Recipe: Easy Pan-Seared Fish

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I’ve been spending the week on Anna Maria Island. No trip is complete without a visit to Cortez, the historic fishing village named for the murderous bastard who wiped out its original population. Mom and I headed over to the Cortez Bait & Seafood Market yesterday and picked up some grouper and red hog snapper, also known as hogfish, caught by local fishermen in the Gulf. Back home, I did a quick slather with some herbs and olive oil, and then gave the fish a brief sauté finished with steaming, a trick that I learned from a chef in France.
Credit for the side dish goes to my culinary pal, Lisa, who learned a clever trick for zucchini from an aging nonna in Italy. It’s simply zucchini slowly cooked in olive oil until it breaks down, yielding a soft, nutty flavor, spiced only with some salt and pepper. Normally, she makes it with rotini or penne pasta, but in this case, I added it to brown rice cooked in chicken stock.

This is a basic technique that works for any whitefish that yields soft, succulent fish thanks to the brief steaming at the end of the sauté which ensures that the flesh cooks through, but keeps the fish from drying out. I use herbs de provence but the ubiquitous mixed Italian herbs works fine. Whenever you sauté anything, including fish, put the “presentation side” down into the pan first. Serves two.

Two fish fillets, 4-6 oz. each
1 tablespoon + a couple glugs olive oil
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
1 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon sea salt
Juice of half a lemon or lime
Many hearty grinds black pepper
¼ cup white wine, water or diluted lemon juice

Slather the fish with the 1 tablespoon olive oil, herbs, cayenne, salt and citrus juice, top with cranks of black pepper.

Fish readying for sauteHeat the other olive oil over high heat. When hot, add the fish, place the fish in the pan and give it a couple of shakes to keep it from sticking. Depending on the When the edges of the fish begin to look opaque, turn the fish over. Sear the other side until brown and the bottom edge cooks through. Then, add in the wine or water. Let it evaporate for a minute or two and then cover to steam the fish for about two to three minutes or until the fish cooks through. It’s done when the fish is firm to the touch, and the skin flakes. Serve while hot.

Quick garlic-tomato sauce
Chop up a couple cloves of garlic. Add to hot olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté for a minute or so. Add a handful of chopped tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook until the tomatoes slightly soften. If you’ve got fresh basil or parsley, toss in a bunch, stir it around. Put it atop the fish.


About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

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