Cooking amazing fish can be easy and almost foolproof, provided you follow these simple guidelines:
- Use the freshest fish possible
- Season the fish with salt before cooking
- Throw in a little butter whenever possible
- Don’t overcook!
My friend Greg H. has pointed out to me (nagged, actually) that there aren’t many seafood recipes on my blog. I hate to admit it, but he’s right! Largely this is because I only like to cook fish I bought the same day, and that usually doesn’t work with my “stock up for the week” shopping trips. And let’s be honest – sometimes cooking fish can really stink up the house.
However, my family has begun to request fish for dinner on a regular basis – and they’ve also figured out a way to get really fresh fish:
After a few hours out on the Block Island Sound this summer, the gang returned to the dock with enough sea bass, fluke and bluefish to feed a crowd. Fortunately, the first mate took care of the fish prep, and we in fact had a large crowd to feed that night.
For the extended family dinner, I prepared “3 fish, 3 ways” – partly to experiment with different methods and ingredients, partly to appeal to different tastes, and partly to make sure everything could be cooked at one time in a tiny and ill-equipped rental house kitchen.
Keith’s sturdy bluefish was grilled in a foil packet (by Keith) and topped with herb butter “coins” after cooking – fancy-ish but super easy, since I had made the herb butter the day before. The fish got a nice smoky flavor from the grill, and the herb butter melted into a delicate sauce. (A light brush of olive oil, Dijon mustard and garlic added a flavor boost and helped keep the fish moist.) Other firm fish fillets could be cooked this way as well, and/or, the fish could be roasted in the oven instead. Keith thought this was the best fish of the night.
For Sophie’s sea bass, I opted for oven-roasting and a simple pecan crust (adhered with a thin spread of mayonnaise.) This turned out to be Sophie’s favorite preparation, and was tasty if you like pecans, but I thought it was a little dry. Maybe I overbaked it a few minutes, or maybe it just needed some butter! (See guidelines above.)
Leah’s fluke fillets went into the oven as well, topped with ginger scallion butter and a splash of white wine. Again, I had made the ginger scallion butter the day before, so the preparation was quick and simple. The resulting fish was very tender and lightly perfumed with ginger. Leah thought this was the best fish dish. (Have you noticed a trend??)
I’m just posting the grilled bluefish and herb butter recipes here today – I think they’re the most universal. Try making your own herb butter and experimenting with your favorite herbs. Store whatever you don’t use in the freezer for another quick dinner in the future.
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Zest from 1 lemon
- ¼ cup minced flat leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
- 1 scallion (green onion), finely chopped (optional)
- 1 tablespoon minced cilantro (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes or minced red chile (optional)
- Lemon wedges for serving
In a small bowl, mix butter with all other ingredients until well combined. (Or, use a food processor: pulse herbs, lemon zest, salt and shallot first, then add butter.) Place herb butter on a piece of parchment paper; roll and twist ends to form a log. Refrigerate until firm or freeze until ready to use. When ready to serve, unwrap log and cut into ¼” coins. Freeze any unused coins.
- Fresh fish fillets about 1” thick: bluefish, sea bass, salmon, snapper, halibut, haddock, etc.– approx 6-8 ounces per person
- Kosher salt (1 teaspoon per pound of fish)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
Heat grill to medium-high. Place fish fillets skin side down in the center of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Season with kosher salt (1 teaspoon per pound of fish). Combine olive oil, mustard and garlic to make a paste; with a pastry brush or your hands, coat the fillets with the mixture. Seal top and sides of the foil to make a packet. Grill covered for 7-10 minutes; open the foil packet and cook another 3-5 minutes covered. (Do not overbake; fish should flake apart but still look moist inside.) Remove from grill and immediately top each portion with a coin of herb butter. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
Heat oven to 425F.
On a baking sheet pan or casserole dish, arrange fish skin-side down. Season with kosher salt (1 teaspoon per pound of fish). Combine olive oil, mustard and garlic to make a paste; with a pastry brush or your hands, coat the fillets with the mixture. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until fish flakes apart with a knife. (Do not overbake; fish should still look moist inside.) Remove from oven and immediately top each portion with a coin of herb butter. Garnish with a lemon wedge.