The Flour Le Bernardin Uses For Perfectly Crisp Fish

Cooking seafood doesn't need to be mysterious or difficult, as Le Bernadin's Chef Eric Ripert told The Wall Street Journal. Satisfyingly delicious meals of fish can indeed be made at home, he promised. Whether marinated, fried, sliced thin, or drizzled with a French-inspired sauce, seafood can be served for dinner any day of the week. (Still, Ripert can also make fish dishes worthy of being served at an esteemed Michelin-approved restaurant.)

Crispy, golden-skinned fish can be cooked using only a few ingredients, notes Food52, and one of those ingredients is a bit of a surprise. Most diners would never know that flour helps chefs create beautifully golden coats of fish fillets. 

Even Ripert was pleasantly surprised when he learned the cooking technique in the early 1990s (per Food52). The first time Ripert used flour to sauté fish, he was shocked to find that flour made the cooking process much easier. 

An easy cooking solution

Le Bernadin chef Eric Ripert uses Wondra flour on everything from salmon and striped bass fillets to dishes of soft-shell crabs. Wondra, an instant flour that has been pre-cooked and dried, has a gritty cornmeal-like texture. With the addition of malted barley flour, Wondra flour turns golden and turns proteins into crisped perfection. Julia Child and Jacques Pepin also have used the ingredient to make smooth sauces, gravy, and crispy chicken.

First brought to market in 1963, Wondra flour was the answer for cooks striving to serve smooth sauces and clump-free gravies at home, per Gourmet Sleuth. Unlike other flour, Wondra is made through a unique process that results in a fine-grained powder that dissolves in water and other cooking liquids. 

"It's great for creating a light, crisp crust on proteins because it binds the surface liquids really well with an even coating that you can't achieve by using raw flour," Adrienne Cheatham, Le Bernardin's former executive sous chef, told BuzzFeed in 2019.

Gourmet fish served at home

To get the same crispy effect for fish made at home, first dry the fillets well, advises Food52. Then, dust them with salt, pepper, and the Wondra flour. As Le Bernadin chef Eric Ripert demonstrates in a Bon Appétit video, place the fish in a sizzling pan of vegetable oil and press down gently to avoid any oil splashes. After a golden exterior forms on the crust, flip the fillet.

The goal is to cook the outside of the fish to a crispy texture while maintaining a tender, flaky interior, Ripert explained to Bon Appétit. The pan needs to be very hot, and the fish only needs light seasoning to produce the coveted golden crust. Ue a metal skewer to pierce the flesh to determine whether the inside of the fish has been suitably cooked. The skewer should be hot to the touch when removed. 

Serve the fish with vegetables, as in this white wine sautéed mushrooms recipe, or drizzle it with your choice of sauce.