Simple Pan-Fried Fish Fillets with Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce

If you are careful,’ Garp wrote, ‘if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day; what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.

John Irving

Hey, Lovelies!

Fresh fish, pan fried, with a side of something green and a pile of soft fluffy mashed potatoes is about as comfort food as I can think of, and this is the easiest recipe. I’ve used it with all kinds of fish, and it is pretty much foolproof. My grandmother taught me this recipe when I was at school. The trick is to have all of your ingredients ready before you cook the fish. (So have your potatoes ready to mash!)

The lemon garlic sauce is easy too – buttery and flavoursome and yum AND you just chuck all the ingredients in the pan once the fish is done – it really can’t be much easier than that.

The fish I used in these pics was fresh local and sustainable line-caught Mahi Mahi. Delicious!

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do.

Love, and encouragement for all of you wary fish-fryers, Nicole xx

PS – You can do it!


Fresh fish fillets, skin off (If you are using skin on, eg salmon fillets, cook skin side down first for a nice crispy finish)

olive oil, salt and pepper

To make enough sauce for around 2 to four serves:

  • around 100g of salted butter chopped into pieces (feel free to have a little extra on hand to chuck in if you feel it needs it!)
  • 1 tablespoon of parsley, roughly chopped (I often use 2 because I am nuts about parsley)
  • juice of one lemon – 2 to 3 tablespoons
  • 2 to four garlic cloves (decide based on how much you love garlic), minced or finely diced (mine was actually pretty roughly chopped)
  • Optional – a slurp of white wine
  • Note – my grandmother would sometimes add a pinch of sugar if the lemon was bitter


Pat dry the fillets with some paper towel and then season them on both sides with salt and pepper.

Chop up your butter, parsley and garlic. Have your wine ready, if you will be using it.

Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a tablespoon or two of olive oil until the pan is just starting to smoke.

Place your fillets in the pan, being careful not to crowd them. If the fillet has skin do it skin side down first. (If you’re frying up a mass of fillets do it in a couple of goes.)

Cook for two to five minutes, or until the sides are cooked about halfway up the fillets. Don’t move the fish while it is getting that nice sear on it. Seriously, don’t play with it. Leave it alone!

When it is cooked halfway up the fillet flip it over. Watch this carefully as smaller or thinner pieces will cook more quickly than thicker ones. Leave it for slightly less time for the second cook. So if you cooked it 4 minutes on the first side cook it 2 to 3 minutes tops on the second side.

Remove the fillets to a serving plate and then turn down the heat in the pan to low to medium heat.

Add the lemon juice and garlic to the pan, and use a wooden spoon to scrape off any tasty browned bits that were left in the pan. If you’re using wine add a slurp now too. Cook out the garlic for a minute or so.

Now add the butter and parsley and stir well until butter is melted and sauce thickens slightly. Chuck in a bit more butter if you think it needs it. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You might need that pinch of sugar, or another grind of pepper. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

Hi! I'm Nicole Cody. I am a writer, psychic, metaphysical teacher and organic farmer. I love to read, cook, walk on the beach, dance in the rain and grow things. Sometimes, to entertain my cows, I dance in my gumboots. Gumboot dancing is very under-rated.
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