How To Cook Fish on the Stovetop

updated Jan 29, 2024
How To Cook Fish on the Stovetop
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overhead shot of three pieces of white fish in a black frying pan.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

I would place “how to cook fish quickly” right up there with other essential cooking skills like boiling eggs and cooking a pot of rice. If you can cook a fish fillet, you can have a healthy, easy dinner on the table in 10 minutes. Or less! It’s such a simple and versatile weeknight meal. Here’s how to do it.

Quick Overview

How to Cook Fish in a Pan

Pat your piece of fish dry (this will result in crispier skin!) and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, then cook the fish for 2 to 3 minutes (don’t move it!). Flip and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more.

Which Kind of Fish Is Best for Stovetop Cooking?

For quick stovetop cooking, go for a white fish fillet. For today’s tutorial, we used tilapia, but any lean white fish can be cooked with this stovetop technique:

  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Bass
  • Grouper
  • Haddock
  • Catfish
  • Snapper

If you’re in doubt, just tell the fish seller how you’re planning to cook the fish and ask them which fish they recommend.

Want to cook salmon? The process is similar, but it takes a little longer to cook through. Follow our step-by-step guide for pan-seared salmon.

How Much Fish Per Person?

One 6- to 8-ounce fillet per person is plenty. You can cook as many fillets at a single time as will fit in your pan without crowding.

What Kind of Pan Should I Use?

I often turn to a non-stick skillet when cooking fish in a pan. It makes this already-easy cooking process even easier, and I don’t get as worried about the fish sticking to the pan and tearing.

However, the advantage of a cast-iron skillet or stainless steel skillet is that the fish tends to get a little more golden and crispy, which I love. If you use one of these skillets, use a dab more oil then you might otherwise to help keep the fish from sticking.

All this said, just use the pan you have and feel most comfortable with. This fish is meant to be an easy weeknight meal, not something fancy, so it doesn’t need to look perfect! Don’t stress too much if the fish flakes apart as you flip it with your fish spatula (or if you leave little bits behind) — think of these bits as fish cracklin’s.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

More Ideas for Fish on the Stovetop

Once you’ve mastered this basic technique, it’s yours to play with! You can brush the fillets with a glaze, coat them in crispy bread crumbs, or serve them with a simple lemon butter sauce. Here are some other ideas for zhuzhing up this basic fish recipe:

Do you often cook fish on the stovetop? What’s your favorite way to cook it?

How To Cook Fish on the Stovetop

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    6- to 8-ounce white fish fillet per person, such as tilapia (pictured), cod, bass, grouper, haddock, catfish or snapper

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil or butter

  • To serve: lemon wedges, minced herbs, capers, etc.


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  1. Use a paper towel to pat the fish dry on both sides.

  2. Sprinkle the top of the fish generously with salt and pepper.

  3. Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.

  4. Lay the fish, seasoned-side down, in the pan.

  5. Cook the fish for 2 to 3 minutes without moving it. When ready to flip, the underside should look golden and crispy. It should also release fairly easily from the pan using a fish spatula. (Not a problem in an non-stick skillet!)

  6. While the first side cooks, season the other side with salt and pepper.

  7. Flip the fish to the second side and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. When ready, the fish will be opaque all the way through and flake apart easily.

  8. Serve the fish while still hot from the pan with any finishing garnishes. White fish can often be very flaky after cooking; don't worry if it flakes apart a bit as you serve it.