When we were in Madrid last May, Esperanza, my mother-in-law, prepared pan-fried sea bass with garlic, lubina a la plancha con ajitos, for us and it was out of this world. It was also extremely simple to make. All she did was sauté some sliced garlic in a little olive oil, pan fry the sea bass fillets in the same oil, and sprinkle the crisped garlic slices on top.
Of course the secret to success with this dish is starting with an absolutely fresh fish. In Madrid, which has the largest seafood markets in the world outside of Tokyo, finding really fresh sea bass--or just about any other kind of fish--is easy. See my post "Scenes from Spanish Fish Markets" for more information.
That said, you can prepare nearly any quality fresh fish in this way, or even previously frozen fish, if it has been frozen correctly. Try it with the best fish you can find. I've done it with local mahi-mahi and flounder. Even farm-raised rainbow trout would work well.
Here's how to do it.
fresh sliced garlic
You can also use a little flour for dusting the fillets, if you like. This keeps the oil from splattering quite so much.
Sprinkle the fish fillets on both sides with salt. Dust the fish with flour if you like.
In a heavy skillet, fry the garlic slices in the olive oil until just golden. Remove the garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon and reserve.
Pan-fry the fish fillets. Follow the "10 minutes rule": for every inch of thickness, cook the fish ten minutes. For example, if your fillets are an inch thick, cook them five minutes per side, for a total of ten minutes. If your fillets are half an inch thick, cook them two and a half minutes per side, for a total of five minutes. And so on.
That said, I think a rich fish like trout benefits from an extra minute or two per side.
When the fish is done, remove it from the pan, sprinkle it with the fried garlic slices, and serve.
Esperanza paired this dish with a nice white ribeiro from Galicia.