No more soggy skin that sticks and tears in the pan. Follow these simple guidelines for perfect pan-seared fish skin, browned and crunchy as a potato chip. This technique delivers golden-brown perfection—even with skinless fillets.

Cooking Light
July 15, 2017

Making sure to dry the skin as thoroughly as possible ensures it will crisp up instead of steaming and becoming soggy in the pan. To get the absolute last bit of moisture out, try this trick: After patting the whole fillet dry with towels, run the dull back edge of a knife along the skin like a squeegee—wipe off any liquid this pulls out onto the knife, and pat the skin dry again.

Make It: Crispy Salmon Fillets with Sesame-Soy Drizzle

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Dry Skin Makes All the Difference

Pat raw skin dry with a paper towel. Then refrigerate fillets, skin side up, for 30 minutes to air-dry any residual surface moisture.

Don't Fear the Heat

Heat the oil until it gives off the first tiny wisp of smoke before adding fillets to the pan. The heat further guards against sticking.

Press Down Gently

A delicate, flexible fish spatula is perfect here. Hold fillets flat on the pan for about 30 seconds to keep the skin from curling and buckling.

Reduce the Heat After the Initial Sear

Lowering the flame lets you crisp the skin without scorching it or overcooking the fillets.

Photo: Jennifer Causey

5 Fish to Pan-Sear

These sustainable picks have thin, sturdy skin that cook deliciously crisp.

1. Black Sea Bass
Mild and meaty with buttery texture, this is a great gateway choice for reluctant seafood eaters. Look for Atlantic wild-caught (not otter-trawled) or farmed black sea bass from fisheries worldwide.

2. Rockfish
Sweet and flaky rockfish (sometimes sold as Pacific snapper) has made a big comeback in recent years since being overfished on the West Coast for decades. Wild-caught U.S. rockfish are fully sustainable options.

3. Striped Bass
Firm and rich-flavored, this is a favorite among the seafood savvy. The flesh holds up well in a hot pan, and its healthy fat keeps it wonderfully moist. Atlantic stripers caught with hooks and lines are the most sustainable choice.

4. Rainbow Trout
Mild, sweet, delicate trout is tilapia-like in its ability to win over seafood-sensitive palates. Farm-raised in the U.S., it's an environmentally sound pick, widely available in fish markets nationwide, and pretty cheap to boot.

5. Arctic Char
Pink-fleshed with flavor like a cross between salmon and trout, artic char has become more common at seafood markets nationwide as consumers have come to crave it. Whether farmed or wild-caught, it's a sustainable option.