Pan Seared Fish Fillet

Pan seared fish fillet. It’s what’s for dinner. Pronto. And so easy to make and tastes so darn delectable with its lemon butter sauce that you’re going to completely forget it’s good for you. Here’s how to make it.

Two pieces of pan-seared fish fillet on a white plate with lemon wedges, a lime half, and parsley, to garnish.

This pan seared fish fillet recipe shows you exactly how to make a restaurant-quality dinner in just 15 minutes. We’re talking shatteringly crisp skin and tender fish that’s not at all dry. The technique is surprisingly simple but the result is ridiculously good.–Angie Zoobkoff

Pan Seared Fish Fillet

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 15 M
  • Serves 1 to 2
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Set a heavy cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking, about 3 minutes.

While the skillet is heating, wash the fillet, then pat it really dry with paper towels. The drying part is critical, otherwise the skin won’t crisp. Season both sides of the fish fillet with salt and black pepper.

When the skillet is hot, carefully add just enough ghee or oil to evenly coat the skillet. Wait a few seconds for the oil to heat and then quickly add the fish, skin side down. The fillet will contract and curve upwards. When this happens, take a flexible spatula and press the entire fillet gently back down and hold for a few seconds to ensure even cooking and crisp skin all over. Let the fish cook without messing with it too much until you can see a golden brown color on the edge of the skin and the edges of the fish flesh become opaque, 3 to 4 minutes.

Carefully and gently use a spatula to lift up the fillet and flip it over. Add the butter, if using, and baste the fish until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Gently transfer the fish to a plate and serve with a squeeze of lemon. Originally published August 1, 2017.

Print RecipeBuy the The Wholefood Pantry cookbook

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    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    It’s enlightening to review a basic technique once in awhile, even when you think you already have it nailed. This simple pan-seared fish fillet recipe was a good reminder that details matter and made a glorious summer dinner for one. The entire skin of my wild-caught sockeye salmon was excellently crisp and the flesh side also had a beautiful golden crust. Fresh fish doesn’t need much help in terms of added flavor, but a tablespoon of butter does wonders here. A few details not to overlook in order to achieve perfect results: 1) you want the surface of the fish to be thoroughly dry before it goes into the pan, 2) to prevent any excess pooling of oil, pour it into the pan (I used my cast iron skillet), then spread it all over the surface with paper towel, and 3) pay close attention to the bottom edges of the fish—golden brown skin and opaque flesh as the recipe describes—for the exact timing for turning it over. I enjoyed my salmon with halved cherry tomatoes and olives simply tossed with olive oil and fresh chopped oregano.

    This pan seared fish fillet recipe works perfectly as written. It takes all of 10 minutes from start to finish. Don't skip the butter basting at the end—this will give the fillet flavors that you typically experience only with food served in restaurants. I made this recipe with salmon. A 3/4 pound fillet served 2 of us. I cooked it 3 minutes on the skin side and 1 minute on the second side in a well-heated cast iron skillet. It was cooked to a perfect internal temperature of 140°F. I served the fish with sautéed spinach and garlic, coleslaw, and homemade tartar sauce.


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