Alaska Seafood: How to Cook Pan-Fried Cod

How does Pan-Fried, Wild-Caught Alaskan Cod sound today? Sounds good, right? So get a pan and let’s get going. Hey, where are you sneaking off too?

Okay, okay, okay. Okay, okay.

I get it! Some people are afraid to cook fish at home. But I can’t really figure out why.

Statistics show that people like to eat fish. Americans are now eating 30 lbs of fish (per person on average) a year in restaurants, but they eat half that amount at home. And of the home-consumed fish, half of that is canned tuna fish.

Unless my math skills fail me, that means people eat more than 3 times as much fish in restaurants than they do at home (if you exclude all that canned fish). It’s like 10th grade PSAT’s. Which means conclusions can be drawn from these statistics. The conclusion I draw is simple. People are afraid to cook fish at home.

But why? I hate to be a smart-ass, but in truth it’s no more difficult than cooking potatoes. I’m serious. You can fry, bake, boil, broil or sauté them. Really it’s that simple.

The only fork in the road is choosing which form of these great cooking styles is most suited to your “catch”.

I have some very general guidlines I follow. But a lot of this is just to your own taste. If you like fried fish then you’ll like fried salmon as well as fried cod. Heck you might even like fried boot leather if I told you Mario Batali cooked it (oops, did I say that out-loud?)

Anyway, same goes for baking, broiling, boiling and sautéing.

But the qualities of certain fish make it easier to cook to “just done perfection” by one method over another.

Overcooked fish is a waste of the poor creature’s life. I’ll say it again. Overcooked fish is a waste of the poor creature’s life. One more time? I get sad when I see a gorgeous fillet of salmon cooked so far past done that it’s hard to imagine what it once was. Salmon should be rare (maybe medium-rare). It just should. But it’s a fatty fish and somewhat forgiving– so many people overcook it without ever realizing what they have done. Because salmon’s fat content means even overcooked salmon can still be moist.

Less fatty fish, like cod– are indeed more difficult to cook to perfection. Overcooking can make them dry and inedible. As I said, a waste of the poor creature’s life. So today I want to concentrate on cooking what are usually referred to as Non-Fatty Fish.

Pacific CodNon-Fatty fish typically have less than a 2% fat content. These fish are often cooked by poaching, steaming or deep frying, all very “wet” and forgiving. But today I want to talk about a method that takes a bit more of your attention, pan-frying PACIFIC COD, wild-caught in Alaska– which is a Seafood Watch Best Choice. I chose to use cod as the example but the cooking method described here may be applied to other Non-Fatty fish such as: BLACK ROCKFISH, BLACK SEA BASS, BROOK RAINBOW TROUT, FLOUNDER, HADDOCK, HAKE, PACIFIC HALIBUT, PACIFIC TURBOT, PERCH, PETRALE SOLE, POLLOCK, TILAPIA, and TILEFISH. Though cooking times will vary.

I like to brine these fish first. I plan to go into great detail about brining later in the week when we discuss Wild-Caught Alaskan Halibut. I don’t have all the facts yet on halibut. In fact I am in Alaska right now as the guest of Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute learning all I can about some of the Alaskan fisheries, including halibut.

So for today I’ll just say brining non-fatty fish for about 1 hour in a simple mixture of 1/4 cup sea salt and 6 cups iced water is very helpful when dealing with recipes that require you to cook the fish at high heat. Pan-frying is an example of this.

Once the fish has brined, rinse and dry it well. Then let is rest, covered in the refrigerator at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. From there, you’ll just need a few ingredients: lemons, salt, butter, oil and flour. The extra finely ground varieties like Wondra keep this preparation light, rather than crusty. So try them if you have them. GREG

Simple Pan-Fried Alaskan Cod serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 16 oz cod fillet, brined then cut into 4 equal portions (available at 10th & M Seafoods or I Love Blue Sea)
  • 1/4 c flour, preferably Wondra
  • 1 pn each salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 pn cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T lemon, thinly sliced into rounds

Sprinkle the fish with a light dusting of Wondra on both sides. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne (if using).

Melt butter in a sloped-sided frying pan (to assist in turning the fish) set over medium-high heat.

When the butter gets foamy but not yet brown, add the olive oil to the pan. Let it get quite hot and shimmery then lay the fish in the pan. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip the fillets. Add the lemon slices and cook another 1 to 2 minutes. I like to use an insta-read thermometer to cook to an interior temperature of 118 degrees F. It’s helps in cooking the fish to medium-rare without overcooking. Move the fish to warm serving plates to rest. Turn the heat on the pan to high and continue to pan-fry the lemon slices, flipping them as needed until nicely colored.

That’s it. You could deglaze the pan with some white wine since you probably have a glass in your hand. It would make a nice sauce.

Serve fish warm, accompanied by pan-fried lemon slices and simply prepared vegetables or potatoes.