Pan-Frying Sea Bass

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.

Score the sea bass

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.

Pan fry till crispy

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.

Pan Fried Sea Bass

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.


55 thoughts on “Pan-Frying Sea Bass

  1. I’m a very amateur cook – this saved the day!! Perfect.. My proudest moment in the kitchen 🙂 thank you!

  2. help!!!! can’t find thick sea bass anywher and have a dinner party tonight.. Can only find very thin fillets of 100g each so have had to go for 2 each! What’s the best way to cook them. Why aren’t thicker sea bass available. Have eaten them in restaurants so why not available in the shops? Thanks Lyn

    1. Hi Lyn, you just need to reduce the cooking times and remove from heat when you turn onto flesh side to let the residual heat complete the cooking. Hope that helps.
      PS large wild sea bass hard to find – try the codfather on Deptford high street or the fish monger in Nunhead. Julian on Circus street can also get it but you may need to pre-order.

  3. Thanks for the advice. Also ! What about a little lemon juice , sea salt and course black pepper into the mix? Maybe cooking in butter for the taste and olive oil for the heat threshold?

  4. Hi
    Thanks so much for this it has transformed my enjoyment of fish. And I have been quoting your paper towel, 4 minute 2 minute rule to anyone who will listen! Is there a type of oil you would recommend. I use Rapeseed and then add butter and lemon juice to the pan once I have lifted the fish and use that as a drizzle of sauce. Anyway many thanks again for sharing your skills.

  5. Remove the fish from the pan, add fresh dill and a splash of red wine vinegar, reduce to a jus, serve with crushed salad potatoes,asparagus tips and broccoli spears,wonderful. Follow with a slice of date and walnut loaf and double cream. Wash down with a big fat glass of Chardonnay. Feet up and relax. Trev B

  6. Have used an indestructible carefully seasoned and tended cast iron frying pan for more years than I am willing to admit. What are the different cooking instructions you allude to (its now 2013)

    1. Hi – you need to get the pan a lot hotter than you would a non-stick pan. Season & oil as stated, lay in the fish and push down with a fish slice. Leave on a high heat for about a minute and then reduce the heat a little and proceed as per other instructions. Good luck.

  7. and what timing would you suggest for the small whole bass (sadly probably farmed but practically widely available)

      1. Times vary from oven to oven but for a 1.5kg fish I would bake in the oven, wrapped in lightly oiled foil, for about 20 minutes at 180C. Remove from oven and let it rest for 5 minutes to complete the cooking.

      2. Times vary from oven to oven but for a 1.5kg fish I would bake in the oven, wrapped in lightly oiled foil, for about 20 minutes at 180C. Remove from oven and let it rest for 5 minutes to complete the cooking.

  8. Cooked it tonight with Jersey Royals, Asparagus & buerre blanc. Didn’t have the pan quite hot enough but it was still a lovely meal & I was very happy with the Sea Bass having followed your directions. Thank You for giving me confidence to cook fish well.

  9. Being a fly fisherman, every now and than I catch sea bass myself (sometimes even the size you used) and am glad that I found your directions and advice.
    But what do you mean with: “Let it heat then season with fine salt.” ? Do I have to sprinkle a layer of salt in the pan even if the fish was already rubbed with salt before ? (Btw, I also use a cast iron skillet).

    1. Hi. I season the pan and not the skin side of the fish. I find it helps to stop it sticking. Then I season the flesh side as usual. Make sure you heat the iron skillet until very hot. Personally I would invest in a non-stick pan – it’s a lot easier.

    my much used digital scales (top end salter )have died after a couple of regular use. What make / model do the prof chefs go for?

  11. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this blog.

    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s hard to get that “perfect balance” between superb usability
    and appearance. I must say you have done a very good job with this.

    Also, the blog loads very quick for me on Opera. Excellent Blog!

  12. I followed your recipe, the result was fantastic, my wife is not a lover of fish but after eating the sea bass I cooked ( your recipe) she now raves about it to her friends.

  13. I follow these instructions every time and my children love it (and they are rather fussy with fish). I have also done this for guests and they loved it. A winner all round! Thank you.

  14. Thank you for this. Tried this last night and will be making this for next weekend’s dinner party. Added Cambodian lime and pepper sauce as a dip.

  15. Guy, thanks so much. Bought a reduced use-by-today farmed sea bass this afternoon, you-tubed how to fillet it, and cut into 4 thin fillets then followed your instructions…and it was delicious. A little dry, as I live on a boat with restricted galley surface, and was pressure-cooking small potatoes, a carrot and kale which I then mashed as a base for the fish, which was slowly drying out in the pan!!
    But the result, four crispy-skinned, bone-free fillets washed down with a half bottle of something white….great!! Thanks again.

  16. Have read through, thank you and will follow this tonight. My fishmonger filleted and pin boned a large sea bass this morning for me so my fillets are a bit too large to go together in my non stick pan. Will follow your instructions but cook individually and hope the first cooked one is ok sitting in a low oven whilst I do the other one. Thanks.

  17. About 2 1/2 years ago I already replied with a question and got your reply.
    Another question: What is your opinion about clarified butter instead of oil ?
    Meanwhile I used it a few times (could get it ready-made in a supermarket) and in my opinion I got excellent results. Advantage of clarified butter, as I understand, is that you can heat it much higher than oil.

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