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How to pan fry fish at

Pan-Fried Fish for a Traditional Simple Supper

On any given night of the week, the dinner decision can be daunting. Should we have tacos or ramen or curry or homemade pizza?

Often I have to remind myself that a quick pan-fried fish fillet is all I really need to anchor a meal that everyone loves.

We don’t have a fish market, so I keep frozen cod fillets on hand. They’re great baked or broiled or for making fish chowder.

How to pan fry fish at

But pan-fried is my family’s favorite.

Fish Worries

All I have to do is remember to defrost the fish. But if you can find either fresh cod or a fillet labeled “previously frozen” you’re already ahead of me.

For tender white fish like this {as well as its cousin haddock, trout and steelhead, sole and flounder, snapper or halibut}, I like to dredge it in a seasoned flour mixture. This helps to dry the surface of the fish for the best browning and a lightly crispy texture.

It’s intimidating for a lot of people to pan fry fish. But this is one of the moments when you just have to get through it one time to recognize that it’s not really a big deal at all.

Mostly, I think it has to do with worries:

  1. What if I ruin it?
  2. How do I know when it’s done?

Tackle Pan-Fried Fish

First, off, what’s the worst that can happen? So what if you overcook it a bit. I know that fish is known to be delicate and all. But if you can cook an egg–even more delicate around heat–then you can pan-fry a fillet.

As for the second question, read on.

How to pan fry fish at

There are a couple of tools will help:

  • a fish turner with a very thin angled blade {it is just one of those tools that is perfect for the job though you can use it for many other turning/flipping tasks}
  • a splatter screen {you’ll be grateful for this when it’s time for clean up, and you know how much I think about clean up}
  • an instant-read thermometer {fish is done at 135 degrees F when the temperature is measured at the thickest part}

If you don’t have a thermometer? Just transfer the fish to a plate upside down, take a fork and twist it into the center of the fish and if it flakes, you’re good. If you’re uncertain, then put it back in the pan for another minute.

The rule of  thumb is 10 minutes per inch of fish. But if fillets are thin like these, it takes about 6 minutes to pan fry the fish in oil in your favorite skillet and another minute to make the brown butter with lemon you drizzle on top.

I love to serve this pan-fried cod with a potato gratin and steamed broccoli for a traditional dinner that’s surprisingly simple.

I hope you give it a try and add it to your repertoire.


and become a forager

How to pan fry fish at
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5 from 2 votes

Pan-Fried Cod with Brown Butter Sauce

Use this stove top technique for any fin fish, including cod or haddock, sole or flounder, trout or steelhead, snapper or bass. I also highly recommend skate wing. All of these fish taste terrific with the easy brown butter and lemon sauce you make in the very same pan. 
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 6 minutes
Total Time 11 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Lynne Curry


  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil or other cooking oil
  • 4 5-ounce cod fillets, fresh or frozen (fully defrosted)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice


  • Whisk the flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and cayenne in a shallow dish. Dredge the fillets in the flour to lightly coat on all sides, shake off the excess and put them on a small sheet pan. 
  • Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside onto dinner plates and keep in a warm place.
  • Add the butter to the pan and swirl the pan until the butter turns nutmeg colored and smells nutty, about 3 minutes. 
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice, which will cause it to foam. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Pour a portion of the brown butter over each cod fillet and serve immediately.

This post contains affiliate links for products that I wholeheartedly endorse from my personal use in my home kitchen–for which I may receive a small commission to support this blog.


  1. Rosie

    Yummy try this

  2. Cathy

    5 stars
    Made this tonight with some wild rice and salad. It was really good.
    Thanks for the recipe.

    1. You’re welcome, Cathy. So glad to hear that!

  3. 5 stars
    This was totally fabulous – I used sea bream skinless fillets and heats my brown butter with a few sage leaves from the garden. My old man is coeliac, so used gluten free flour for the coating. Perfect!!!

    1. Sounds wonderful, Jane! Thanks for writing.

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