Pan-Frying Sea Bass

I’m often asked how to get a crispy golden skin on a fillet of sea bass without drying out the delicate flesh. Well, as I tell my young chefs, there are several key instructions that must be pedantically followed. Do the same thing every time and you will get the same results. OCD is good in fish cookery!

First score the fillet by cutting 3 shallow slashes through the skin and just into the flesh. This will help to keep the fillet flat during cooking.

Score the sea bass

The next step is to dry the skin. You want the skin to fry in the oil, not stew in its own juices. That means there should be no moisture at all on the skin. Pat it dry with absorbent kitchen paper and then lay it onto a fresh piece of kitchen paper whilst you heat the pan.

How hot you get the pan depends on whether you have a non-stick pan or a cast iron pan. I’ll assume you have a non-stick pan as it’s nearly 2014. Get the pan fairly hot then add just enough oil to cover the base. Let it heat then season with fine salt. Turn the heat to medium.

Pan fry till crispy

Gently lay the fish into the pan, letting it fall away from you (in case any oil splashes out). Press down firmly with a fish slice. Cook undisturbed for 4 minutes until the skin becomes crisp and golden. Don’t touch it, fuss over it, or in any way fiddle with it. Let it form a crust.

Now turn the fish over, turn the heat to low and cook for 2 minutes. Your fish will be crispy and moist.

Pan Fried Sea Bass

The wild sea bass I used was a 3kg fish. This is not the sort of fish you can pick up at the supermarket so you will need to make a trip to your local fishmonger  At Inside Restaurant we get our sea bass from The Fishmonger Ltd on Circus Street, just around the corner from the restaurant.

45 thoughts on “Pan-Frying Sea Bass

  1. help!!!! can’t find thick sea bass anywher and have a dinner party tonight.. Can only find very thin fillets of 100g each so have had to go for 2 each! What’s the best way to cook them. Why aren’t thicker sea bass available. Have eaten them in restaurants so why not available in the shops? Thanks Lyn

    • Hi Lyn, you just need to reduce the cooking times and remove from heat when you turn onto flesh side to let the residual heat complete the cooking. Hope that helps.
      PS large wild sea bass hard to find – try the codfather on Deptford high street or the fish monger in Nunhead. Julian on Circus street can also get it but you may need to pre-order.

  2. Thanks for the advice. Also ! What about a little lemon juice , sea salt and course black pepper into the mix? Maybe cooking in butter for the taste and olive oil for the heat threshold?

  3. Hi
    Thanks so much for this it has transformed my enjoyment of fish. And I have been quoting your paper towel, 4 minute 2 minute rule to anyone who will listen! Is there a type of oil you would recommend. I use Rapeseed and then add butter and lemon juice to the pan once I have lifted the fish and use that as a drizzle of sauce. Anyway many thanks again for sharing your skills.
    Mertz

  4. Remove the fish from the pan, add fresh dill and a splash of red wine vinegar, reduce to a jus, serve with crushed salad potatoes,asparagus tips and broccoli spears,wonderful. Follow with a slice of date and walnut loaf and double cream. Wash down with a big fat glass of Chardonnay. Feet up and relax. Trev B

  5. Have used an indestructible carefully seasoned and tended cast iron frying pan for more years than I am willing to admit. What are the different cooking instructions you allude to (its now 2013)

    • Hi – you need to get the pan a lot hotter than you would a non-stick pan. Season & oil as stated, lay in the fish and push down with a fish slice. Leave on a high heat for about a minute and then reduce the heat a little and proceed as per other instructions. Good luck.

  6. Pingback: Wild Sea Bass | Inside Restaurant - acclaimed Greenwich restaurant

  7. Pingback: Cornish Sea Bass | The Guildford Arms - Greenwich Pub Restaurant

  8. Cooked it tonight with Jersey Royals, Asparagus & buerre blanc. Didn’t have the pan quite hot enough but it was still a lovely meal & I was very happy with the Sea Bass having followed your directions. Thank You for giving me confidence to cook fish well.

  9. Being a fly fisherman, every now and than I catch sea bass myself (sometimes even the size you used) and am glad that I found your directions and advice.
    But what do you mean with: “Let it heat then season with fine salt.” ? Do I have to sprinkle a layer of salt in the pan even if the fish was already rubbed with salt before ? (Btw, I also use a cast iron skillet).

    • Hi. I season the pan and not the skin side of the fish. I find it helps to stop it sticking. Then I season the flesh side as usual. Make sure you heat the iron skillet until very hot. Personally I would invest in a non-stick pan – it’s a lot easier.

  10. OFF PISTE
    my much used digital scales (top end salter )have died after a couple of regular use. What make / model do the prof chefs go for?
    P

  11. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this blog.

    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s hard to get that “perfect balance” between superb usability
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  12. I followed your recipe, the result was fantastic, my wife is not a lover of fish but after eating the sea bass I cooked ( your recipe) she now raves about it to her friends.

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