Sautéing fish can be intimidating to the uninitiated cook, particularly if the fish sticks to the pan or falls apart.
Sautéing, a quick cooking technique, is an ideal way to handle a wide variety of fish. It is particularly suited for mild flat fish fillets, adding a delicate, crispy texture and flavor you can't get with other techniques. We wanted to establish a consistent method that we could use with different fish.
After testing an array of sauté pan types, we concluded that as long as the pan is heated and the fish cooked over moderate to high heat, there is almost no difference in the end result. Each piece of fish was browned and moist, and there was no problem with sticking. For all fillets, we found that cooking them first on the smooth, rounded side--not the skin side--was best. The trick is to brown the fillets undisturbed on the first side, in the fresh fat and with assertive heat, until the edges and a thin border on each fillet turn opaque. Resist the temptation to check doneness constantly. All that activity cools down the food, meaning the fish won't brown and will be more likely to stick to the pan. To gauge how long to cook the fish, measure it at its thickest point and estimate eight to 10 minutes per inch. If the fish is held while a pan sauce is made, it is important to remember that it will continue to cook as it rests.