Though a pristine piece of fish can seem daunting to the novice, cooking a medium-rare fillet with beautifully crisp skin is actually much simpler than it seems.
To master this technique, all you need is some patience, trial and error, a good frying pan, and a fish spatula. Soon, you'll be frying up everything from salmon to halibut like a pro!
All the experts agree that getting the fillet as dry as possible before cooking is crucial. Bon Appetit recommends storing the fish skin side up in the fridge to dry out an hour before cooking, while Epicurious says patting the fish all over with paper towels is sufficient.
Once you've got the skin nice and dry, warm up a pan over high heat. Add a tablespoon of grapeseed, canola, coconut, or another neutral oil to the pan, and bring the oil to a high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, it's ready. Generously season each side of the fillet with salt and pepper, and gently place the fillet skin side down in the now-hot pan.
Next, grab your fish spatula, and firmly and evenly press the fillet into the pan. This helps the skin cook evenly, and prevents any weird curling or shrinking of the skin. Continue pressing the fish into the pan until the meat starts to turn opaque.
Just before the fish is cooked all the way through—you should see a small raw area on top—flip the fillet over so that the raw top gently "kisses" the pan. After 1 minute more of cooking, your fish is ready to serve. Serve immediately!
Photo credit: Paul Delmont