Don’t be fooled into thinking high heat is a must. This gentle technique yields a juicy fillet and crisp skin.
Credit: Greg DuPree

Craving a restaurant-quality sautéed piece of fish? Try using less heat than what you’re probably used to. Aim for medium to medium-high heat—it only takes a few minutes longer than high heat and, in fact, yields crispier skin and a juicier fillet. This gentle approach also has the added benefit of fewer vaporized fish oils filling your home with the not-always-desirable potpourri of the sea.

To successfully employ this technique, you must avoid fiddling. It’s the pan that cooks the fish, not impatient pokes and prods from the cook. For the best results, place the fish in the pan skin side down, and leave it to cook undisturbed 90% of the way through. Fat located just under the skin melts to baste the fillet from the bottom up, crisp the skin evenly, and decrease the chance of sticking. Well-rendered fats make each fillet easily flippable, and it will need just another minute to finish cooking before it’s ready to serve.

A wedge of seared lemon adds a little extra depth and complexity, as charring caramelizes the lemon’s sugars.

3 Tips for a Better Sautéed Fillet

Score the Skin

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Some fish, particularly thinner fillets, curl over medium heat: Connective tissues just beneath the skin contract, forcing the fillet to arch away from the heat. To prevent curling, use a sharp knife to score the skin with shallow slashes about every inch or so prior to cooking.

Use Olive Oil

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Striped bass, as well as halibut, mahi-mahi, and sablefish, pair well with olive oil; the oil’s green flavors flatter particular characteristics of the fish. And because you’re cooking over medium—not high—heat, the olive oil won’t burn. Most fish are best friends with butter, so using a mix of the two fats yields a sauce that accentuates the subtle flavors of the fish.

Practice Patience

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To properly sauté, you need patience—not manipulation. Cooking the fish nearly completely on the skin side keeps it moist, crisps the skin, and prevents sticking. The fish then can be easily flipped to finish cooking in a minute.

Try this Sautéed Striped Bass With Lemon and Herb Sauce Recipe

Credit: Greg DuPree

If you find sea bass to be strong-flavored, remove the pan drippings from the skillet before making the sauce for a milder final product. The wine-butter sauce is a good complement to the dish, especially with caramelized lemon notes.