Saute Seafood for a Crisp Crust

Saute Seafood for a Crisp Crust

The purpose of sautéing seafood is to give it a crisp, lightly browned crust. The seafood is cooked in butter (clarified is best because it doesn't burn over high heat) or oil over intense heat, so that the outside of the food browns quickly before the inside overcooks. It's easiest to cook small shellfish such as scallops or shrimp by tossing them in a pan with sloping sides; the sloping sides make the tossing motion easier. Whole fish, fish fillets, and steaks would fall apart if tossed that way, so they are browned on  one side and then carefully turned with a spatula.

Fish steaks, thick fillets, and small thin whole fish such as sole or trout are the simplest to sauté because they cook through in about the same amount of time it takes the exterior to brown. Thin fillets, especially from fragile fish such as flounder, fall apart if overcooked by even a second, so watch them carefully.

It is advisable to cook most fillets with the skin on, because the skin holds the fillet together, tastes deliciously crispy, and looks good. But skin tends to stick, so use a nonstick pan or a well-seasoned skillet. Fish skin also contracts when hot, causing the fillet to curl. To prevent curling, start the fillet flesh side down, cooking it for a minute or two to allow the flesh to contract. Then turn the fillet skin side down and press down with the back of a spatula as it cooks to prevent it from curling and to keep the skin in contact with the bottom of the pan so its entire surface browns.

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