Cuisine Fiend

pan fried fish


Pan-fried bream fillet
Probably my favourite way of cooking fish – pan fried. Honestly, there seems to be something embarrassing about saying the word ‘fried’ out loud and I have no idea why. The recipe authors variously use ridiculous euphemisms like ‘pan fried’ (as opposed to what? fried in a kettle?), ‘pan roasted’ (roasted on the hob? nah!), ‘seared’ or ‘sautéed’. So I settled on pan frying which at least accurately reflects what happens to the fish.

The secret is to have fillets about 1 inch thick, no more. They won’t cook nicely through otherwise, or will take too long, burning the skin to nothing. You can pick salmon but make sure it’s the tail end, likewise haddock or cod.

Skin-on or skinless, anything goes, but skinless will be more difficult to handle. Make sure you dust the where-the-skin-was side with flour. If skin-on, it needs to be properly scaled as the crispy skin is the nicest bit. The secret - the skin must be absolutely dry before it hits the pan, and the pan screaming hot. No need for flour if you follow that drift, but of course nicely seasoned flour coating will add to crispness and to flavour.

Creamed spinach is well worth the effort and goes fabulously with the fish.

pan fried fish


  • 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
  • plain flour for dusting (optional)
  • oil for frying
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • lemon wedges for serving
  • For the creamed spinach:
  • 300g fresh spinach or a bag of frozen
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 200ml double cream
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 3-4 tbsp. grated Parmesan
Bream fillets


For the creamed spinach: thaw the frozen spinach, wash the leaves if using fresh. Blanch it with boiling water or microwave for 3-4 minutes on full power. Leave to cool.

Squeeze most moisture from either the blanched or the thawed spinach and chop it roughly.

How to cook creamed spinachMelt 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 10 minutes plus further 5 or 10 with the lid off, to let most of the liquid evaporate.

Creamed spinach

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 and lightly dust with flour if you like, shake off the excess.

Heat a little oil in a heavy pan or skillet – make sure it’s very hot. Place the fillets in the pan, skin side down and press gently with a fish slice to stop them 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.

Pan frying fish

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. Leave the fillets there for a minute. Transfer to warm plates and serve with the spinach.

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