A crisp panko coating on one side of the fish not only keeps it from sticking to the pan with minimal heat, but adds textural contrast as well. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]
Fish is notoriously tricky to pan-sear. It inevitably ends up sticking to the pan or turning tough and stringy on its surface. This method—breading it on just one side—solves both of these problems with one easy stroke, all while adding some textural contrast. Serve the fish simply with lemon, or with some tartar sauce, either store-bought or homemade.
Why this recipe works:
- Breading the fish with a standard flour-egg-breadcrumb breading on one side ensures that it doesn’t stick when you add it to the skillet.
- The breading also insulates the surface of the fish, preventing it from drying out or turning tough as it cooks.
- A crisp coating adds textural contrast to tender, moist, flaky fish underneath.
Note: You can find panko-style breadcrumbs at well-stocked markets, Asian food stores and online.
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- 4 thick white fish filets or steaks (such as halibut, striped bass, sea bass, or swordfish), 5 to 8 ounces each
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups panko-style bread crumbs (see note)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable, canola, or peanut oil
- Lemon wedges or tartar sauce (either store-bought or homemade) for serving.
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 300°F. Pat fish dry on paper towels and season generously with salt and pepper. Place flour, egg, and breadcrumbs in three separate shallow bowls or plates. Season each gently with salt and pepper. Working one piece at at time, lift fish and dip, presentation-side-down, in the flour, followed by the egg, followed by the breadcrumbs, pressing down firmly until a thick layer of breadcrumbs adheres. Place fish breaded-side-up on a clean plate and repeat with remaining fish.
Heat oil in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add fish pieces, breaded-side-down and cook, swirling and rotating them around the pan until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip fish and transfer to oven. Cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the fish registers 140°F, about 5 minutes (a knife or a cake tester inserted into the fish should show no resistance). Serve immediately with lemon wedges or tartar sauce.
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