haddock pan-frying

Do pan-frying fish and gravlax techniques look scary?

WHAT WILL YOU LEARN

Pan-frying fish & making gravlax.

I want to remind you what my and these articles’ goal is. It is to help you look at culinary arts and cooking at home from ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE.

This means that I want to show you that there is so much more than just cooking. There are lots of failures, reading books, practice, and learning again and again. It never ends.

In this article, you will read about my experience, theory from books, my mistakes, and what you should avoid doing.

So this week’s star is a FISH, and especially pan-frying it.

As you know, I work in Scott’s restaurant in London Mayfair as Chef de Partie. Here is everything about SEAFOOD. Believe me, it’s a remarkable restaurant, worth coming to and spending money on.

So during 2nd lockdown, I thought I could learn at least a bit more about seafood because it’s not one of my strengths. 

with sauce pan-fried

I picked all my books, bought 5 different fish fillets, and chose the pan-frying technique for them all, low-temperature oven roasting for haddock, and I will make gravlax as well.

And no, sadly, I’m not the one who first reads, then does. I am the one who does, then reads, and then finally tries to fix it. So it was fun… Believe me, I wanted to do it another way, but it’s just boring.

WHAT WERE MY GOALS?

Pan-fried:

  • Crisp skin.
  • Not undercooked and not overcooked. Internal temperature 53-55°C.
  • Flavorful, moist, succulent fish.

Gravlax:

  • Firm and flavorful well-preserved salmon.

Oven cooked haddock:

  • Honestly, I don’t know what I expected. I just tried…

Note* Before doing anything with the fish (it doesn’t matter which one), to purge surfaces, I presalted it on both sides and left for 5 minutes. Then washed with cold water and dried with a paper towel.

Fish: cod, haddock, sea bass, salmon, basa.

Seasoning: butter, salt, muscat, lime.

fish fish

DAY 1

The idea was to start with the cod, but… Tesco decided to sell that has already turned bad. So yeah… Nice one, Tesco.

DAY 2

It’s a haddock day!

I had four beautiful fillet pieces, and the idea was to try pan-frying two fish fillets and for the other two use the oven low-temperature technique. 

haddock pan-frying

1st try

Just remember that this was basically my first time pan-fried fish. The only fish I fried in the pan earlier was salmon.

So I did everything. Presalted, then washed, added a little salt again with muscat and a drop of lime juice.

The heat is on!

*Remember to use high heat if you want crispy skin. And start frying the skin side first.

Flesh side: 3m

Another side: 1m

Internal temperature: 60°C

Result: oversalted and a bit overcooked fish. 

Biggest mistake: adding salt twice.

2nd try

This time I wanted the sauce as well. But I’m sorry, it was so delicious that I will keep it for my book. And it’s the pan-frying fish time.

Same seasoning. Same heat, only this time I had to make a sauce in the same 4 minutes.

Internal temperature: 63°C

Result: the sauce was damn delicious… But the fish was overcooked.

Biggest mistake: too little practice.

fry fish

Oven low-temperature

Same seasoning. 120°C oven heat. Cooking 10 minutes without covering.

Internal temperature: 64°C

Results: The worst fish ever. The fish was swimming in its juices, absolutely overcooked. I felt too much flavor (salt and lemon) on the outside and no flavor at all on the inside.

Biggest mistake: not knowing what I am doing.

DAY 3

It’s sea bass day!

I divided it into 4 pieces. Presalted & washed. No more salt after that, only muscat. Cooked using only butter. The last 4th piece was with the same sauce as on day 2.

1st try

Flesh side: 1m 40s

Another side: 1m

Internal temperature: 59°C

Result: it was a tiny piece, so the pan-fried fish turned out too dry.

2nd try

Flesh side: 1m 20s

Another side: 1m

Internal temperature: 55°C

Result: it was more succulent.

3rd try

Flesh side: 1m 20s

Another side: 1m

Internal temperature: 54°C

Result: a bit bigger piece. This slice turned out the best. It was tender & moist, very pleasurable to eat.

4th try

Flesh side: 1m 30s

Another side: 1m 30s (40s was planned)

Internal temperature: 55°C

Result: of course, the sauce was terrific… fish was pretty good, not as succulent as 3rd, but definitely not bad.

Biggest mistake: not bearing in mind the thickness of the piece of fish.

DAY 4

Pan-frying fish salmon!

Start with the skin side! Heat the same. Muscat & lime.

1m 30s on each side +30s on each side (like turning one more time)

Internal temperature: one fillet 58°C, another >60°C

Result: Two words. Overcooked. Greasy.

Biggest mistake: timing.

Gravlax

  • 260g salmon
  • 186g sugar
  • 186g salt
  • 1 lemon zest
gravlax slices

Time: 36h

Result: Firm, rich in color and flavor fillets. Not too salty or sweet, everything’s just on top! And the lemony flavor and smell compliment the fish wonderfully.

DAY 5

Last but not least: basa.

It is the same preparation and seasoning, but this time, there is no sauce, and I pan-fry both fillets at once in the same pan. Both pieces are pretty thin, so I expected the same reaction as sea bass.

Flesh side: 2m

Another side: 1m

Internal temperature: one fillet 50°C, another 46°C (I was hoping the temperature rise when I take it out of the pan)

Result: Absolute fail. No browning (who knows why…), undercooked in the middle. No flavor, but moist and tender on the sides. Honestly, I don’t understand what happened…

MORE ABOUT FISH

Before trying the technique, you should understand the product itself.

So the fish is very delicate and requires a lot of attentiveness.

Cooking fish (it doesn’t matter whether with heat, acid, or salt) is a dehydration process, which means loss of moisture (water).

How to know when it is cooked?

The easiest way is to use a thermometer. 53-55°C is the best internal temperature for the fish (for tuna, it’s lower).

But if you want to know it by looking, the flesh has to have a small translucent area at the center and more easily breaks apart. Mainly translucent fish and cohesive fibers mean undercooking. Fully opaque, dry, and fibrous means overcooking.

I know it may sound very unpractical for you now, but you will learn to identify fish doneness just by looking with the time.

How to make crisp skin?

The less moisture on the fish’s surface, the more browning & crispness will be using high heat. 

Salt removes moisture, so use presalting not only for purging purposes. 

Start skin side down.

Serve fish skin side up.

sea bass

PAN-FRYING TECHNIQUE

It is a quick-cooking method. Hot oil (transferring heat to the fish) lubricates the fillet’s exterior, letting the heat spread evenly while spreading flavorful molecules and adding its buttery & fresh flavors. 

  • Use oil with a high smoking point. No olive oil.
  • A heavy-bottomed pan spreads and retains heat better.
  • Overcrowding the pan causes temperature drop, sticking to the surface, and cooking in moisture instead of frying.

How to pan-fry fish fillet?

  1. On high heat, heat the pan without and then with oil. It has to be REALLY hot.
  2. Add the food skin side first. You must hear the sizzle straight away. That’s the moisture evaporating from the surface. It means that the oil is above 100°C. You need to drive off the water quickly, so don’t be scared of high heat. We want that crispy skin, don’t we?
  3. Depending on the fish and thickness, it would be best to flip the fish once because the muscle is very fragile. 
  4. When it reaches your desired temperature, serve immediately.
salmon pan-frying fish

OVEN (LOW TEMPERATURE)

The idea: low oven temperatures, like 90-120°C, cook fish through slowly and evenly. As a result, we get moist, soft, custard-like texture fish.

Note* The thicker the piece, the lower the oven temperature should be so you won’t overcook outside while cooking inside.

Some books recommend quickly brown on the stove THICK pieces of fish before placing them in the oven.

GRAVLAX

It is a dry-curing process when the moisture is drawn out as salt forces protein molecules in the flesh to unravel as if they had been cooked.

Sugar in the curing mix also helps preserve the fish and adds sweetness, making the balance in flavors.

Gravlax ingredients

For 700g salmon, 500g salt, and 500g sugar. You can add zest, pepper, herbs, or spices if you want more aromas and flavors.

gravlao fish

How to do gravlax?

  1. Mix everything for the curing mix well.
  2. In a dish, pour about 1/3 of the mix, place salmon, and pour the remaining mixture on top.
  3. Hide the fish in the mixture very well and cover with cling film. Place a heavy object on top to flatten the fish.
  4. Place the dish in the fridge and leave for at least 24h. When ready, rinse over cold water and pat it dry.
  5. Enjoy!

24H OF CURING FOR EVERY 2.5CM THICKNESS. IF IT IS NOT FIRM ENOUGH AFTER 24H, LEAVE FOR 12H MORE.

gravlax fish 24h

What should be the result?

Very firm flesh from all sides. The usual salmon color looks even richer.

Why should you make thin slices after preserving?

The curing process releases acids, which create an intense tangy taste. Consequently, it is better to serve in thin slices. 

OVERALL RESULTS

Even though the book says that pan-frying is the simplest technique, believe me, it is not that simple. Fish is a very delicate creature, every minute counts. I succeeded only 1 time from 8! 

While gravlax did come perfectly straight away! 

idea for fish

My biggest mistakes

  • adding salt twice
  • not bearing in mind the thickness of the piece of fish when pan-frying
  • struggling with cooking timing

The biggest thing I learned was how careful you have to be when dealing with the fish. It takes only one minute to go from cooked to overcooked. You have to pay a lot of attention and keep practicing. 

Only practice and constant learning will lead you to success.

BOOKS I USED

  • Harold McGee ‘Keys to good cooking’
  • Dr. Stuart Farrimond ‘The science of cooking’
MEDA | CHEFFY PARSNIP

MEDA | CHEFFY PARSNIP

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