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.
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.
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.
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.