Pan fried fish with creamed spinach
Updated: Wed, 5 May, 2021
Pan fried fish with succulent flesh and golden crispy skin, with a spoonful of lemon butter drizzled over and a pile of indulgent, creamed spinach. The absolutely best thing to do with a boring bass or bream fillet.
Call it what it is: pan fried
Pan fried sea bass or bream with crispy skin; what a great way to cook fish. Before we get on to the details and secrets of how to perfectly cook a fish fillet in a pan, allow me a little rant on the semantics: there seems to be something embarrassing about saying the word ‘fried’ out loud.
Unhealthy? Hardly in case of this recipe; if you cook your fish in a good non-stick pan you will only need the drop of oil that will make the skin crisp. Various recipe authors variously use ridiculous euphemisms like ‘pan fried’ (as opposed to what? fried in a kettle?), ‘pan roasted’, ‘seared’ or ‘sautéed’.
I only hesitate to call this dish ‘fried fish’ as that expression brings deep fried breaded seafood to mind. So I settle on ‘pan frying’ for my recipe which at least accurately reflects what happens to the fish.
How to pan fry fish?
And what happens to it is very simple. Rinse your fillets and pat very well dry with kitchen towels. Check for bones. Not too thick, flattish fish fillets work best here: sea bass and bream, small haddock or hake, sole or luxurious brill and turbot.
The fillets shouldn’t be too thick obviously so is you want to cook salmon this way, pick the tail end fillets.
How to cook skin-on fillets?
I completely recommend skin-on fillets, provided they have been scaled. If you don’t eat the skin you won’t mind but I’d say it’s the best part in this case: golden, crunchy and crisp.
How to achieve it? How to avoid scraps of skin melded to the pan, flesh falling to bits and everything a sorry mess?
The secret is dry skin and hot pan, that’s all. Keep your fillets on a plate skin side up while you prepare your veg and other things and pat the skin dry with a kitchen towel once more before it hits the pan. Don’t try to push the fish around the pan for a minute but let it curl up and then relax in its own time. The result is guaranteed.
Perfect creamed spinach
As it is the perfect accompaniment to this pan fried fish, here's my favourite method of cooking it; foolproof as well. Whether you use frozen or fresh spinach matters not; but it must not be soggy.
If you have frozen spinach, thaw it thoroughly. Fresh leaves need to be washed and blanched, in a pan of boiling water or for 2 minutes in microwave at full blast. And either way squeeze the living daylights from the spinach and chop it roughly.
Then it's just the case of making simple cream sauce, seasoned with a little nutmeg and a lot of garlic. Double cream cooks down rather quickly, but adding spinach into the sauce will add liquid again so it needs to cook longer to evaporate. I do dislike a puddle of spinach water on my plate, don't you?
All that remains to be served with this dish is a small mound of perfect, buttery mash.
pan fried fish with creamed spinachServings: 2Time: 20 minutes
- 1 or 2 scaled fish fillets per person: bass, bream, haddock, hake or snapper, as long as they are not too thick (1-1 ½ inch)
- salt and pepper
- oil for frying
- 1 tbsp. butter
- juice squeezed from ½ lemon
- lemon wedges for serving
- For the creamed spinach:
- 300g (10 oz.) fresh spinach or a bag of frozen
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed
- 150ml (½ cup) double cream
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- 3-4 tbsp. grated Parmesan
1. For the creamed spinach: thaw the frozen spinach. Wash the leaves if using fresh and blanch it with boiling water or microwave for 3-4 minutes on full power. Leave to cool.
2. Squeeze most moisture from either the blanched or the thawed spinach and chop it roughly.
3. Melt the butter in a medium pan, add the pressed garlic and let it sizzle for a few seconds. Pour in the cream and turn up the heat. Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook down for about 3 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese and cook for further 2 or 3 minutes. Add the spinach to the mixture, stir in and cook on medium heat with the lid on for 5 minutes plus further 5 with the lid off, to let most of the liquid evaporate.
4. Now cook the fish: rinse the fillets and pat dry very well, especially the skin side. Score the skin across two or three times on each fillet. Season the skin side with salt and pepper.
5. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan or skillet, just a few drops if it's a non-stick pan, but either way make sure it’s very hot.
6. Place the fillets in the pan, skin side down and press gently with a fish slice to stop them from curling. Season the flesh side with salt and pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes until the flesh around the edges turns opaque and the skin is crisp.
7. Turn off the heat and flip the fillets over – they will cook on the residual heat in the pan. Add a knob of butter and swirl it around, basting the fish. Add the lemon juice and leave the fillets there for a minute. Transfer to warm plates and serve with the spinach.