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.
Clos Marsalette Blanc
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.