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Savory Fish Sauteed, Sauced, Topped with Cheese

Posted: March 28, 2012 - 9:14am
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Mark Bittman’s “Crisp Cod (or Other Fish Steaks) with Orange Sauce,” upper left; zesty cheese-topped “Los Cabos Red Snapper,” bottom left; and trout, upper right, sautéed with clarified butter, lower right, are all excellent choices for memorable fish dish meals.

Fish may come to the dinner table in any number of ways, from baked and broiled, to grilled and roasted. Pan sauteed fish, one of simplest ways to cook small whole fish, is tasty, too -- particularly when its delicate flavor is enhanced by the taste of real butter. As long as the fish you cook is as fresh as you can get it, it will be hard to go wrong with any kind of meal fashioned around delicious fish. Mark Bittman's recipe for "Crisp Cod (or Other Fish Steaks) with Orange Sauce," from "How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food," reprinted here about a year ago, is back because so many of you told me that it is one of the best fish dishes you ever made. Laced with fresh orange juice and fresh-grated orange peel, it's hard to argue with the merits of a recipe that can be prepared with so many different species of fish. So, for those of you who may have missed the recipe the first time around, or haven't yet had a chance to try it, here it is again. For folks who enjoy the piquant flavors characteristic of Mexican cuisine, "Los Cabos Red Snapper," named for Mexico's largest and most popular sports fishing destination is offered. Made with RoTel brand Diced Tomatoes with Lime Juice & Cilantro, the spice in the dish can be easily adjusted according to preference, and the cheese topping is optional, but oh, so nice. Should you need some pointers on pan frying fish in butter that doesn't burn, check out the directions for sauteing fresh trout in clarified butter -- a useful ingredient to have on hand whether you're frying fish, or scrambling eggs. People are always telling me they should eat more fish. Recipes like these should make goal that easy.

Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at kitchenade@yahoo.com.

Los Cabos Red Snapper

Named for Mexico's largest and most popular sports-fishing destination, Los Cabos Red Snapper is a spicy, flavorful fish dish made with chili powder, cumin and RoTel Diced Tomatoes with Lime Juice & Cilantro. Cod or halibut also works well for this recipe.

For the fish
1 1/2 pounds fresh red snapper, may substitute with cod or halibut
Olive oil

Cut fish into four serving size pieces and place in a large rectangle baking dish that has been brushed lightly with olive oil; set aside.

For the rest
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for greasing baking dish
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (10-ounce) can RoTel (Mexican Lime & Cilantro) Diced Tomatoes with Lime Juice & Cilantro
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
Dash Tabasco
Salt
2 cups (8-ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese, optional
Rice for serving

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, over medium heat, melt butter with oil. Saute the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the RoTel tomatoes, basil, celery seed, chili powder, cumin, pepper, cilantro, Tabasco and salt to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes, then pour mixture over fish in baking dish. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. If using cheese, divide cheese over fish, and bake for 5 minutes more, or until cheese melts and begins to brown slightly. Garnish with minced cilantro and serve over rice. Makes 4 servings.

Crisp Cod (or Other Fish Steaks) with Orange Sauce

Recipe courtesy "How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food," by Mark Bittman (www.howtocookeverything.com); John Wiley & Sons, Inc., publishers (2008), www.wiley.com.

For the fish
4 small cod steaks
About 1 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste (optional)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the sauce
1 large shallot or small red onion, thinly sliced*
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Chopped fresh basil or mint leaves for garnish*

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat a large skillet over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Season the flour with the salt, lots of black pepper and the cayenne if you like. When the skillet is hot, add the butter and olive oil. When the butter foam subsides, dredge each steak in the flour, shaking off the excess. Put them in the skillet and turn the heat up to medium-high.

Cook, rotating the steaks so they brown evenly, turning after about 4 minutes. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, then check -- the fish is done when a thin-bladed knife meets little resistance and little or no translucence appears in the center. Cook it for a minute or two longer if necessary, then transfer to an ovenproof plate and transfer to the oven. Add the shallot to the pan and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until the shallot begins to crisp, just a minute or so. Add the zest and juice, raise the heat until the mixture bubbles, and cook, stirring occasionally until it reduces and becomes syrupy, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve each steak with a spoonful of sauce and garnish with fresh basil or mint.
Makes 4 servings. *Kitchen Ade Note: I used red onion and mint leaves for this dish. Also, doubling the amount of ingredients used for the sauce is recommended -- it's so good, you'll want more.

Simple Pan-Sauteed Trout

Although simply sauteed fish requires little else than butter, oil and a pan, three things are critical -- the fish must be as fresh as you can get it (see tips below), the pan must be of heavy and of good quality, and the butter used for sauteing the fish, must be clarified to prevent scorching. (Directions for clarifying butter follows.) To saute fish, start out with fish that has been patted dry. Season it with a little salt and pepper, if you like. Heat equal amounts of butter and oil in a heavy pan to a depth of about 1/4 inch, over medium-high heat. Once the fat is hot, add the fish. (Adjust heat as the fish cooks. You want to keep the pan hot and the heat constant, but not so hot as to burn anything.) Cook the fish until it is golden brown on one side, turning once to finish cooking, about 5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fish. When cooking fish, do not crowd, cooking only enough fish that comfortably fits in the pan. (You may place cooked fish in a preheated 250-degree oven while you are cooking the rest of the fish.)

Tips for choosing whole fish at the market

*    Look at the eyes: The fish should have bright, clear, bulging eyes. Gray, dull eyes that look milky is a good indication that the fish is past its prime.
*    Smell it: Fresh fish should smell like fresh water, the ocean, or even a little briny. Do not buy fish that smells fishy, or nasty, or of ammonia.
*    Check the skin: The skin and scales should be tight.
*    Inspect the gills and tail: The gills should have a rich red color under the collar and the tail should be moist -- not shriveled and dry.

To make clarified butter
Clarified butter has a high smoke point, making it ideal for frying fish and other foods where nothing but the delicate taste of butter will due.

Cut 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter into cubes. Place butter in a heavy saucepan and heat over low heat, until melted. Remove pan from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Strain milk solids through a fine mesh sieve, or several layers of cheesecloth, into a heatproof container. Store clarified butter, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 1 month.

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