Sear Fish: Perfectly Cooked Every Time

Fish are complex. Maybe you’ve got a superb tuna steak or want to know how to pan sear Scottish Salmon so it’s perfect every time. Problem is, of course, that every fish is different so timings can be misleading to know how to perfectly sear fish. Plus, just having your pan too hot or too cool, even a tiny amount, causes chaos. This is without having to worry about everything else that’s going on the plate at the same time.

Never fear! We have a method to ensure your fish is always glistening with crispy skin.

Quick Steps to Perfectly Sear Fish

How to sear fish: Wild Salmon

Raw wild salmon before following our method to perfectly sear fish.


1. Score the skin 

2. Heat your pan

3. Place fish in pan, skin side down

4. Watch colour change to halfway up the side

5. Take pan off the heat and flip fish over

Katie and Matt, authors of The Plate Unknown

The Plate Unknown

Hey there! We are Katie & Matt, the duo who love food - and learning about it even more!

We have worked in the food industry for 30 years combined and are set to travel the world to continue learning about the food of the world.

Read more about us here.

Just Right Every Time

About 6 years ago I went on a fish cookery course at the cookery school at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. We had dinner the day before in the 2 Michelin star restaurant which was superb, as expected. We didn’t stay as the room prices are eye-watering, though I imagine the experience is also incredible.

The cookery course, however, was the perfect opportunity to learn and pick the brains of the experts. It was a fantastic experience – and one we wholeheartedly recommend. Not only did they teach the basics of cleaning, scaling and filleting both round and flatfish. But they also gave multiple variations of each recipe we learned so you could go away and experiment to your heart’s content. This is the basis of how I still think about food and learning to cook now.

When it came to cooking the actual fish, they gave us some very basic steps to ensure it was perfect each time. This is regardless of the size of the fish.

A quick caveat to this before you jump in. If you are cooking tuna steak, you need to think like you’re wanting a very rare steak. This method will cook your tuna through, which is absolutely not what you want.

The Method

1. If you are cooking a fish with the skin on, score the skin before cooking so it doesn’t curl up.

2. Your starting point is a medium-hot pan. The exact heat will depend on the size of the piece of fish. If it is very thick you’ll need it to be on a lower heat or your skin will burn before it is cooked. Equally, if you’re cooking a very thin piece of fish, for example, Dover Sole then you’re best having a very hot pan and cooking it for about 45 seconds per side.

How to perfectly cook fish

Your fish will be perfectly cooked if you watch for the colour change

3. You want your oil to go into the pan cold just before your fish. Oil is the conductor of heat from the pan to the fish so we don’t want much of this or the skin won’t crisp nicely. So be conservative on the oil. Then the fish goes in. If it has skin, place it skin side down and hold it down with your fingers for the first few seconds to keep it flat.  Once in, leave the fish – no touching!

4. Keep your eyes on the side of the fish – you can see it changing colour as it cooks.

5. When that colour change reaches half-way up the fish, turn the heat off (take it off the hob if it’s an electric cooker). Then flip the fish over. You can now leave the fish in the pan while you get everything else sorted and on to the plates. After a few minutes, you can take your fish from the pan and it will be perfectly cooked.

There you have it. It’s incredibly easy – maybe not the fastest way, but it’s so consistent and simple. Using this method, it’s almost impossible to over-cook the fish. Dig out your favourite pan-seared fish recipes and give it a go.

Scotland is abundant in beautiful landscapes, perfect for creating a diverse and exciting food scene.

Click here to read all about the top Scottish foods and drinks to enjoy on your next trip.

The Plate Unknown LLP is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


The Plate Unknown is an educational food blog. Here we share information about world food culture, the origin of dishes from around the world, and tips for taking a food-focused trip.  

Click to Learn More About Us