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How to Shallow Fry Fish

Simple fish cookery

I love fish cookery more than any other, even game. I especially love simple fish dishes, the sort where the quality of the fish is showcased rather than the ego of the chef.

The Europeans have got it right, the seafood dishes of France, Spain and Italy are really quite special and much of it is thanks to us Brits who give our neighbours all the fish we won’t eat. It really is tragic that we don’t embrace other species with the same fondness of our counterparts. Why this obsession with cod, haddock and plaice, God only knows.

This year I am making a determined effort to win over my customers with alternative seafood. Hake, pollock, megrim, flounder, dabs will all feature in a variety of guises and so far the response has been encouraging.

I sometimes wonder if a plate of simple shallow-fried seafood with some fresh lemon and a glass of Sauvignon blanc isn’t the greatest thing in the world. Hardly anyone shallow-fries anymore and it’s a shame. Forget the diet for an afternoon and have some fish fillets cooked in breadcrumbs and you’ll be glad you did. I tucked into some fried hake with a squeeze of lemon and a blob of salsa verde the other day, my sous chefs got stuck in and I wished they hadn’t!

Shallow-frying fish requires some attention during the cooking process. The fish fillets should be washed and patted dry before going through a coat of well seasoned flour and egg wash. I like to add plenty of chopped herbs to my breadcrumbs along with another good turn of the pepper mill. Give the fillets a good, even coating of crumbs, making sure there aren’t any gooey lumps anywhere.

Cover a frying pan with a centimetre or so of vegetable oil and a lump of butter, swirl it all around over a medium heat, when the butter begins to melt add your fillets, laying them down gently and away from you. Keep the heat constant but not fierce. Leave the fillets to take on the oil and butter before turning them over. Patience is key, young chefs insist on buggering about with food. Let them be! turn over once nicely browned on one side and continue cooking for another couple of minutes.

Don’t let them get too dark, fish shouldn’t be overcooked, if it is slightly undercooked then don’t panic-stick them in a hot oven to finish if you’re butter is too dark, or, like me eat as is. Drain your fish quickly but gently on some kitchen towel and serve straight away, it should always be the last thing you do, fried fish waits for nobody.

What do you serve with fried fish? Well, all sorts really. Salsa verde is a classic as is tartare sauce, mayonnaise, remoulade or any number of Asian dipping sauces, a really good ketchup wouldn’t go amiss either.


  1. Elsie Nean says:

    This looks very tasty. I don’t believe that I have eaten any of the fish you mention and will start to look out for them. As you rightly say, it was always haddock or place and dover sole if you were lucky. We just need re-educating by people like yourself.

    April 28, 2008 @ 10:39 am

  2. Cid says:


    Food of the Gods… I like whitebait but it’s something I haven’t had for years. In fact I like every kind of fish and find it easier to digest rather than meat. As you say, people here go abroad to eat a variety of seafood. The frozen shell fish I bought recently were largely tasteless and I had such big expectations…. never mind there’s lots of good fresh food available at the moment and I have certainly eaten very well this weekend.


    April 28, 2008 @ 10:44 am

  3. Cid says:


    Have you still got that shark fishing tackle kit? I’ve got the yellow oilcloths… let’s hit the high seas and get a whooper :)


    April 28, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  4. Elsie Nean says:

    I have the tackle but doubt that I have the strength to land a whooper. Would have to take the Chef with us.

    April 28, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

  5. miles says:

    The sad demise of our ‘wet’ fish shops is such a shame, I looked at the packs of crabsticks on sale in my local supermarket and were it not for my infamous Collins backbone would have wept :)


    April 28, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

  6. Cid says:


    Capital idea, but not for the landing of the whooper, more for the cooking of it! Anyway I doubt whether anything we catch will fit into a conventional oven :) With our new invention of Roman pullies and hoists I see no problem dealing with the rigours of the sea….. oh by the way bring your swim suit and sun tan lotion :)


    April 29, 2008 @ 8:43 am

  7. Cid says:


    Not having a Collins backbone, I did weep and had to be escorted off the premises. Perhaps we should chain ourselves to the handle of the frozen shell fish cabinet in a prominent store? :)


    April 29, 2008 @ 8:53 am

  8. Hank says:

    As usual Miles, we are thinking the same thing…I am in the midst of our striped bass season, which is a fish like your branzino. I like it best just salted and floured, then shallow-fried in olive oil. Serve with a squeeze of Meyer lemon, and dat’s enuff fer me.

    April 30, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

  9. miles says:

    It couldn’t sound any better, why do people have to mess around so much? They’re missing the point of good fish cookery.

    May 1, 2008 @ 6:19 am

  10. maryam says:

    why is it important to identify which way up in the pan to put a skinless fillet of fish when shallow frying?

    May 11, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

  11. miles says:

    Welcome to the site and thank you for your question. It really depends on the type of fish you are using and if you are going to ‘coat’ the fillets in flour, breadcrumbs etc. The upper side of a fish fillet usually presents itself better visually than the underside so if the fish is to be cooked as it is then greater care is required when cooking the presentation side.

    Kind regards

    May 11, 2009 @ 11:14 pm

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