Fish fillets, such as European sea bass (also known by the Italian name branzino or the French name loup de mer) or sea bream (also known by the Italian orata or the French daurade) are great when cooked on the skin. If done right, the skin will be crispy while the flesh is tender and juicy. The best way to achieve this is by using sous-vide followed by pan searing. It is so good that this is one of my signature dishes. But there are still people out there who do not have sous-vide equipment (yes, really). And so it is good to know it is possible to get acceptable results using an oven instead. Here is how.
Apart from the fish fillets, you will need good quality extra virgin olive oil, clarified butter, salt and freshly ground white pepper, and flour for dusting. I have found that clarified butter works better to crisp up the skin than olive oil, but if you don’t have clarified butter (which you can easily make yourself by the way) it is better to substitute with olive oil (or other vegetable oil) than with butter, as regular butter will burn over high heat.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Make sure all the scales are removed from the skin. Dry the skin side of the fish with paper towels. Season the flesh side with salt and freshly ground white pepper, and rub lightly with good quality extra virgin olive oil.
Season the skin side with salt and dust with flour (shaking off excess).
Heat a generous amount of clarified butter in a frying pan over high heat, then add the fish fillets.
Press them down with a spatula if they curl up. You could also make some incisions in the skin to prevent this from happening.
Cook over high heat until the skin is browned and crispy; you will also see that the edges of the fish are already cooked through.
Put the fish in an oven dish with the skin side up. The olive oil on the flesh side will prevent that they will stick.
Put in the oven at 180C/350F for 5 minutes. This is the tricky part. As the fish fillet is so thin, it is hardly possible to use a thermometer with a probe. Depending on the thickness of the fish and your oven, it may be a bit longer or shorter to get it just right. If you use this method with thicker pieces of fish with skin (like cod or salmon), I would strongly advise to use a thermometer with a probe and cook the fish in the oven to a core temperature of 45C/113F (as the residual heat will continue to cook it) to get it just right.
Serve at once with a lemon wedge, skin side up so it doesn’t lose its crispness.
Thai fish mousse (Hor Mok Pla) is quite similar to Thai fish cakes in terms of flavors, as it is fish with Thai red curry paste. But the texture is quite different, as it is steamed rather than deep fried, and rather than crunchy beans it is mixed with herbs and served with steamed cabbage. The coconut cream on top provides a nice contrast with the spicy fish mousse. It is absolutely delicious and relatively simple to prepare.