Deliciously easy pan-fried fish in basil lemon butter sauce. You can use pretty much any kind of white fish you like. These are all the things you love about summer on one plate!

stainless steel skillet with pan-fried fish topped with lemon butter

Pan fried fish like a boss, and that too in basil lemon butter sauce.

Okay. Can I be honest here? Never in my entire life did I think I’d get to the point in my cooking career where I’d pan fry fish like a boss babe. It took a good 4 years for me to gather the courage to pan-fry salmon and once I did, I’ve realized how simple and delicious it is to shallow fry something in just a few glugs of oil.

Don’t worry if you’ve never pan-fried anything before. I’m going to tell you exactly how to do it and by the end of this, you’re going to have a fancy summer dish like pan-fried cod in basil lemon butter sauce to show off to a significant other or close family and friends!

spoon pouring lemon butter on pan fried fish filet

What do you need to make pan fried fish?

  • Cod: Cod is usually sold by the loin at the fish counter. I do suggest using fresh cod for this recipe. I’ve never had much luck with frozen cod, unfortunately. It always seems to be waterlogged!
  • Seasonings: I’m using salt for the fish and garlic salt to help flavor the flour.
  • Flour: Just a third cup is all you need to dust the fillets with flour.
  • Olive oil: is used for frying the fish filets.
pan fried fish in nonstick skillet

Make pan fried fish like a pro – perfect every time!

  1. Pat the fish dry. This will allow the fish to develop a crisp surface. If the fish is wet, the water will steam between the fish and the flour coating when it hits the pan, leaving the crust soggy!
  2. Shake off the excess flour. Too much flour can cause the crust to get heavy and fall off. You want to dust off the excess and fry the fish with just what’s adhered to the surface.
  3. Start by using a heavy-duty nonstick saute pan or skillet. Some people like to use a stainless steel pan, but I find it’s a lot harder to do this if this is your first-time pan-frying fish. This is the saute pan I use.
  4. Let the oil heat up, don’t rush. Make sure you allow the pan to heat through for at least 5 minutes before adding oil. Once you add the oil, give it another minute or so before adding the fish. This ensures that you get a perfect crisp crust on the fish.
  5. Don’t flip it until it’s good and ready. Once you add the fish to the pan, don’t touch it and don’t move it. Check the sides to see how far up the filet the fish is opaque. Only once it reaches at least halfway up should you even think about flipping it. Some people like to let the fish cook longer on the first side to give it more color and a little less on the second side. This is how I usually prefer it. I start with the serving side down first and let them get nice and crisp. However, for first-time fish-fryers, feel free to flip when the fish is opaque halfway through.
prepared fish with spoon in skillet

What do you need for the pan fried fish in lemon basil butter sauce?

  • Minced garlic: helps flavor the sauce
  • Red pepper flakes: adds a gentle kick, feel free to omit it to keep things mild
  • Chicken stock: I suggest using low sodium for this recipe.
  • Lemon juice: Fresh squeezed works best here so you get the full natural brightness of the lemon.
  • Cold cubed butter: cut each tablespoon of butter into 4 small cubes. This is so we don’t incorporate too much butter into the sauce at once. 
  • Chopped basil: Chopped basil helps flavor the fish. You could also make this with tarragon or other herbs!
spoon pouring sauce over fish filet in skillet

How to make lemon basil butter sauce for pan fried fish:

The lemon basil butter sauce is similar to the lemon butter sauce I’ve made for the stuffed salmon recipe. If you’ve made that before this will be a breeze for you!

  1. Once the cod has been pan-fried, remove it to a plate. There should only be about a tablespoon of oil in the pan, if there’s more, remove the excess. Sauté the garlic in the skillet for 15 seconds. Season with the red pepper flakes.
  2. Pour in the chicken stock and the lemon juice. Kick the heat up to the highest setting and allow the stock to come to a boil, once boiling, let the sauce reduce for two minutes.
  3. Add in two small cubes of butter at a time and swirl the pan or stir the sauce to help the butter melt slowly. Place the skillet back on the heat for a few seconds until the butter completely melts. Then, add a couple more cubes of butter. Continue this process until you’ve used up all the butter and the sauce has thickened. Take your time here, you don’t want to rush this step.
  4. Finish the sauce with the chopped basil. Once the basil is combined. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if needed. Place the prepared fish on plates and spoon the sauce over them. I like to serve this with rice on the side and roasted veggies!
plate with prepared mushroom risotto and crumbled fried fish

FAQ’s about pan fried fish:

  • What other fish besides cod can I use? You can use tilapia, rockfish, Dover sole, or any other white fish for this recipe that you like.
  • Why do you season the fish and the flour? Seasoning the fish allows for the salt to penetrate into the filet. But we also need to season the flour so it doesn’t taste raw. The garlic salt helps give the flour coating a little oomph!
  • How can you tell the fish is ready to flip? I check the side of the fish while it’s frying on the first side to see how far it’s become opaque. Once it’s opaque about halfway through, I flip the fish and let it finish cooking on the other side.
  • Why do you suggest using cold cubed butter for this recipe? Using small cubes of cold butter allows us to control how slowly we incorporate it into the sauce. The point is to have a warm sauce where the butter slowly melts and thickens it.
  • Does this recipe make enough sauce to serve with rice or vegetables? Yes! Over the years, it’s become obvious that you guys love sauce and much as I do! So this recipe makes enough sauce to serve over the pan-fried fish and to drizzle on steamed/roasted vegetables or rice!

If you like this recipe, you might also like:

basil lemon butter fried fish filet on plate flaked
Yield: serves 4-5

Perfect Pan Fried Fish in Basil Lemon Butter Sauce

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes

Deliciously easy pan-fried fish in basil lemon butter sauce. You can use pretty much any kind of white fish you like. These are all the things you love about summer on one plate!

Perfect Pan Fried Fish in Basil Lemon Butter Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds cod, tilapia, rockfish, or any other white fish you like
  • ¾ teaspoon garlic salt (or ½ teaspoon salt + ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ⅓ cup flour
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into 16 cubes
  • 3 tablespoons EACH: fresh lemon juice AND fresh chopped basil, for finishing the sauce

Instructions

    1. SEASON: To get the best crisp on the fish, pat both sides of the fish with paper towels until dry. Season the fish with a small pinch of salt, making sure to flip and salt both sides. Place the flour in a shallow dish and season with garlic salt. Whisk to combine. Dredge the fish in the flour, making sure to coat both sides. Make sure to shake off excess flour.
    2. FRY: Add the olive oil to the pan and allow for it to heat through. When hot, fry the fish for 3-4 minutes flipping halfway. Depending on the thickness, you might need to cook the fish for longer until it’s cooked through. Remove the fish to a plate and set aside.
    3. SAUCE: There should only be about a tablespoon of oil remaining. If there is more, drain all but a tablespoon from the pan. Add the garlic into the skillet and fry in the oil for just 15 seconds. Add in a pinch of red pepper flakes, chicken stock, and lemon. Kick the heat to the highest setting, allow the sauce to reach simmer then reduce the sauce for 2 minutes. Lower the heat to the lowest setting, then add in two small cubes of butter and allow it to melt into the sauce slowly while you stir or swirl the pan with the handle. Continue adding two small cubes of butter at a time until all the butter is used up. Take your time here, don’t rush this. Add in chopped basil and stir to combine. Plate the fish with cooked rice or roasted vegetables and top with basil lemon butter sauce!

Have you made this recipe?

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