This Simple Fish-Cooking Method Rules the School

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On the way home from work last night, I did a thing I do frequently, which is figure out what I’m having for dinner while standing in front of the butcher/fish counter at my neighborhood store. There was an especially sparkly black sea bass resting on ice, and after a few seconds of sustained fish eye contact, it came to me: “Seared fish tacos,” I hollered (not really). While the nice monger filleted my fish, I dug around in the produce bin for ripe avocados, grabbed tortillas, cilantro, and limes, and circled back to get my fish and check out.

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So far, I was doing everything right. But when it came time to cook the fish, the first mistake I made was ignoring food editor Chris Morocco’s expert advice. He says using a cold nonstick pan is the most reliable and easiest way to cook skin-on fish with an even, crisp layer of skin atop a juicy, not-overcooked fillet. I should have poured a little bit of vegetable oil into my nonstick, salted the fish, and placed it into the cold pan. But, no. I got out my stainless skillet and got it ripping hot. My fillet shrank and buckled the second it hit the incendiary surface, curling the flesh so that the outside edge was still making contact, but the center had bowed away from the pan. In Morocco’s world, as the pan heats over medium, the skin slowly renders and crisps, requiring only a couple of gentle presses to lie flat. Over in my world, I was exerting brute force with a fish spatula to get the skin back in contact with the pan, steam hissing all over the place.

My family-style fish taco inspo, right here.

A fillet cooked Morocco’s way stays skin-side-down for 90 percent of the cooking time, so all you have to do is keep an eye on the flesh as it gradually turns from raw and translucent to just-cooked and barely opaque. That was happening for me—all too quickly, I may add—and I was dealing with smoking oil, almost-burned edges, and a fillet that had decided to adhere itself to the pan.

With some wrestling, I got my fillets out before they overcooked, and the nontraditional tacos we made with them were good, but I did sacrifice some precious strips of skin to the pan. Chris Morocco would have elegantly, effortlessly turned his fillets over at the last minute before sliding them out of the pan so everyone could behold the shattering layer of seared skin he had achieved.

I wish I could say I didn’t know any better, but I knew. I made these mistakes so you won’t have to. Don’t be like me, be like Chris.

Get the recipe

Crispy-Skinned Fish with Herb Sauce

Chris Morocco

Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit