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Jan 19, 2014 10:54 AM

Pan hot, fish dried, but STILL sticking to pan

I just tried and failed again to sear some fish, and I'd love to know what I'm doing wrong. It develops a lovely, brown sear... that then mostly sticks to the pan.

The fish - I bought two 1.25-1.5" thick pieces of cod from a regular supermarket. It was previously frozen, but no longer frozen when I bought it. No skin. I patted the fish dry, sprinkled on a little salt and pepper, kept it at room temp for 30 minutes, and dried it again right before putting it in the pan. I've also tried leaving off the salt.

The pan - I heated a good quality stainless steel pan on high on our ceramic-top electric stove. In the past, I've also tried a scanpan. I don't have cast iron, and I don't think I'd get the brown sear I'm after with a nonstick.

The oil - I added a good pour of grapeseed oil, and waited until it started smoking. I've also tried adding the oil before heating the pan, and then still waiting for it to smoke.

Cooking - I placed the fish in the pan. Not crowded. If the smoke gets heavy, I turn it down to med-hi. I've tried not touching it at all, and I've tried prodding it a bit right at the start to try to prevent it from fastening to the pan and then leaving it alone. It starts to fasten instantly, so the latter doesn't work.

Flipping - When it's almost done, and has a gorgeous brown sear, it's almost completely stuck. I wait a little longer, hoping it will release. When it would start to overcook if I waited any longer, I try to pry it up with a spatula and lose 3/4 of the sear to the pan. I curse a little. The part that does come up is perfect and delicious. The rest comes up when I deglaze and scrape to salvage it as best I can.


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  1. I think this is the time to try a carbon steel pan.

    1. "I heated a good quality stainless steel pan on high...". Do you really mean you have the dial turned all the way up on your ceramic-top stove? That may be too hot. I make fish all the time on my smooth-top electric stove, and I set the dial to medium-high - six on a ten-point button. I heat the pan for about three minutes. The fish is usually seasoned and oiled and put into a bare non-stick skillet. It gets nicely browned - not completely browned like blackened, but browned. If I'm breading the fish, I'll use a couple tablespoons of peanut oil added to the preheated pan and heated til it shimmers.

      Stainless is notorious for sticking. Having never used a scanpan I can't comment on that. But I always use non-stick for fish, and stainless for other things. And stay mindful of the heat. High heat on an electric stove is really not to be used for cooking, it's primarily to bring liquids to a boil. (That's what my user's manual says.)

      1 Reply
      1. re: janniecooks

        Agreed about the heat. Preheat on medium to med-hi for a good 10 minutes before adding oil. To check when oil is the right heat, dip the end of a wooden skewer/toothpick into the oil. If it bubbles, you're there.
        Do not move the fish around AT ALL until it is ready to flip.
        Because you do not need high heat, you can use a nonstick if you wish. Yes, the fish will get the desired shade of brown.
        I do not think it is necessary to let the fish come to room temp. I never have. Nor would I salt it until just before cooking.
        That just draws water to the surface, which you don't need/want. Some chefs put salt in the hot, dry pan, then place a well-dried stak or chop onto the salt. Now, that's meat - but it might work if you oiled the fish before plopping it onto the salt.

      2. Stainless is not the best for fish. Aluminum, cast iron or carbon steel.

        1. I actually get a good brown sear using a non stick. I put my electric burner on 7 out of 10, let it pre heat, add some avocado oil and then cook it. I don't think you should let the oil start smoking. Once it's smoking you're past the smoke point and the oil is degraded. I do believe olive oil was shown to become carcinogenic after it's over heated. I know you used grapeseed oil but I still wouldn't heat the oil to smoking.

          1. restaurant sop is to cook fish from cold, not room temp. harder to over-cook and more wiggle room.

            agree that you need a different pan and your burner temp and oil are actually too hot. do not salt/season til putting it in the pan.