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.