WINE WITH…Fish Fillets With Brown Butter Soy Sauce
In about the same amount of time it takes to get the cork out of your bottle of wine, you can pan-sauté a couple of fish filets in butter, give them squeeze of lemon, and … presto! … a delicious dinner is ready.
But adding another few scant minutes, plus a couple more ingredients (a splash of wine, a dash of soy sauce), transforms this minimalist culinary feat into a epicurean feast.
What are the best mild flavored fish filets for sautéing? In western Europe Dover sole would be one obvious choice, and in California you might substitute petrale sole. But in truth, almost any mild, white fish works well in these simple recipes. We try to stick to sustainable seafood, but even here the options are usually plentiful, with filets of grouper, sea bass, catfish, tilefish, trout or flounder among the possibilities.
Yes, it does take a couple of minutes extra to make the brown butter (in French it’s called beurre noisette). If you want to skip this step and just melt the butter into the soy sauce the dish will still be wonderful, but keep in mind that when the rich, toasty flavors of browned butter marry the salty, savory goodness of soy sauce, the result is a truly sublime union.
Fish Fillets With Brown Butter Soy Sauce
4-8 mild, white fish filets
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil or other vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
For the sauce:
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons browned butter*
1 tablespoon minced parsley
Lightly season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy skillet (cast iron is ideal) and add the oil and butter. When the butter foams, add the fish filets in a single layer, working in batches if necessary. As soon as the fish becomes opaque, turn the filets over (this can be a delicate operation since many types of fish flake easily) and cook them only another minute or two on the other side. The total length of cooking time--usually 4-8 minutes in all--will depend on the thickness of the filets.
Remove the filets to a platter and cover them loosely with foil. Do not wash the skillet, but if there is a lot of oil in the bottom, blot some of the excess with paper towel. Over high heat, pour the wine into the skillet and let it simmer, stirring frequently, until it has reduced by about half. Stir in the soy sauce, the lemon juice and the browned butter, and simmer for another minute or so. Spoon the mixture over the fish, garnish with parsley, and serve at once.
* To brown the butter, place it in a saucepan and swirl it around over medium-to-medium-high heat. Continue swirling, and keep a close eye on the butter as it begins to foam and change color (you don’t want it to burn). As soon as the butter reaches a toasty medium-brown color remove it from the heat. Some cooks like to strain the solid particles out through a fine-meshed strainer, but in a dish such as this we don’t bother (those little browned bits may, in fact, add a little extra flavor.
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Very much a white wine dish, this particular fish preparation calls for a flavorful wine without too much oak. The best partners out of the 13 whites we tried, while having a wide range of flavor profiles, tasted fresh rather than ponderous or heavy. The brown butter and soy sauce allows you to opt for a fairly rich wine, but be sure to choose one in which fruit rather than wood comes to the fore. So too with more delicate wines. Opt for freshness and forward fruit flavors rather than subtle nuances. This dish tastes direct and uncomplicated. The wine needs to do much the same thing.
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