Whenever you sear meat or fish, always begin with the “presentation side,” the side that will face up when plated. Although it doesn’t make a huge flavor difference, the side that gets browned first usually ends up looking the best. As protein cooks, it stiffens, shrinks, and even changes its shape a bit. The first side to hit the pan is still completely raw and malleable, so much of its surface area will touch the pan directly. Flip it over, though, and the partially cooked second side won’t lie on the pan as evenly, plus it’ll develop a spotty look due to the brown bits left in the pan from searing the first side.
So how do you know which side should be up? Sometimes the presentation side is obvious: For chicken, it’s the side that has or had skin on it. For a fish fillet, it’s the side that was closest to the bone (bottom fillet, right), which is more evenly colored than the skin side. On other proteins, like pork chops or steaks, the presentation side is not as obvious. In that case, just start with whichever side is most attractive.