some asbestos gloves!;'))

                There was a online source for fennel pollen mentioned here just a day ago, but I can't find it now, and there are other chow threads discussing it's use, all quite positive. It's probably available at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, if you don't have it already.

                Oh, and since it looks like your in the city, I bet you know where you can find it.

        3. Agreeing with Bushwick. Nonstick skillet can work if you keep the temperature low to medium, but then I think your fish will taste better if you sear it on hot cast iron skillet or carbon steel pan.

          There are a few things I like to mention.

          Did you have any oil in the pan when the fish hit the pan? Make sure the pan and the oil are hot. When you spinkle a drop of two water into the pan, the water should make a sizzling and sparkling sound, not bubbling sound.

          It is said that butter or ghee improves the nonstick ability for these pans. You can put a mixture of butter and oil if you worry about burning the butter.

          As for oil, any high temperature oil should work for high temperature pan frying.

          I find it easier to push/slide the fish filet on the pan, as opposite to pick it straight up. When it sticks, push a little, push a little...

          1. Can't embellish on what bushwickgirl wrote, she has it pretty well covered.
            Only thing I might emphasize is that, in addition to shaking off all the excess flour before dropping the fish into the cast iron pan, I like to press the flour into the flesh of the fish to ensure it gets a good hold and don't try to get your pan smokin' hot. This is fish we're cooking, not beef steak.

            1. You can put a nonstick in the oven, 350-400 is fine.

              I find that oiling the protein itself is superior to putting fat in the pan, since there will be some spots of the pan that don't get oiled.

              Flouring is good. A tablespoon of butter is good, too.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jaykayen

                thanks guys. i had not oiled the fish, and i definitely should have dried it. i'll try again and post back.

              2. I use my Calphalon non stick sauce pan (with high sides and a cover) in the oven all the time. I use it mainly to pan roast pork tenderloins, after searing over the stove to sear it.

                The only time I don't use a non stick is for when I want there to be some browned bits in the bottom of the pan for making a sauce. Non stick will not give you the fond you need to make a decent sauce.