I’m 5 years old and can barely see over the countertop. I grab a stack of newspaper from the recycle bin and hand it to my dad who begins to layer it piece by piece on the counter. He reaches into the 5 gallon bucket on the floor by his feet and pulls out a barely legal bluegill. He lays the panfish on the paper and I watch as he methodically places the filet knife right against the gills then slices along the side of the fish to detach the thin flank. He flips the filet over and runs the knife along the side again to remove the paper thin skin. This practice is continued on the other side. He repeats this process for the rest of the small catch in the bucket. It will be another couple years before I get to try this out for myself, but I spent hours in the kitchen learning the proper method to filet our small panfish.
Years later I watch my husband perform this same task on much larger salmon, trout, and walleye. Once in a while he’ll ask me if I want to give it a go, but my knife skills aren’t quite up to par with his. And I really like to watch him work. He found his calling when he was nineteen and although he has a love/hate relationship with being a charter captain, it’s rewarding to see someone making a living doing something they’re passionate about.
Whenever he takes me on a fishing excursion, I earn a new appreciation for his job. Like this past weekend when we wanted to catch some walleye to restock the fridge. I thought he was joking when he said we’d go out at 5:30 in the morning, but at 5:15 the alarm went off in the dark cabin of the boat. Jay sprang up, got dressed, and started getting rods ready while I laid under the covers trying to keep my eyes open. It wasn’t until the motors started running and the boat pulled away from the dock that I jumped out of bed, threw on a ball cap and joined my husband on deck.
We spent the crisp morning cruising through Lake Erie’s green waters while the sun rose changing the sky from brilliant shades of crimson to a crystal clear blue. After a slow start, Jay guided us through a patch of water that provided non stop fishing action. At one point, all our rods we were running were out of the water as we hastily tried to bring in each fish and sort between the walleye we were keeping and the sheepshead and silver bass that would get tossed back. In no time we had our limit and headed back to shore just in time for breakfast.
I have been pan frying fish with my family for as long as I can remember. From small bluegill and perch to crappie, pike, and steelhead. We’ve experimented with all kinds of fry mix, too. Seasoned flour, crushed tortilla chips and even pancake batter have all crusted our fried delicacies. But my new favorite way to pan fry my fish is sans fry mix of any kind. Instead, I simply season my fish with salt and pepper and let the hot oil in the pan to the crisping for me.
When pan frying your fish, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your fish stays crisp on the outside and perfectly flakey on the inside. This method is great for any kind of white fish with a delicate texture, not just walleye. I’ve collected some of my favorite tips below.
Tips for Pan Frying White Fish
- Medium high heat is ideal for when you place your fish in the pan. Some recipes might say crank it as hot as it will go, but I find with medium high heat you still develop that crispy outside.
- Use an oil with a high smoke point. This includes (but is not limited to) avocado oil, grape seed oil, and canola oil. Olive oil is not recommended since the smoke point is low and when heated to high temperatures it can give the fish an acrid flavor.
- Give the oil a few minutes to heat up before adding the fish.
- Season your fish on both sides before placing it in the pan. This will help you create that beautiful exterior and keep the fish flakey on the inside.
- Resist the urge to move it once it hits the pan. You may think it’s burning, but unless you’ve left the fish in the hot pan for 5 minutes or more, you’ll be looking at a nice golden crust when you flip it.
With my walleye, I’m serving farro with asparagus and blistered tomatoes. The farro cooks with a little bit of rosemary for a nice woodsy flavor. I pop the asparagus and tomatoes under my broiler and top them with fresh basil as soon as I pull them out of the oven.
Pan frying walleye is a great alternative to deep frying. And this method can be applied to any kind of white fish. Try it out and tell me about it in the comments below!
Pan Fried Walleye over Farro with Asparagus and Blistered Tomatoes
- 1 Cup Farro
- 1 Tsp Dried Rosemary
- 1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
- 12-16 Asparagus Stalks
- 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- Chopped Basil
- 4 4 oz. Walleye Filets
- 2 Tbsp Canola, Grape Seed, or Avocado Oil (Any light oil with a high smoke point)
Start by adding the farro to a pot and covering with 3 cups of water. Add the rosemary and cook according to the the packaged directions. Drain and set aside.
Turn the broiler on and place the asparagus and tomatoes on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place under the broiler for about 8 minutes until the tomato skins begin to crack and the asparagus turns bright green. Remove and set aside.
Heat a large pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and allow the oil to warm up for a minute. Season your fish on both sides with salt. Place 2 filets in the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Let the fish cook for 2-4 minutes before flipping. Allow the other side of the fish to cook for 2-4 minutes then remove the fish and place the filets on a paper plate lined with paper towel to absorb the oil. Turn the heat back up to medium high and add more oil, if necessary, and repeat the same steps for the last 2 filets.
Serve the warm fish over the farro, asparagus, and blistered tomatoes and enjoy!