I am all for a healthy kitchen ego boost. This easy technique for Pan Fried Cod is going to make you feel like a boss behind the stove. Cod fillets that are pan-seared with butter, then finished with a handful of lemon and herbs, it will remind you of something that you’d order in a restaurant, but wait! Guess who made this 5-star dish?
Cooking fish can be intimidating, which is why I like to share recipes that eliminate the guesswork and give you tips to ensure success.
- This Baked Salmon in Foil and this Fish en Papillote (another great cod recipe) both use the packet approach to lock-in moisture and deter overcooking.
- This Fish and Chips calls on a panko breadcrumb coating to lock in moisture.
- The Well Plated Cookbook has my three favorite fish recipes everrrrrr. Dozens of you have reported making them on repeat since it came out. (If you haven’t picked up a copy yet, what are you waiting for???)
For today’s pan fried cod, we’ll be using a simple lemon butter sauce to bathe the fillets with foolproof flavor.
The sauce cooks in the pan right alongside the fish. A finish of lemon brightens, and a handful of fresh herbs is the final touch to make this simple meal nothing short of splendid.
Cooking with Cod
If you aren’t familiar with cod, it’s a mild, firm-bodied fish.
Cod is also an excellent fish for beginner cooks because, thanks to its natural oils, cod is difficult to overcook.
Further, since its flavor isn’t too overpowering, kids often like cod more than other fish (my 2- and 5-year-old nieces adore this Grilled Cod, for example). Pickier adults may find the same.
Plus, cod is good for you! It’s packed with protein, Vitamin-B, and minerals (read more about its health benefits here).
If you don’t care for cod or want to use this recipe for a different fish, good cod substitutes include grouper, halibut, salmon, mahi-mahi, sea bass, haddock, and pollock. All of these are firm-bodied, white fish.
How to Cook Pan Fried Cod
I opted to skip the coating and make this pan fried cod with no breading and no flour.
Not only is it faster and easier to prepare without the breading, but it also makes the recipe a little lighter and leaves room for the lemon butter sauce to shine.
(Those looking for a pan fried cod recipe with flour can swap cod for the salmon in this Salmon Meuniere.)
- Cod Fillets. Tender, flaky, and perfectly suited for a lemon butter herb sauce.
- Salt + Pepper. A simple and classic combination.
- Fresh Herbs. Delicious freshness and flavor that instantly elevates this recipe. Parsley, basil, dill, or thyme are all excellent options.
- Lemon. Lemon juice brightens the entire dish and tastes wonderful on seafood.
- Dry and season the fillets. (Drying is key to searing!)
- Lay the fish in a preheated, oiled skillet.
- Cook (undisturbed) for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Flip the fillets over, then add the butter. Baste the fish with the butter.
- Cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
- Top with herbs and lemon. DIG IN!
Tips to Keep Cod from Sticking to the Pan
The most intimidating part of cooking fish on the stove is the flip! Here are a few tips to keep your cod from breaking up in the pan.
- Get the Pan HOT. A hot skillet is essential for making sure your fish doesn’t stick.
- Dry and Season the Fish. Make sure to thoroughly dry and season your cod fillets before you begin the recipe.
- Don’t Move the Fish. Once you’ve placed your fish in the skillet, avoid the temptation to move it around. Let it cook undisturbed until it’s time to flip it over.
- Relax. Even if the cod does break into pieces, it will still taste fantastic!
Best Seasoning Ideas for Cod
Personally, I think the best seasoning for cod is simple: salt, pepper, lemon, butter, and herbs. It’s timeless and how I’ve chosen to write the recipe.
That said, cod is versatile and can stand up to an array of different flavors and seasonings. Here are a few different ways to season cod to keep your dinners feeling exciting.
- Lemon Garlic Butter Cod. Add 2 cloves minced garlic to the pan with the butter.
- Spicy Cod. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes with the herbs to give it a kick.
- Cajun Cod. Omit the salt and pepper. Season the fish with 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of Cajun-style seasoning instead (the more seasoning you use, the saltier and spicier the fish will be. Taste and adjust as desired).
What to Serve with Pan Fried Cod
- Pasta. This Zucchini Pasta or Pasta al Limone would pair nicely with the cod.
- Rice. Serve your cod over a bed of Lemon Rice for a tasty meal.
- Salad. Enjoy a hearty side of Antipasto Salad with this dish. Arugula Salad would also be delicious.
This recipe is best enjoyed the day it is made. I suggest scaling the recipe to the number of fillets you will eat that day to avoid having leftovers.
That said, if you do end up with leftovers, here are a few tips for storing and repurposing them:
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover cod in an airtight storage container for up to 1 day.
- To Reheat. Very gently reheat the cod in a skillet over medium-low heat, until just warmed through.
- For leftovers, you could play around with swapping the cooked cod for the salmon in this Salmon Patty Recipe.
More Healthy Fish Recipes
Recommended Tools to Make This Recipe
- Cast Iron Skillet. An investment piece that you will use daily.
- Citrus Juicer. The one specialty tool I can’t live without.
- Instant Read Thermometer. Perfect for ensuring that your fish is cooked through.
Pan Fried Cod
- 2 6-ounce cod fillets or halibut, bass, salmon, or a similar firm-bodied fish
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil. Do not use olive oil, as it will burn.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons chopped herbs of choice* parsley, basil, dill, and thyme are all delicious
- 1 small lemon cut into wedges
- Pat the cod fillets very dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil a 10-inch or similar cast-iron or heavy-bottom skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and shiny (but not yet smoking), gently lower the fish into the oil, moving away from your body with your motion in case the oil splatters. Lower the heat to medium.
- Let the fish cook undisturbed on the first side for 2 to 3 minutes, until the underside is nicely golden.
- Gently flip the cod over. A flexible, thin metal spatula (such as a fish spatula) works best. The cod might stick a bit at first, but work gently and firmly and you'll get it. Place the butter in the pan. With a spoon, spread the pat around the fish. Tilt the pan away from you so that the butter pools, then baste the fish with the butter a few times.
- Continue cooking on the other side until the fish is opaque, flakes easily with a fork, and reaches 145 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, about 2 additional minutes.
- Sprinkle with fresh herbs and squeeze the lemon over the top. Enjoy immediately, with an extra squeeze of lemon if desired.
- *If using a stronger herb (such as thyme or parsley), I suggest starting with 1 tablespoon, then adding additional to taste
- This recipe is best enjoyed the day it is made. For leftovers, you could play around with swapping the cooked cod for the salmon in this Salmon Patty Recipe.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate leftover cod in an airtight storage container for up to 1 day.
- TO REHEAT: Very gently reheat the cod in a skillet over medium-low heat, until just warmed through.
- Adapted from The New York Times.
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