Here, fishy fishy...hop into my hot hot cast-iron pan filled with sizzling butter, why don't you?
After poaching and baking, searing is definitely the next step up the ladder toward fish mastery. This is my favorite method of cooking fish by far. It's incredibly fast and easy, requires minimal equipment and ingredients, and produces a remarkably delicious piece of finished fish--and yet it seems that most people just learning to cook fish are scared of it.
It's ok! You can do it! Searing only really requires a hot pan, a decent spatula, and a close eye on the cooking situation. The most likely danger is overcooking--but unless you walk out of the kitchen and let your entire pan burn to a crisp, the finished product will be at least edible, and more likely very good indeed.
On this occasion, I had a filet of butterfish, a piece of butter, a couple chives, and some salt and pepper--and you could get away without the chives.
I prefer to cook thinner filets of fish as opposed to gigantic swordfish steaks, for instance, so these instructions are written for filets maybe 3/4 inch/2 cm thick.
Seared whitefish filet
whitefish filet: butterfish, tilapia, perch, sole, cod, whatev.
chives or parsley
wedge of lemon to serve
To begin, find a reasonable cast-iron or stainless steel frying pan and put it over high heat. Nonstick pans will work too, but high heat is supposed to make them release chemicals, so...yeah. You need to get the pan very hot; this will 1. make the fish taste great and 2. keep the fish from sticking to the pan. Have an oven mitt ready, as the handle will most likely get hot too.
While your pan is heating, pat your fish filet dry with a paper towel and season it on both sides with salt and pepper. It's important to dry the fish so it won't spatter when it hits the hot butter later. You know what they say about oil and water, right?
When your pan is hot, put your oven mitt on the hand you'll use to hold the pan handle. Deposit a good tablespoon of butter into the pan; it will sizzle and froth almost immediately. Turn the pan so the butter gets distributed over its surface. Then quickly pick up your fish with a spatula (or fingers, if you're ok with the high heat cooking experience) and lay it flat in the pan. It will sizzle loudly.
Now LEAVE YOUR FISH STILL for about two to three minutes. Don't leave the kitchen. You can chop up a couple chives or a few leaves of parsley if you want, but make sure to watch the pan pretty closely.
After two or three minutes, depending on your stove, you'll start to see the fish contracting, turning opaque, and maybe even starting to flake around the edges. When this happens, the filet should be cooked and browned nicely on the bottom. So. Shake the pan a few times to loosen the fish filet; it'll be much more likely to stay intact if you shake instead of prying, so don't prod unless it's really stuck. When the filet slides free, flip it over with your spatula. Cook another two minutes, or until the entire filet is opaque and just barely ready to flake.
Put your finished filet on a plate. You may notice that it really wants to break into pieces at this point. That's totally fine (if a little messy); it just means the fish is entirely cooked. If you want, you can melt a little extra butter in the pan and pour it over the fish. Or you can just pour whatever butter is left in the pan over it.
Sprinkle your fish with chives or parsley, stick a wedge of lemon on the side, and eat ASAP. Fish must be eaten HOT.
I had my butterfish with cucumber and mint raita.
Cucumber and mint raita
Chop up a cucumber (peeled or seeded at your discretion) and a handful of mint leaves. Mix them with a couple spoonfuls of yogurt and season with pepper. Eat.
Hooray! You seared fish! That wasn't so bad, was it?