Pan searing fish fillets

Joined Sep 16, 2010
Hi everyone,

I have two problems when searing off fish fillets: 1) in a stainless steeel pan, the skin seems to bond to the bottom of the pan and I have to destroy the fillet to get it out (regardless of the oil/butter in the pan), 2) if I use my cast-iron pan, the fish doesn't stick but the pan retains a horrible fish odour for days (even with serious washing with soap and water). I would like to know  why do these problems occurs, and are there any  solutions or tricks (aside from using a non-stick pan; i don't own one)?

Any help is appreciated,

Joined Sep 16, 2010
Hey Gunnar, I'm pre-heating with oil, and have tried more oil before plating but it didn't work.Those links have good advice, but there's a lack of a definitive answer...seems like the idea is to keep the skin super dry, sear with pre-heating and it should release on it's own? I read an article that said fish skin is bound to stick due to a chemical reaction of the stainless steel when heated, is there any truth to this?


Joined Feb 1, 2007
I don't cook fish in stainless, but from everything I've heard it should sear and release like any other protein---providing that the fish is dry and the pan really hot.

As to cast iron----you lost me at soap, which should never, ever touch cured cast iron. .
Joined Apr 3, 2010
Most products will stick in stainless steel. Only thing I use S/S for is for storage of food. Stainless steel does not conduct heat evenly and has a tendency to develop both hot and cold spots on the surface of the pan. Try an experiment beat an egg, pour it into a s/s pan ,cook it center burner .med heat Then if you can turn it over you will see it is cooked more in some spots and not in others. You could blame the burner flame, but mine looks even. Have done this on gas as well as electric burners, and same results. Have also tried it on a large slice of onion, same results. Items were started in a preheated pan with olive oil, and a spritz of pam.
Joined Apr 2, 2007
Dredge the fish in seasoned flour, skin side only and then pat the excess flour off with your hand. The fish will not stick.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Hey Randy,

You asked:
I read an article that said fish skin is bound to stick due to a chemical reaction of the stainless steel when heated, is there any truth to this?
No.  Stainless is almost as non-reactive as glass.

You're much better using seasoned cast iron or seasoned carbon than stainless.  In fact, the best stainless fish pans aren't stainless.  Trust the stain.

The fish should be properly prepped.  The skin should be very dry, and the fish should be temped (room temp) before going in.

Dry means dry, not almost dry.  Pat the entire fish dry with a towel.  Put a paper towel on a plate, put the fish on it skin side up (not on the towel) and put the plate in the refrigerator, uncovered.  Refrigerator air is very dry and it will dry the fish quickly.  When you remove the fish to temp it, you can also use a hair dryer (with the heat off) or a small fan to further blow dry the fish.  Just an RCH too OCD, but you could.

The pan needs to be preheated to cooking temperature or slightly above before adding the oil.

You don't need much oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.  More oil than that and you're frying.

If you're going to butter baste -- different story.  Add a little oil first, let it come to temp then add your butter.  Use enough butter so that, with the pan tilted, you can easily fill a table spoon with it.  When you add the butter, it will foam.  Add the fish as soon as the foaming starts to subside.  

Speed basting fish with butter (or evoo) is a game of beat the clock.  You need to cook hot enough to crisp the skin, and fast enough to beat burning the butter solids or overcooking the oil bitter. 

Back to regular oil:  It should be at cooking temperature when the fish goes in. 

Don't add oil (or butter) while the fish is sticking, knocking the temperature down with fresh oil will make things worse.  If possible, don't add oil during the cooking process at all.  Start with the right amount. 

Flour would hep the sticking problem in a couple of different ways, but it's a complete game changer.  You didn't want it, you don't need to bread,

If the fish is cooked but still sticking, try shaking the heck out of the pan to get it to release.  If that doesn't work, try bumping it with the side of your spat.  Only pry it loose with your spat as a last resort.  If it's sticking, chances are prying will leave skin on the pan.

Buy a good quality (thin) fish spat. 

Joined Apr 6, 2010
Most products will stick in stainless steel.
not if the pan is preheated and the protein is allowed to sear properly. once it's seared, it will release. i use a carbon steel (not stainless) pan for searing fish (and scallops) and have never had an issue with sticking.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
As I said, most things will stick in STAINLESS STEEL, not carbon steel, preheated or not. Try it in stainless
Joined Jan 13, 2013
Hello there.  I must admit  I haven't cooked fish...yet. I plan to finally try it this week. I can say I have read that vinegar is an excellent source for removing odors such as fish. I would recomment pouring a cup or 2 of straight vinegar into your cast iron skillet and allow it to set for awhile. You could also slowly heat up the skillet and that would help the process also. Vingar is very good for cleaning many things around the house, especially good for removing odors. You posted your question ages ago but perhaps this will still be helpful!
Joined Sep 18, 2008
...I would recomment pouring a cup or 2 of straight vinegar into your cast iron skillet and allow it to set for awhile. ...
I may be mistaken, but I believe this would be a great way to remove the seasoning from the cast iron pan as well as removing any fish odor
Joined May 29, 2006
Want to clean your pan   fill it with salt and put it on the fire till salt turns grey. throw out and wipe pan with an oiled paper towl or pan spray.  Vinegar is good to soak pan in if you burn something and can;t get it out. As far as taking smell out of pan? don't tell a chef that one.

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