This easy pan-fried cod with lemon butter sauce is a quick and easy dinner recipe that feels very indulgent. This seared fish recipe packs a punch in the flavor department while only taking 10 minutes to make! It's perfect for both beginners and confident home cooks alike, and rich lemon butter sauce is an absolute winner!
If you're looking for more fish recipes then you definitely need to try these salmon fillets and this maple glazed salmon or these incredible tuna noodle bowls. And this oven-baked Greek salmon is a favorite!
⭐️ Why You'll Love Cooking Pan-Fried Cod
- Quick to Cook: Ready in just 10 minutes.
- Rich Flavor Profile: Enhanced by a delicious lemon butter sauce.
- Beginner-Friendly: Simple yet rewarding, perfect for building kitchen confidence.
- Nutrition-Packed: Cod is a high-protein fish rich in essential vitamins and minerals.
🧾 Key Ingredients
- Cod Fillets: The star of the show; mild and firm-bodied white fish. *You can use fresh or frozen cod fillets. If using frozen, be sure to thaw them first. Previously frozen fish is never quite as firm as fresh, but it will sear and turn golden exactly the same way.
- Olive Oil: For frying and flavor.
- Butter: Adds richness to the dish. *Salted or unsalted can be used. Just adjust your seasoning depending on which one you prefer to use.
- Lemon Juice: For a zesty kick.
- Salt & Pepper: Basic seasonings that make all the difference.
- Fresh Herbs: For added aroma and flavor. *I've used parsely, but tarragon, basil or dill are all great choices, too. Stay away from woody textured herbs like rosemary. The delicate texture of the fish pairs much better with soft herbs.
See recipe card for quantities.
💡 Ingredient Top Tip:
Room Temperature Fish for the Best Results
Let Fish Come to Room Temperature: This is crucial for even cooking. Allow the fillets to sit out for about 30 minutes before you start cooking.
📖 Substitutions & Variations
- Smoked Paprika: For a smoky twist.
- Garlic Powder and Onion Powder: For added depth.
- Cajun Cod: Swap out the herbs for a Cajun spice blend.
White Fish Substitutes for Cod
- Halibut: This fish is firmer and denser but has a similar mild flavor, making it a good alternative, especially for grilling or broiling recipes.
- Tilapia: A widely available and budget-friendly option, tilapia has a somewhat lighter texture but adapts well to a variety of cooking methods.
- Mahi Mahi: Its firm texture and mild, sweet flavor make it a good substitute.
- Sea Bass: A tender and flaky fish that works well as a substitute but can be more expensive.
👩🏻🍳 Pan Fried Cod In 4 Easy Steps
- Pat Dry the Fillets: Remove excess water to ensure proper frying.
- Pro Tip: Use paper towels for best results.
- Season the Fish: Generously sprinkle salt, pepper, and herbs.
- Visual Cue: The seasoning should evenly coat the fillet.
- Preheat the Skillet: Ensure it's hot before adding oil. *Use a cast-iron or non-stick skillet. A seasoned cast-iron skillet is naturally non-stick.
- Pro Tip: A cast-iron skillet retains heat best.
- Fry the Cod: Place seasoned fillets in the skillet and cook for 2 minutes on each side. *The timing also depends on the thickness of your cod fillet. You may need more cooking time for thick fillets.
- Visual Cue: Fish starts to flake when it's done.
- Pro Tip: Do not move the fish while it's frying except to turn it over to the other side when ready.
🐟 Cooking Cod Top Tips
Knowing when your cod is cooked just right can make all the difference in your dinner. Here are some indicators to look for:
- Visual Cues:
- Opaque and Flaky: The fish should change from a translucent to an opaque (white) color. It should easily flake when you gently press down with a fork.
- Golden Edges: The edges of the cod should be golden brown, indicating a well-seared exterior.
- Firm to the Touch: Gently poke your fish with a finger; it should spring back slightly. If it feels mushy, it might need more time.
- Instant-Read Thermometer: If you prefer to be exact, the internal temperature should reach 145°F (63°C).
- Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to one day.
- Not recommended due to texture changes.
- Gentle reheating is advised to maintain texture and flavor.
💡 Top Tips
- Use a Large Skillet: To avoid crowding the pan.
- High-Quality Oil: Choose an oil with a high smoke point like olive or canola.
- Thawing frozen cod: If using frozen cod, be sure to let it thaw for a few hours in the fridge. Be sure to dry it well to absorb any excess moisture.
What's the best kind of pan to use for frying cod?
I like either a cast-iron skillet or a non-stick-coated pan. The cast-iron skillet must be seasoned properly for it to be non-stick. Most cast-iron is sold pre-seasoned but it's best to double-check.
- Cast-iron skillet pros and cons:
- Pro- If you invest in a good quality pan it will last a lifetime.
- Pro- It conducts and retains heat exceptionally well.
- Con- They can be relatively expensive for a good quality one. This one is the best price I have found on Amazon.
- Con- They are heavy and can be a little bit awkward to lift.
- Non-Stick Cookware:
- Pro- They are exceptional at what they do so you can usually cook with less oil or butter. This one is an excellent choice!
- Pro- They're very easy to clean with just light soap and water. No scrubbing is required.
- Con- Less durable over time.
- Con- Definitely not oven-safe. So, They can't go from stove to oven to table; making them less convenient than cast iron.
Both oven-baked and pan-fried cod have their merits, and the best method largely depends on your personal preference. Oven-baking is often simpler and can be a healthier option as it requires less oil. However, pan-frying gives you a crispier texture and often a richer flavor, thanks to the caramelization that occurs in the pan.
The key to pan-frying cod without it falling apart is to handle it as little as possible during the cooking process. Make sure your pan is hot before adding the oil and then the fish. Allow the cod to cook undisturbed until it naturally releases from the pan, which means it's ready to flip. Use a wide, flat spatula to flip the fish carefully, avoiding any breakage.
If your fried cod turns out tough, it's likely overcooked. Overcooking cod will make its texture rubbery and unappetizing. To avoid this, keep an eye on the cooking time and look for visual cues like flaky texture and opaque color. Use an instant-read thermometer to confirm that the internal temperature has reached 145°F (63°C), but not much higher.
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Pan-fried Cod with Lemon-Herb Butter Sauce
For the Cod:
- 4 cod fillets, about 6 ounces each
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the Lemon-Herb Butter Sauce:
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, parsley, thyme, and/or dill
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preparing the Cod:
- Preheat the Pan: Place a non-stick (or cast-iron) skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.
- Season the Fish: While the pan is heating, pat the cod fillets dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
Cooking the Cod:
- Sear the Cod: Once the oil is hot but not smoking, carefully place the cod fillets in the pan. Cook for about 4-5 minutes per side, or until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Remove the fillets and set them aside on a warm plate.
Making the Lemon-Herb Butter Sauce:
- Prepare the Pan: Lower the heat to medium and remove any bits leftover from cooking the fish, if necessary.
- Melt the Butter: Add the butter to the pan and let it melt, swirling the pan occasionally.
- Add Lemon and Herbs: Once the butter is fully melted, add the lemon juice and fresh herbs to the pan. Stir to combine.
- Season: Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Combine: Spoon the lemon-herb butter sauce over the cooked cod fillets.
- Garnish and Serve: Optionally, garnish with additional fresh herbs or a lemon wedge. Serve immediately.
- Herb Choices: Feel free to mix and match herbs based on your preference or what you have on hand. Soft herbs work best
- Skillet Temperature: Make sure the skillet is hot but not smoking to get a nice golden sear on the cod without burning it. That golden sear will create a gorgeous crisp crust on the fish.
- Fish Testing: You can check if the fish is cooked by inserting a fork into the thickest part of the fillet; if it flakes easily, it's done.
- Sauce Consistency: If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can remove the cod fillets from the pan after cooking, then simmer the sauce to reduce it before spooning over the fish.