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I think Anne Burrell lied to me. She said fish will always stick to a stainless pan. This is true. No matter how well I lubricate my pan, my fish will always adhere like cement. She also said that the pan will release the fish "when it's ready." Maybe meaning it will eventually become unstuck when the fish is done cooking? Well, I've tried that, and it never works. No matter how long I wait, it never becomes unstuck. Most recently I gave it as much time as I could. When I finally chiseled it off the pan, tearing it apart in the process, I saw that it was starting to burn on that side. I've started going back to non-stick until I get this figured out.

Are there any tips? Am I heating the pan wrong? Does it help to slide the fish around a bit after putting it in the pan?

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I searched for several terms and only found the first of those three. It doesn't seem to talk specifically about sticking problems. –  Tesserex Oct 17 '11 at 2:39
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I liked Tesserex's original title better. –  LarsTech Oct 17 '11 at 11:39
    
@LarsTech: This site is supposed to be a public resource; questions aren't very helpful if they're worded so that nobody will ever find them using a search engine. –  Aaronut Oct 18 '11 at 0:14
    
This isn't a direct answer so I'm making it a comment. If you are trying to avoid non-stick coatings, you should really consider getting a cast iron skillet. Their natural non-stick properties are very good (much better than stainless), they heat evenly and retain heat well, and are oven safe. Stainless is lighter and can be easier to clean (on account of being lighter) , but I use cast iron a lot more than stainless. Just don't use soap when cleaning. –  paul Dec 6 '12 at 3:58

8 Answers 8

Generally speaking the answer is heat. Have a nice hot pan, and oil the fish, not the pan. Bottom line though is that there's a reason they call them 'non-stick' pans.

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same goes for chicken, if the pan isn't hot enough, the skin will stick to it. Normally if it's a thin cut of fish i'll let the oil become smoking hot before I put on the fish. –  Jason Oct 17 '11 at 5:16

Are you heating your pan enough before you add your fish? In other words, it is not how hot you eventually get it...but how hot you get it before adding your fish (and then of course, keeping it hot).

So, first... LOTS of oil, enough to coat the whole bottom of pan, and not "just barely". Then, heat pan until the oil is making little shimmery, mirage waves. Add fish.

Then, you want to let it go several minutes without touching it. At that point, you can use a very thin metal spatula to slide under the edges and loosen it.

Yes, non-stick is easier. But, this method will get a nice crusty golden brown on the outside of your fish.

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Umm, I've always been taught 1) Hot pan 2) Then oil 3) Only enough oil to have a thin coat on the bottom ... It sounds like you're suggesting a straight up fry. –  rfusca Oct 17 '11 at 17:57
    
Well, no, I'm not talking frying... Just as a chronic dieter, my "coating" of oil turned out to be pitiful for this purpose, according to a pro chef who showed me how to cook fish. And, he definitely put the oil in first and let it heat up to tell him when the pan was ready. :D –  Ann MacDonald Oct 17 '11 at 18:55
    
I'm just saying a pan loaded with 'lots of oil' that is heated up...*is* a fry. –  rfusca Oct 18 '11 at 0:56
    
@AnnMacDonald, but if you put 'lots of oil', then you cannot serve the fish tasty sauce from pan to the dish, which is what I love, especially with salmon! In this case, I use as little oil as possible so that I can then serve everything - the oil with the sauce! And you? You have to throw it out I guess? –  Tomas Oct 18 '11 at 10:35
    
@Tomas I use butter and I've yet to find fish that doesn't taste awesome with extra hot butter poured over it... Nomnomnom! –  w00t Oct 19 '11 at 21:23

On a slightly different note, I've found there's something to be said for the fish type and weather the skin was left intact. 'Fattier' fish like Salmon or Herring I have always found to fare better in a stainless pan, and certainly with skin on. Skin adds fat, plus it serves as a last line of defense--if your fish does stick, the skin will be ruined, not the fish.

Frying lean fish like Cod or Halibut in stainless I've always found tricky no matter the temperature of the pan or amount of oil used. They also tend to flake apart easier than fattier fish, so if they stick even remotely, you often end up with lots of small pieces.

On technique, I agree with all prior posts--hot pan first, add oil, then fry usually for a minute or two longer than you think, and flip. I read the loose science behind letting the protein tell you its done somewhere--the muscle fibres contract when applied to heat, and that tightening up pulls the protein away from the grill. Not that its noticeable visibly, but enough to make a cooked piece of protein release easier than a totally raw one.

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When I started cooking fish I had the exact same problem. After some trial and error I found the perfect way to prevent fish from sticking to the pan. The trick is in preparation of the fish.

First defrost the fish if it's frozen - doesn't matter how (leave them under water or leave out for a while). Next, you need to dry your fish off. I accomplish this with paper towel. Doesn't have to be 100% dry, but try to get as much water off it as possible.

Now you can season the fish with salt, pepper, etc. After the fish is seasoned I put the fish onto a dish of flour, rub it in, flip it over, rub the other side in.

Now put oil in the pan and throw in the fish. I use oil about 3mm deep on low-med temperature when I cook my fish and it never sticks to the pan. I saw in one of the answers on this page "put the oil on the fish not the pan", might be worth trying that (I'll give it a go next time I cook fish), but either way, this will prevent the fish from sticking to the pan.

Good luck.

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Heat is your friend in solving this problem. As described here: http://www.edinformatics.com/math_science/science_of_cooking/why_food_sticks.htm Oil creates a smooth layer across the surface of the pan when it is sufficiently heated. I like to use a blend of a high smoke point oil (i.e. peanut, canola, but veg will work) and butter since the water content in the butter will promote the steam effect that is described in the link. Also, something to consider with regards to the steam effect is that you can sear at a higher temperature and then finish at a lower temperature in the oven which typically allows for the protein to release from the surface and makes it easier to remove in one piece at the end of the cooking.

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Physically speaking the steam effect you mentioned is the since 1756 well known Leidenfrost effect that keeps the meals hovering over the pan’s base, thus preventing them from sticking. Seasoning the pan is another trick to make it non-sticky (in your link it is referred to as patina). See this video on how to do it (for a Wok). –  erik Feb 23 at 1:01

I used to have this fish sticking problem in my Aluminum wok.

The solution (accidentally discovered) was to put the fish in the wok only after the oil is hot enough.

Que: How do you decide whether the oil is hot enough?

Ans: Drop one Yellow Mustard Seed in the oil. If it cracks immediately then your oil is hot enough for the fish to be dropped in. If not, then you may like to wait for few more minutes and try the same with another mustard seed.

Yellow Mustard Seeds start cracking in very hot oil only as opposed to Cumin seeds which do turn brown in non-so-hot oil too.

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this is something I need to try! –  Pascal Belloncle Jan 31 '13 at 8:16
    
@PascalBelloncle Just a reminder - Immediate here does NOT mean 3 seconds, it means fraction of a second. If the mustard seed takes 3 seconds to crack - then you better wait a bit more. :) –  TheIndependentAquarius Feb 1 '13 at 5:59
    
that's what I understood by "immediately" :) –  Pascal Belloncle Feb 1 '13 at 6:24
    
@PascalBelloncle :relief: ;) Tell me if it works for you. –  TheIndependentAquarius Feb 1 '13 at 6:43
    
as early as this weekend. –  Pascal Belloncle Feb 1 '13 at 7:16

Try to mix new cooking oil and old cooking oil.

E.g.: put 8 table spoons of new cooking oil. Then put 2 table spoons of old cooking oil. Then fry your fish, making sure first that your pan was hot enough.

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How on earth would this prevent fish from sticking? –  SAJ14SAJ Jan 30 '13 at 8:44
    
I could imagine that the semi polymerized oil (the old oil) helps seasoning the pan by sealing the pan’s invisible scratches making it non-sticking. But that is only a guess. –  erik Feb 23 at 0:23

The first thing i always do is to season my Stainless Steel pan. I heat up the pan very hot and then add a high smoke point oil to the pan until it smokes. I then drain the oil, wipe the pan out with a few paper towels and let cool. You can repeat the process several times but make sure the finish in the pan remains smooth and shiny and not gummy and tacky. To clean the pan, use water and soap and a smooth sponge. If you use an abrasive cleaner or a brilo pad, you will have to start the process over again. After I clean my pan, i like to re-season the pan and store till next time needed. You should only need to season the pan only once after every use but you can repeat the process as much as you want. The more you repeat the process, the darker the pan will become.

The next thing I do is to apply oil to the fish and season the fish with salt and pepper. I heat the SS frying pan very hot, then I apply oil into the hot frying pan. Once the oil starts to smoke I then put in the fish into the frying pan. Flip after a minute or two depending on how cooked you liked your fish. You can easily check the down side of the fish as it won't be stuck to your frying pan.

Bon Appetit

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