How to Pan-Fry Ocean Perch

How to Pan-Fry Ocean Perch (Image: Creativ Studio Heinemann/Westend61/GettyImages)

There's nothing quite as tasty as a truly fresh piece of fish caught while fishing in the morning and then pan-fried for dinner. If you live near the northern Atlantic or Pacific ocean, where ocean perch can be caught, you might be so lucky. If you're not, today's methods of shipping fresh fish overnight still deliver almost-as-fresh fish. You can pan-fry ocean perch for a crispy crust or experiment with other ocean perch recipes for a slightly different take on this mild-flavored fish.

Choosing the Best Ocean Perch

Ocean perch is also called rockfish, rose fish, redfish, Acadian redfish, Labrador redfish, canary or black ocean perch depending on its color. It also has other names. It is not, however, related to the fresh-water fish also called perch. Sound confusing? The simplest way to be sure you're getting true ocean perch is to look for the word "ocean" in its name.

When buying fresh ocean perch, look for a uniform pinkish color with no gray or brown. The skin should be bright, and the skin is edible, so there's no need to remove it. Although the fish might smell like sea water, it should not smell "fishy."

Learning to Pan-Fry Ocean Perch

Pan-frying is a method of frying — but not totally submerging — in oil. How much oil to use depends on the thickness of what you're cooking. The key is to be sure that when you place the fish in the pan, the oil comes up the side of the fish about halfway.

You can pan-fry ocean perch with or without a coating.

  • Pour oil into a frying pan so the oil goes about 1/4 inch up the sides of the pan. Turn the heat on high.

  • When the oil seems hot (but before it smokes), test it by sprinkling a tiny amount of flour into it. If the oil bubbles quickly around the flour, it's hot enough.

  • Gently lay each piece of fish in the pan, leaving 1/2 inch of space between each piece so they cook evenly.

  • Cook for two minutes per side. Ocean perch cooks quickly and will continue to cook after it is removed from the pan.

  • Sprinkle the fish with lemon if you wish or serve lemon wedges on the side.

Experimenting With Coatings

Coating ocean perch adds texture and flavor. You can vary ocean perch recipes by adding an ingredient or two.

  • Perch Piccata: Press ocean perch pieces into a mixture of flour, salt and pepper and pan-fry in a mixture of three parts oil to two parts butter. Cook for two minutes per side until cooked through. Remove the fish to a plate and turn the heat to low. Add 2 more tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup of stock (chicken or vegetable) or white wine and stir until thickened, turning the heat up if needed. Just before serving, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, stir and pour over the fish.

  • Tangy Perch: Add 1/4 cup of capers to the stock or wine so the capers cook and split a bit to release their piquant flavor. Add more lemon juice (and more capers) to your liking.

  • Parmesan Perch: Cover a large plate with unflavored breadcrumbs, add shredded or grated Parmesan cheese and combine. Crack two eggs into a bowl, add 2 tablespoons of water and beat with a fork until frothy. Dip the fish into the egg mixture to coat both sides and then press both sides into the crumbs/cheese. Heat the oil to a high temperature and then pan-fry the fish for two minutes per side.

  • Two-Bite Battered Perch: Measure 2 cups of water into a large bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons of water and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (with seeds removed). Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt into 1 cup of flour and add to the bowl. Stir until completely blended and then set aside for 30 minutes. Cut the fish into two-bite pieces. When 30 minutes are up, add oil to a pan and heat on high. Dip the fish into the batter, shake off the excess and place it in the pan. Cook for two minutes or so per side until the batter is golden but not brown. Remove it to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.

Imitating Pan-Frying

Lighten up any recipe by baking in the oven with a drizzle of oil or butter instead of pan-frying.

Try sauteed perch with capers. Put 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan. Turn the heat to medium. Add uncoated fish to the pan and brown lightly on both sides. Turn the heat to medium-low, add a splash of broth or white wine, add capers and saute for three more minutes per side.

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