How to Perfectly Sear a Fish Fillet — Chopped Junior

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Fried fish flillets with vegetable garnish on white

The appetizer mystery basket on the week’s episode of Chopped Junior was truly challenging. What were our young contestants supposed to make with arctic char, cotton candy, dandelion greens and tiny ice cream bites? But, as always, our pint-sized chefs were super-clever.

To balance the sweetness of the cotton candy and ice cream with the bitterness of the dandelion greens, almost all of them made a sweet-and-sour dressing or sauce to toss the greens in. But what did remain a challenge was cooking the arctic char — a fish that looks like salmon but is actually related to trout. It has a milder and cleaner flavor and is more delicate than salmon but is still high in heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

We saw most of our contestants’ fish fillets fall apart right in the pan, with soggy skin. Because arctic char is expensive, you definitely want to cook it properly.

The Drier the Fish, the Better: Let your fish fillets sit in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes before you plan to cook them, so they dry out. And take the extra step to blot any remaining moisture away with a paper towel. Then go ahead and season.

Skin-Side Down, Always: Once your oil is hot, add the fillets to the pan, skin-side down, then go ahead and use a metal spatula to press each fillet down for several seconds. This ensures that every inch of the skin is flat against the hot pan, making for an even and crispy skin.

Cook from the Bottom Up: Now watch the flesh of your fillets begin to turn from deep pink to a lighter opaque pink. This change in color will slowly creep up the sides and center of the fillets. Once there is barely any deep pink remaining on the very top, go ahead and flip them over, then cook for just about 30 seconds more to finish.

You can practice with this recipe: Spiced Char with Moroccan Carrots.

Tune in Tuesday at 8|7c to see which Chopped Junior contestant wins it all.