Pan-Roasted Fish with Green Olive, Almond, and Orange Relish

Pan-roasted fish fillets is a quick & easy way to prepare fish. Unfortunately this dish can easily turn ugly when you overcook the interior and over-brown the exterior. A nice piece of pan-roasted fish should ideally be moist with a thin light brown crust. Some cooks use a light dust of flour to create a crust but this can become pasty or taste too much like a poorly fried piece of fish. Another way to create the crust is using sugar – a very light dusting of sugar will help form a very thin caramel brown crust. When sugar breaks down to glucose & fructose under the heat,  it doesn’t require as much heat to caramelize as a normal 300 degree sear. This not only helps to form that beautiful crust, but also keeps the fish interior moist.

I have to admit, I’m not a pro at this and still working on the technique. It seems easy enough but I’ve had problems – it may be the type of skillet I use or my heating is off, but my crust doesn’t develop as thickly and dark as I’d like.  Although I haven’t mastered the crust, this is pretty much a foolproof method for a moist roasted fillet. I’ve prepared with a green olive relish; the tangy richness of the olives mixes nicely with the sweet orange and almond. Give it a try and if you have any suggestions for the sugar crust please share!


You will need an oven-safe skillet, preferably non-stick. Try to buy fillets that are of similar thickness. For a healthy plate, serve with a leafy green salad and steamed green beans. Make a simple salad dressing by whisking 2 parts olive oil, 1 part lemon juice, and S/P. Drizzle the steamed beans with a hint of olive or walnut oil and a dash of salt. Wine suggestion: a light Sauvignon Blanc.


  • 4 skinless white fish fillets (6 -8 ounces ideally, halibut, cod, red snapper work great)
  • S/P
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar (in a small dish)
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup green olives, rinsed and drained
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Orange zest, about 1 tsp. or more to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp. white wine vinegar


  1. Prepare your relish by pulsing the almonds, olives, garlic, and orange zest in a processor until finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the OJ, olive oil, and vinegar. Season with salt to taste. Store in the fridge while you cook the fish.
  2. Adjust your oven rack to middle and heat to 425 degrees. Dry the fish and season with S/P.  Sprinkle 1/8 tsp. sugar evenly over 1 side of each fillet. Heat oil in a skillet over high heat until smoking.
  3. Place the fillets in the skillet, sugar side down, and press down lightly to ensure even contact with the pan. Cook until browned, about 1 minute. Carefully flip the fillets and transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast the fillets until the center is just opaque (135 degrees), about 7 to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets.
  4. Remove from heat immediately and spoon relish over fish to serve.

Serves: 4

Recipe source: Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Time: 3o minutes


3 thoughts on “Pan-Roasted Fish with Green Olive, Almond, and Orange Relish

  1. Lisa February 5, 2013 / 5:14 PM

    I know this is a REALLY old entry, but in searching for this recipe without buy an CI membership, I just noticed that part of the problem you’re having with this dish is that you’re using a non-stick skillet. You’re never going to get the kind of browning you’re looking for in one of those things. Try a heavy bottom stainless steel skillet. Better yet, use good old fashioned iron. They’re the best. They may not be pretty, but you can’t beat an iron skillet for great browning.

    Thanks for the recipe!

    • thequickanddirtycook February 6, 2013 / 7:24 PM

      Thanks for the tip – I do love my cast-iron skillet, but I have to admit I’m more prone to grab the non-stick. Next fish recipe will definitely be with my cast-iron!

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