Today: A 5-ingredient, 20-minute technique to make any white fish shine -- in time for Lent, and the dawn of spring cooking.
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Eating fish has gotten complicated. So it's up to us to simplify, and -- when we cook fish -- make it the best it can be.
It's tempting to stop cooking fish altogether, simply because we're afraid of not doing it justice. But as Saveur Executive Editor Betsy Andrews points out in the magazine's recent seafood issue, via a quote from science writer Erik Vance: "If everyone who cared about the oceans stopped eating fish, the only people eating fish would be people who don't care about the oceans." And that's almost certainly worse.
Then cook it well, and eat it all. That's all we have to do to honor our fish -- buy the right, plentiful stuff and not muck it up. And it can be easier than we think.
You'll do well to keep this technique from James Peterson in your mental files (and if you want more for the files, get ahold of his book Fish & Shellfish). As Food52er cookbookchick told me, "This is the perfect recipe for the fish-intimidated. It's also perfect for many types of fish -- I myself have never actually used scrod," which Peterson calls for (but allows for riffing).
Any firm-fleshed, non-oily white fish will work -- sole, cod, bass, rockfish, or any white fish that's not too delicate (so skip scrawny fillets like flounder).
Your best local whatever white fish will bake quickly in a hot oven, so there's no fussing with splattering pans. Melting, cobbled-on butter will protect the tops from drying out, while hot sherry fumes steam up and perfume the fish from below. Parsley makes it look good. Those are your trifecta, powerful but not as pushy as your average miso-soy glaze. And they are all that you -- and your whatever fish -- need.
Here's how to do fish proud:
Get the oven up to 400° F. Butter (or oil) a big baking dish. Salt and pepper your fish fillets and place them inside, Tetris-style. You can cook them in long, unbroken fillets and slide them apart for serving (like we did here), or cook portion-sized pieces. No matter.
Dot butter all over the top. You could use more oil here instead, or an herby compound butter, if you've got some lying around.
Pour over dry sherry (or wine).
Scatter chopped parsley.
Bake for about 12 minutes per inch of thickness, then peek. If the thickest part looks opaque and big flakes are willing to pull apart, it's done.
It will have made its own buttery, boozy sauce, which you'll spoon over the top without having to deglaze or reduce or thicken. Peterson warns in his headnote, "This may not be an impressive dinner party dish." I couldn't disagree more.
1 1/2 to 2 pounds scrod fillets (or any firm-fleshed, non-oily white fish in season) Salt and pepper 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, herb butter, or extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons dry sherry or dry white wine 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Food52 community member cookbookchick for this one!
Photos by James Ransom
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."