Nina’s Tips & Techniques: White Fish

Whenever I cook a delicate white fish it always sticks to the pan and I have to scrape it off with a spatula. It gets all destroyed and the browned, yummy part is stuck to the pan. Help!

Things sticking to pans is one of the most common kitchen conundrums people ask me about. I am not a fan of non-stick pans; instead I like to focus on technique because I believe that every pan is a non-stick pan if used correctly! There are two major reasons fish sticks to the pan, I’ll explain them along with the solution:

  1. The fish is wet. Moisture on proteins causes stickage because when it hits the hot pan it evaporates and leaves no barrier of fat between the pan and the protein. With meat this problem usually resolves itself because the fat rendering out of the meat during cooking eventually helps the protein free itself, but fish is too lean and usually stays stuck leading to messy pan scraping and destruction of your beautiful fish fillet. Before putting fish in the pan make sure it is dry. I blot my fish dry with a paper towel or clean kitchen rag. Then make sure your pan is properly coated with a thin layer of cooking oil.
  2. The pan is not hot enough. Above I talked about how a hot pan evaporates moisture; well a pan that is not hot enough will result in the oil in your pan and the natural moisture in the fish to work against each other – you know how oil and water don’t mix? Well in a low heat pan they will push each other out of the way causing the same problem – more sticking. I like to use a heavy bottomed pan and get it very very hot. When you add the oil it should thin out and easily coat the bottom of the pan. I like to describe properly hot oil as looking like it has a helicopter hovering above it because it sort of ripples and shimmers. When in doubt test it…dip the corner of your fish into the pan and see if it sticks! Careful; oil that is too hot will smoke. Once you drop your fish in, shake the pan a little bit to keep any parts from sticking.

It is important to note that you need BOTH of these things to achieve success – a dry protein AND a hot pan! The two elements together will result in a perfectly seared fillet of fish. And one last thing…if you do get a little stickage don’t pry it off – just wait! Many issues with stuck fish or meat resolve themselves with a little patience!

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