Wulf's Kitchen: Cook (Fish) Like a Chef

  • Wulf's Fish
  • 3 min read

While the chef-created recipes on our site are full of culinary inspiration, some feel more like a weekend project than a weeknight dinner. They’re also filled with techniques for cooking fish that can be applied any night of the week. Keep reading to discover some of the techniques our chef friends use when they’re coming up with dishes to serve in their restaurants.

They score the skin:

If you’re cooking fish with the skin on, take a minute to cut slash marks in the skin (don’t let the knife go through to the flesh) so the filet won’t curl up in the pan under the heat. The curling is a reaction to a cold piece of protein hitting a hot pan - combined with the fact that skin and flesh cook at different rates. Scoring and gently pressing down with a spatula during cooking will help prevent a curled filet, as will tempering the filet by bringing it out of the fridge for 20 minutes before cooking. Below, Chef Ignacio Lopez of The Merchant’s recipe for striped bass with summer tomato salad.

They don’t fear the fry:

Since a lot of the most accessible seafood is lean, flaky whitefish (think cod, haddock, hake, pollock), it benefits from some added texture and richness. That’s where dredged and pan-fried, or battered and deep-fried fish comes in.

Just like you would do for pork schnitzel or chicken cutlets, dredging and pan-frying gives you tender, juicy fish surrounded by rich, crunchy crumb. It takes some effort, but if you keep everything else about dinner simple, it’s not a big deal. Chef Andrew Hebert of The Salty Pig did it with this swordfish schnitzel, below.


They preheat their pans:

Most home cooks are familiar with pre-heating the oven for a baking project; fewer people know the trick of preheating a skillet when cooking fish (or other protein) to get a nice, heard sear on whatever it is you’re cooking, then turning down the heat to cook the protein through. In her recipe for seared salmon with mushrooms, bok choy, and seaweed salad (below), Chef Meghan Thompson of SRV preheats a cast iron skillet for a few minutes before laying a salmon filet, skin side down, to get a nice crispy skin on the fish.

They keep things dry:

You know what’s delicious? Perfectly cooked fish with crispy skin and/or nice golden color on the filets. The way to achieve either crispness or caramelization is to eliminate as many sources of moisture as you can. That’s why chefs always pat fish dry before cooking; why so many of the preparations on this site are dry-heat cooking (searing, roasting); and why in his recipe for scallop fried rice, Chef Mike Wiley of Eventide recommends using dry sources of umami — like dried pork and fermented black beans — instead of soy sauce, which would make things too damp.

They eat it raw:

While restaurant menus are full of crudo, carpaccio, ceviche, tartare, and other raw seafood preparations, many home cooks don’t bring these types of dishes into their kitchens. But it’s so do-able, and simple! You just need to keep the fish cold, slice it with a sharp knife, and finish it with high-quality accent ingredients, as with this recipe for salmon ceviche tostada from Chef Andrew Robinson of Tiger Mama.