1001 Kitchen tips # 22 - Char-grilling or pan frying fish - signed and sealed

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
There wasn’t much salamander space in the Lygon kitchen at the time I was there, and the saucier, veg and fish section all fought for there space on it during a busy service, so there was no chance for us larder chefs. So we would seal the red mullet fillets for our starter, then chill them and flash them in the Hobart convection oven when they were called away.

It was all going fine till one day the beautiful red skinned fillets stuck to bottom of the pan - all the non stick pans had been hidden by other sections for their service later on, and at that point I didn't have the salt trick. I was about to be in trouble - we only had exactly what we needed for the party. The same thing happened to the next ones. Disaster was looming. Then the French saucier showed me this tip which I have used ever since with everything from the red mullet to Dover sole.

If you are using a char grill pan let it heat up for at least 10 minutes. It has to be red hot or you fish, or meat will a) stick and b) only colour so lightly it’s not noticeable in appearance or flavour.
If you are using a pan you have 2 options - 1) have it on a medium-low heat, cook the fish slowly skin side down so the skin crisps, then turn the presentation side briefly to finish cooking. 2) Have the pan on a medium-high heat so you seal (brown) the outside of the fish, then finish it on a baking tray in the oven.

Dip the fish into seasoned flour and shake of the excess.

Then dip in oil (if you are frying you don’t need to do this, you add the oil to the pan instead). Sit on the char grill. I like to press the fish flat so the whole fillet gets even grilling - press lightly though or it will stick to the grill pan instead.

Using a roasting fork, skewer through the middle to turn it 45 degrees to get the criss-cross pattern. Using tongs or a palette knife can destroy the fish at this stage - fish needs to be treated with respect when cooking - it is really soft and can break easily. Slipping the palette knife underneath to turn it, it is easy to cut into to the fish and ruin the appearance.

While it can be cooked all the way on a chargrill - this produces masses of smoke, and often it burns before being cooked through, so we finish it in the oven. For a dinner party the sealing can done earlier in the afternoon before your guests arrive, and before the heat gets up in your kitchen.

If cooking later, allow to cool. If cooking straight away it can go straight in the oven. If you like crispy skin the best way is to grill it skin side up under a medium hot grill (top heat could burn it before it is cooked). On this particular occasion I was cooking at Watercombe House where they only have an aga, so cooked it skin side down on the base of the top oven - which gave a fierce base heat which crisped the skin very nicely. Every oven is different. On the other hand you could be using your barbecue…….

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