Learn how to pan-fry fish in less than a 20 minutes! Our foolproof technique for sauteed fish starts with dredging your fish filet in seasoned flour and then cooking in a hot skillet with butter and oil. The results are tender flaky fish with a golden brown exterior that’s hard to resist! It is a simple technique to master and a great way to add fish to your menu regularly.

golden browned cod filet with pineapple salsa and rice on a white plate from a side angle

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. We originally shared this recipe on February 21st, 2020. I have updated some of the text to share it with you again today.

Why We Love Pan Fried Fish

As self-proclaimed culinerds, we love sharing classic culinary techniques around here. From teaching classic techniques we learned in Culinary School like how to make rich and flavorful chicken stock, bistro style steamed mussels or restaurant style Caesar Salad, we have covered a lot of ground here at Healthy Seasonal Recipes!

Today we bring you another simple preparation to master. The recipe comes from award-winning cookbook author Molly Stevens. Her delicious Pan Fried Fish recipe is from her cookbook All About Dinner. Molly has written many cookbooks including James Beard Award Winning All About Roasting and All About Braising. Her teaching style is very conversational and always approachable. She wants everyone to feel comfortable in the kitchen. Her sauteed fish recipe speaks for itself, and we are excited to share it with you today.

You may also want to try our Restaurant Style Seared Scallops or Pan Seared Salmon if you love this recipe!

Ingredient Notes For Sauteed Fish

  • Boneless fish fillets: This method works best for mild-tasting white fish like tilapia, flounder, sole, cod or haddock fillets that are no more than 1 inch thick. We have used both cod and tilapia to make this and both were great. Aim for the portions to be about 5 ounces each.
  • Seasoning: You’ll need salt and freshly ground black pepper to season the fish
  • Flour: Molly recommends using rice flour for this technique but if you do not have it you can use all-purpose flour. We have tried it both ways and prefer the rice flour a little better because it doesn’t get as clumpy, but both are delicious so if you don’t have rice flour- please don’t let that stop you. If using all purpose flour make sure and shake off all of the excess, so you don’t end up with a gummy texture.
  • Unsalted butter: Molly’s recipe has you use all butter, but we cut it with 1 tablespoons avocado oil or organic canola oil to make it a little more aligned with the Healthy Seasonal Recipes guidelines. It does work just as well to use all butter. It really helps to enhance the flavor and improve the browning of the crust.
  • Sauce: We loved this with store bought Pineapple Salsa but we also tried Molly’s caper sauce. Check out our other sauce suggestions below.

Tips for Buying Fish

  • Buy fish from sustainable sources: Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which provides extremely helpful regional guides based on which fish is abundant and good to eat and which species are overfished and should be avoided. The guide also lists seafood that contains higher levels of mercury or PCBs (a manmade chemical that has been banned since 1979). 
  • Get to know your fishmonger: Ask them when they get their fish deliveries and try to shop on those days. The general rule is that raw fish will last 2 days if stored properly in the fridge.
  • Smell it: Yes, you heard that right. Smell that fish! It should smell like the sea. If it smells really fishy or like ammonia, skip it.
  • Whole fish: Should have clear eyes and red or pink gills. Do not buy fish with cloudy eyes and brown gills.
  • Fillets: Should be shiny, moist and plump. Stay away from fish that looks dull, dry or is starting to separate.

How to Pan Fry Fish

Now let’s go over exactly how to panfry those lovely fish fillets, so that you can confidently cook them to delicious perfection. It really is a very simple process that only takes a few minutes, so it is a good idea to have whatever sides you plan to serve with your fish already prepared and ready to go.

the step by step photos for this technique: seasoning the fish, dredging it, sauteeing it and flipping the pieces of fish over with a spatula

Step 1: Pat the fish dry and season it

Removing excess moisture will help to get just a light coating of flour and ensure better more even browning. This is also a good time to check for bones and gently remove them with a paring knife or clean pliers. Season the fish with the salt and pepper.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium low-heat. Molly recommends a sturdy skillet, either nonstick or regular. Just make sure it is large enough to accommodate the fillets without a lot of extra room. 

Step 2: Dredge Fish in Flour

Meanwhile, lightly dredge the fillets in rice flour or all-purpose flour and shake to remove the excess. Set aside on a plate.

Step 3: Cook in Butter and Oil

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the oil and butter to the skillet. Once the butter has melted swirl the skillet to combine and then add fillets to the pan. Don’t overcrowd the skillet. Cook the fish in 2 batches if needed. Overcrowding the pan can result in soggy pale fillets.

Cook until the fish is golden on one side (adjusting the heat as necessary to make sure it doesn’t start burning) approximately 30 seconds to 3 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet.

Step 4: Flip and Finish Cooking

Carefully flip the fillet with a fish spatula and continue cooking until cooked through, about another 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Check for doneness by cutting into a fillet to make sure it is cooked to your liking. Don’t wait for the fish to flake, as that is a sign it is overcooked.

TIP: A narrow and thin fish spatula is very helpful to flip the fish. These fillets are delicate and can break apart easily when flipped.

Transfer the fillets to plate and lightly tent with foil to keep warm.

golden brown fried fish with pineapple salsa on top

FAQs For Pan Frying Fish With Flour

Is Pan Fried Fish Healthy?

Fish is a low-fat source of protein and white-fleshed fish is exceptionally low in fat.
Fish is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which aids cardiovascular health. We do not produce omega-3 fatty acids, so we must get them through the food we eat.
Fish is considered a heart healthy food because it is packed with protein, vitamins and nutrients that can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. 
It may boost brain function and reduce mental decline.

What are the benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega 3 Fatty Acids have many benefits to health including lowering the risk of heart attack and strokes by lowering blood pressure.
They may decrease the risk of depression, ADHD, Alzheimer’s and other conditions.
All fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, but fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines, herring and tuna contain the most (source.)

 What is mercury and what does it have to do with fish?

Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal that can damage the central nervous symptom and has been linked to high blood pressure and increased fish of heart attacks.. It is even more of a health concern for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children.
Fish and shellfish absorb mercury due to water pollution and it then becomes concentrated in their bodies.
Species that are higher on the food chain and therefore live longer such as marlin, tuna, shark, swordfish and king mackerel contain higher concentrations of mercury.
Studies have shown that eating a lot of larger species of fish is linked to higher levels of mercury in humans.
The health benefits of fish outweigh the risks of mercury exposure as long as you eat it in moderation and stick to the lower level species.

Can you make this ahead?

We do not recommend making this recipe ahead of time because the fish is very lean and delicate and will fall apart and dry out when reheated.

What do I do with leftover fried fish?

If you do have leftovers we suggest serving the fish cold, flaked over a salad. Another idea for leftover fish is to serve in a manner akin to pickled fish smorrebrod: Serve over pumpernickel or rye toast, cream cheese with lots of pickled onions and a little of the pickling liquid. Garnish with dill.

Expert Tips For This Sauteed Fish Recipe

What to Serve With Sautéed Fish

  • Today we are serving our fish with a delicious coconut rice and wilted spinach and to keep it really easy topping the fish with a store bought pineapple salsa (Mitchel’s Pineapple Salsa is awesome). The tropical flavors pair really nicely with the mild-flavored cod. If you’re up for it you can make it from scratch using our recipe for Fruit Salsa
  • Our Sauce For Salmon is another delish way to doll up pan fried fish. Or our Garlic Yogurt Aioli is a creamy sauce idea too.
  • Molly suggests a caper sauce (recipe here.)
  • This fish would be amazing with these Roasted Onions and Carrots. 
  • Or if you have a Butternut Squash on hand make this savory Roasted Butternut Squash recipe.
  • These Simple Skillet Green Beans would be delicious with this pan fried fish and the caper sauce.
  • These Honey Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls would be absolutely yummy with this light dinner.

Molly’s Caper Sauce

To Make Caper Sauce: Wipe out skillet but do not wash it. Return the skillet to medium heat. Add 1 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons chopped shallot, and cook until the shallot is tender, about 1 minute. Add the ½ cup white wine, increase heat to high and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon butter. Add 2 teaspoons chopped capers and two tablespoons parsley and 1 tablespoons butter and swirl the pan. Serve the fish with the sauce.

four filets of cod with pineapple salsa and cilantro sprigs

More Fish Recipes

At Healthy Seasonal Recipes, we specialize in cooking with fresh veggies and creating weeknight meals. Sign up HERE to get more produce-forward dinner ideas for FREE! If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review. I would love to hear what you thought! Happy Cooking! ~Katie

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four pieces of fried fish on a white plate with cilantro

Pan Fried Fish


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5 from 12 reviews

Description

Is fish on regular rotation in your house? If not, it absolutely should be for many many reasons. This Pan Fried Fish is the perfect recipe to try whether you’re a fish-newbie or a seasoned fish-pro. It’s ready in under 20 minutes.


Ingredients

Scale

4 fish fillets, such as cod or tilapia, about 5 ounces each, patted dry
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup rice flour or all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoons avocado oil or organic canola oil
1 cup purchased Pineapple Salsa (preferably refrigerated) or Caper Sauce (recipe below)


Instructions

  1. Lay fish on work surface or plate. Sprinkle on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Place rice flour in a shallow dish. Dredge the fish in the flour and shake to remove excess.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and then carefully add fish fillets. Cook, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent the butter from burning. Carefully flip the fish over when it is golden on the bottom, 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Continue cooking until the fish is opaque all the way through, 30 seconds to 2 minutes longer, depending on thickness.
  5. Serve immediately with pineapple salsa or transfer to a plate and tent with foil while making the caper sauce.

Notes

Pineapple salsa can be found with refrigerated tortillas and guacamole in the deli section of large supermarkets and health food stores. If you can’t find it fresh, it will be with the jarred salsas. Go with a brand that has less than 80 mg sodium per serving (like Desert Pepper Trading Company’s Pineapple Salsa) and is made without added sugar or with added sugar further down on the ingredient list. The further down it is, the less there is.

Tip: To Make Caper Sauce: Wipe out skillet but do not wash it. Return the skillet to medium heat. Add 1 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons chopped shallot, and cook until the shallot is tender, about 1 minute. Add the ½ cup white wine, increase heat to high and cook until the sauce is reduced to a glaze, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon butter. Add 2 teaspoons chopped capers and two tablespoons parsley and 1 tablespoons butter and swirl the pan. Serve the fish with the sauce.

  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Sauté
  • Cuisine: American

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 filet fish and 2 tablespoons sauce
  • Calories: 162
  • Sugar: 4 g
  • Sodium: 879 mg
  • Fat: 7 g
  • Saturated Fat: 1 g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 2 g
  • Trans Fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrates: 8 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 18 g
  • Cholesterol: 79 mg
Two pictures of pan fried fish with text overlay