How to Make Crunchy Pan-Fried Sole

Crunchy Pan-Fried Sole

When done right there’s nothing quite like fried fish. A lot of oil and a deep fryer will get you all the crunch you’ll ever want, but it requires more commitment than I care to face most days. Pan-fried fish is a smart alternative. To keep pan-fried fish simple dredge fillets in extra-fine flour (such as Wondra) then quickly pan fry them until cooked through with a lightly crisp, golden crust. If you start with brined fish it’s a deliciously foolproof method. However, sometimes I find myself craving fish with more crunch. Pan-Fried Sole with Sesame and Nuoc Cham is easier than deep-fried fish, but just as crunchy.

When it comes to Crunchy Pan-Fried Sole there’s really no need for a recipe, of course, but there are a few rules. The first rule is you can use any kind of fish you like. If you’re following my method however please choose fillets that are 3/4‑inch thick or less. Secondly, use a heavy bottomed, well-seasoned cast iron pan or non-stick skillet. Heavy pans radiate heat more evenly.

Also start with perfectly dry, room temperature fillets. Condensation keeps cold fish clammy no matter how many times you pat it dry with paper towels.

Peanut oil should be your first choice for frying. It gets very hot without smoking. This allows for a high degree of crunch. If you like the flavor of fish pan-fried in butter the best way to achieve this is to use a mixture with more oil than butter. Butter all on its own, or in too high a ratio, will scorch before the fish ever fries. Add the oil to the hot pan before the butter, then wait for the mixture to get really hot. Once you see it shimmer it’s time to add the fish.

Wine Pairing

Clos Marsalette Blanc 

Clos Marsalette Blanc
Ah, nothing like a fine Bordeaux! I know you, you’re thinking about big, expensive red wines classified way back in 1855. While it’s undeniable that many fine red Bordeaux blends deserve your attention (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left Bank, mostly Merlot on the Right Bank)– assuming you can afford them– I ask you to think different. Think […]
Ken Eskenazi

Price $22

Pairs well with Fish, seafood, lobster, grilled vegetables, Asian spices

Crunchy Pan-Fried Sole

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you pan fry the fish you have to get the fish ready for the pan. A good piece of pan-fried sole has a well-seasoned crust on the outside and is juicy and tender on the inside. It’s easy to achieve this crust if you have a well-planned process. A good fish fry should happen quickly. The fish goes from crisp and crunchy to oily and soggy the longer it sits around waiting to be served. So have everything in place well in advance.

Start by setting up three dipping stations. One for flour. One for egg. One for breadcrumbs. I like to use panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) because they’re easy to find, keep forever and give this pan-fried sole a crispy crust. Other types of store-bought breadcrumbs, or even homemade if you have the time, are just fine too.

Just before you’re ready to serve dip each fillet into the flour, first one side and then the other, and then shake it to remove the excess. Repeat the side-to-side dipping and dripping with the egg wash. Lastly, lay the fish on the panko and press it gently to get the breadcrumbs to adhere, then turn it over and repeat. Make sure it is well covered. You might think the flour dip is unnecessary and be tempted to skip it, but don’t — it gives the egg something to stick to.

Speaking of sticky – don’t get your hands goopy when coating the fillets. Use one hand for the dry ingredients and one hand for the wet ingredients. If you gum up the works you’ll feel like a failure. GREG

PS: Nuoc Cham is a Vietnamese dipping sauce that is the perfect (slightly acidic, slightly funky) match to the crisp, golden sesame breadcrumbs in this pan-fried sole. It also pairs beautifully with the Clos Marsalette Bordeaux blanc Ken chose.


Clos MarsaletteNuoc ChamCrunchy Pan-Fried Sole

Crunchy Pan-Fried Fish with Nuoc Cham 

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 6Source Adapted from Tom DouglasPublished
Crunchy Pan-Fried Fish with Nuoc Cham


  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoon chopped cilantro
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 6 (6 to 8‑oz) skinless fish fillets (no thicker than 3/4 inch )
  • ½ teaspoon osher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup peanut oil (or other high smokeing point oil) plus more as needed
  • ¼ cup butter plus more as needed


Make the nuoc cham: Whisk together lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, water, cilantro, and red pepper flakes. Set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.

Bread the fillets: Crack the eggs into a large shallow bowl and beat well. Spread the flour across the bottom of a shallow bowl or pie plate. Mix the breadcrumbs with the sesame seeds and spread them across the bottom of a separate shallow bowl or pie plate. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet.

Season the fish fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge one fillet in flour, lift it out, knock off excess flour, and place fillet in egg wash, making sure entire fillet is coated. Remove fillet from egg wash, letting excess drip off; place in crumbs. Gently press crumbs onto fish on both sides, creating a nice even crust. Transfer breaded fillet to rack; repeat process with remaining fillets

Fry the fillets: Place a 12-inch cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat; heat for 5 minutes. Add the oil and butter to skillet. Sprinkle a few crumbs into pan to test temperature; they should sizzle when they hit the oil and butter. Gently and carefully lay fish fillets into hot oil and butter, which should come halfway up sides of the fish. As soon as crumbs begin to darken, reduce heat a bit. The key is even cooking, so that when you turn the fillets, they are a perfect golden brown. This will take about 3 to 4 minutes a side; the thicker the fish, the more slowly you should cook it; turn the heat down a bit more if necessary. Turn the fillets; cook 3 to 4 minutes more, until golden brown. Using a slotted spatula, transfer fish to individual plates or a platter. Raise the heat back to medium-high and add more oil and butter if necessary. Bring the oil and butter back to temperature and repeat the cooking process with the remaining fillets.

Serve with lime wedges and nuoc cham.