A juicy, perfectly cooked fillet of fish with crisp skin that crackles when cut is a thing of beauty – but it can be tough to achieve. Follow these simple steps, whatever fish you’re cooking, and avoid the potential pitfalls. This way, you’ll get it right, every time.
Crisping the skin
When moisture is driven away from the skin of the fish it allows the skin to caramelise. The technical name for this is the Maillard reaction: a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that both browns and crisps the skin, and tastes delicious.
Do the dab
Make sure the skin is very dry – pat the skin with kitchen paper to remove all moisture before cooking, as water prevents caramelisation.
Once the fish is out of the pan, rest or plate it skin-side up – this will ensure any moisture from the fish isn’t re-absorbed into the skin.
Carefully press down on the fish as soon as it goes into the pan. The heat of the pan will cause the fish to bend away – by gently pushing down will ensure even contact and even crispness.
This technique cooks the skin quickly until crisp but the heat also pushes through to the delicate flesh. Fish flesh conducts heat easily, making it easy to overcook – it’s better to cook it a touch less than you think it needs, then let it rest and continue cooking out of the pan.
Oiling the fish rather than the pan ensures there is minimum oil between the skin and the base of the pan. The skin will get super-crisp then self-release, helping to avoid sticking – so don’t touch! Let the fish cook undisturbed. Once a crust has formed it will pop away from the bottom of the pan.
Use a good non-stick pan
Even if you follow all the steps necessary to prevent the fish from sticking to the pan, an old, well-used pan that has lost its non-stick coating will cause fish to stick fast, requiring it to be scraped off.