The moment summer starts, my boys begin clamoring for their very favorite summer dish: this crunchy, flaky, fresh fish in a luxurious, tangy butter sauce. I have a hard time holding them off til late July, when the stripers are ubiquitous and tomatoes are good and ripe. But once I treat them to it, they wish they could have it every night.
Making the dish is easy, although I typically have to triple the recipe to feed my hulking teens. Grrrrr. The good thing is that striped bass is fairly firm, so it doesn’t fall apart in the pan like more delicate fish, plus it cooks relatively quickly. The key is to keep pieces of similar thickness together so you can keep an eye on the thinner fillets. Often, I’ve got three pans going at once, and the pan with the tail pieces is usually done long before the nice, thick fillets. The crunchy, toasted crust envelops the moist, flaky, mild white meat, making for an excellent texture contrast that results in the perfect bite.
Because I need so many burners to fry up the fish, I make the sauce first, putting it aside, and gently reheating it when the fish is ready. It’s a luscious sauce with the sweetness of tomatoes and reduced white wine, the smooth oakiness of sherry vinegar, and the savory creaminess of butter to balance the acidity. Cut down on the butter to your own comfort level if it scares you; as a special seasonal gratification, though, we wholeheartedly think it’s worth splurging.
If there’s such a thing as summer comfort food, this is it. Simple, satisfying, seasonal…summertime.
Pan-Fried Striped Bass with Tomato Butter Sauce
From Summer on a Plate ©2008 by Anna Pump and Gen LeRoy
- 1/2 cup Creme Fraiche
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 cup panko or other dry bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- Four 6-ounce striped bass fillets (cod and halibut can be used as an alternative)
- 2 tablespoons safflower oil (I use vegetable or grapeseed oil if that’s what I have handy)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, in 1-tablespoon slices
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 cup peeled, seeded, finely chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1. Combine the Creme Fraiche and mustard in a small bowl and stir to blend. Combine the panko, salt and pepper on a large flat plate. Coat the fish on both sides with the Creme Fraiche. Dip it next into the panko, pressing down on the fish to make the crumbs adhere.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet until hot. Place fish in the skillet, cover and cook over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Using two spatulas, carefully turn the fish over and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. (I find this can sometimes take considerably longer, depending on the thickness of the fish.) Do not overcook. Transfer the fish onto four warm dinner plates. Wipe the skillet clean with paper towels.
3. To make the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add the shallots and sauté for 2 minutes over medium heat. Stir in the tomatoes, vinegar and wine. Cook 2 more minutes. (Because I triple the recipe, I usually let this cook for about 10 minutes or more to somewhat reduce the wine.) Add the salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low. Using a wire whisk, swirl and blend in the remaining butter, adding 1 tablespoon at a time. Whisk until the sauce thickens slightly. Do not allow the sauce to come to a boil after the butter has been added. Distribute the sauce evenly around the fish. Sprinkle with chives and serve.