Properly pan-fried fish is a sheer delight. The crisp outer coating provides both flavor and a pleasant textural contrast, while protecting the delicate flesh inside. Japanese-style panko bread crumbs excel in this role, giving fish an unusually crisp and golden shell. The secret to pan frying fish in panko lies in coating the fillets evenly and cooking them at the correct heat to minimize oil absorption.
Preparing the Fillets
Arrange the work surface from left to right with two plates, the shallow bowl and the third plate. On the right, place a sheet pan lined with wax paper or plastic wrap.
Place the fish fillets on the first plate. Fill the second plate with the flour, the bowl with milk and the third plate with the panko crumbs.
Season the fillets lightly with salt and pepper. Put on the kitchen gloves. Dredge the first fillet in the flour, taking care to coat both sides thoroughly. Shake off any excess and dip the fillet into the milk. Finally, dredge the fillet in the panko crumbs, ensuring that both sides are thoroughly coated.
Place the coated fillet on the waiting sheet pan. Repeat for each remaining fillet, adding extra flour, milk or crumbs if necessary.
Refrigerate the coated fillets for at least 15 minutes, or up to two hours if preparing ahead of mealtime. This allows the coating time to "set" and adhere to the fillet.
Frying the Fish
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a clean baking sheet with brown paper and place it in the oven.
Pour about 1/4 inch of oil into the skillet and heat it to medium-hot. For light, grease-free results, the frying temperature of the oil should be in the range of 380 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place fillets into the skillet a few at a time, once the oil is hot and shimmering. Turn when the underside is golden and continue cooking for a few more minutes. For all but the thickest fillets, the fish will be cooked once the breading is golden.
Remove the fillets to the sheet pan in the warming oven. Allow time for the skillet to return to its previous temperature and repeat the frying process. Add a little more oil, if necessary. If there are too many fillets to make a single layer on your sheet pan, use a second pan rather than stacking the fillets.
Serve immediately, while fresh and hot, with your choice of side dishes. Fried fish is best straight out of the pan, but keeping the first fillets warm in the oven allows the cook to dine with the guests or the rest of the family.