That Fish in the Fridge

My German friend, Pirco, called me one evening.

“Sean,” he said, “I have a piece of fish. What do I do with it?”

I needed more information. What kind of fish, for example, was it?

“I don’t know. It’s sort of white.”

“Is it a fillet or a steak?” I asked.

“It’s a rectangle.”

I gave Pirco my advice on what to do with his rectangle. The video above and recipe below show you what to do with your own rectangle of fish. But first, a few words on fish in general.

Fish is one of the easiest foods to cook beautifully. It is also one of the easiest to screw up. I was giving a cooking class recently on fish, and my students were stuck in the salmon rut, and at a loss as to what to do other than throw their fillet on the grill. (i.e. “Do we marinate it in soy sauce?”) If you’ve got very fresh fish, you’ll want to do very little to it. If you’ve got not so fresh fish, you’ll want to sauce it into oblivion. In general, heat is your friend. With a few exceptions, you’ll want to cook your fish at very high heat very quickly — in a hot pan, in a hot oven, or on a hot grill. And you might experiment with some different types of fish. Branzino, black cod, halibut, Atlantic cod and John Dory are some of my favorites. Talk to the fish guy, tell him what you like.

And now, here’s your recipe:

Serves two.

Sauteed Whitefish

2 half pound fillets of whitefish (red snapper, halibut, black cod, mahi mahi, etc.)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter (not Country Crock or I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter)
juice of one lemon (or 1/4 cup white wine)

Dust each fillet with flour to cover. Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large pan. Fry the fish for about 3 minutes, until it begins to brown, and then flip. Add more olive oil if the pan seems dry. Cook for an additional 3 minutes on second side. (If fish is very thick, give it an extra minute on each side.) Remove fish from pan to a plate and keep warm in a pre-heated 200 degree oven.

Deglaze the pan — add juice of one lemon (or 1/4 cup of white wine) to pan and immediately remove pan from heat. Using a spatula, scrape up any bits of flour sticking to the pan into the sauce. Add your two tbsp of butter and stir constantly, until your pan juices and butter have emulsified into a velvety sauce. Plate fish, and drizzle sauce over the top.

(In the video above, I have sauteed some chopped swiss chard in olive oil and sea salt. I steamed arborio rice and when it was cooked, tossed in a tbsp of butter, 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley and 1/4 cup grated parmesan reggiano. To plate, I placed some chard at the bottom of the plate, topped with the rice in a food mold [you could simply scoop some rice on top artfully], topped that with the fish, then drizzled the sauce around, and added some balsamic reduction for flair. Please note: I accidentally said “salmon” in the video, but the fish I was preparing was actually halibut. If I was a Food Network superstar, I’d re-edit that segment.)

Wine suggestion: A light, French-style chardonnay (not one of those clumsy over-oaked Napa monsters)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andrea Thompson
    Sep 16, 2010 @ 22:52:42

    I LOVED that video! I did hear you say salmon, but I knew it wasn’t salmon. I have to find some of that balsamic glaze….


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