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Recipes and Stories

27 August 2020: Late Summer Cooking—Pan-Seared Fish Fillets

Pan-Seared Flounder with White Wine, Lemon, and Capers

 

Probably no one will disagree that this has been the oddest of summers. It almost feels as if it passed us by without really happening. Yes, we've had the fresh produce, the heat and humidity, long hours of sunshine, and crashing thunderstorms that mark the season.

 

And to get out of the apartment and see something other than one another and the same four walls, we've enjoyed long walks in the lovely summer-green parks that make Savannah unique and have even walked on the warm surf-washed sand of Tybee Beach. But for us, at least, it's been with a kind of odd detachment, as if time suspended in March and hasn't really caught up.

 

My cooking this summer has been reflective of that: we've had less of the kind of simple, seafood, salad, and fresh-produce dominated vacation-style fare that characterizes my summer kitchen. Instead, I've been making more of the kind of "comfort" fare that's usually reserved for cooler weather cooking.

 

Yes, there've been fresh peaches and blueberries, field peas, little green butterbeans, corn on the cob, fresh sliced tomatoes, cold poached shrimp with cocktail sauce, and shrimp, ham, chicken, and potato salads aplenty, as well as more batches of my grandmother's pimiento cheese than have been good for my waistline and arteries.

 

But there've also been many bowls of bacon-studded shrimp and grits, baked chicken with sage and onion dressing, the no-bake chicken and broccoli in a Divan-style sauce that I wrote of in my last newspaper column, meatloaf, and country steak smothered in onion gravy.

 

So before the summer passes completely, I'm finding myself wanting to take advantage of some of its carefree vacation-style cooking, and this weekend, I think I'll make this lovely favorite. I hope you'll make—and enjoy—it too.

 

Pan-Seared Flounder with Wine, Lemon, and Capers

 

Here in Savannah, flounder is a local and fairly plentiful fish. If that's not true of where you live, feel free to substitute any firm, white-fleshed small fish that are local and fresh. Fillets of pompano, snapper, and sole are lovely cooked this way, as are rainbow trout that have been split down the belly and filleted but left whole and even smaller fresh water bass.

 

Serves 2

 

2 8-ounce flounder fillets

Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons nonpareil capers, well-drained

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

½ cup dry white wine or extra-dry white vermouth

1 lemon, halved

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, optional

 

1. Pat the flounder dry. If the fillets have not been skinned, lightly score the skin in a crisscross with a very sharp knife. Don't cut too deep or it'll make the fillets fall apart. Season them lightly with salt and pepper.

 

2. Film the bottom of a non-stick pan with oil and warm it over medium heat. When it's hot but not quite smoking, slip in the fish, skin-side down. Cook until that side is well browned, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn and cook until the second side is lightly browned and the fish is just cooked through—about 1-2 minutes longer. Transfer the fillets to 2 serving plates.

 

3. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté until it's fragrant and colored very pale gold. Add the capers, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and stir well. Pour in the wine, stirring and scraping to loosen the cooking residue, and bring it to a rolling boil. Cook until it's reduced and almost syrupy. Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon half through a strainer. Stir and turn off the heat.

 

4. If you'd prefer a lighter sauce, serve the fish with the sauce just as it comes from the pan at the end of step 3. Taste it and adjust the lemon juice, pour it over the fillets and finish with a sprinkle of parsley. For a richer sauce, as soon as the pan comes off the heat, immediately begin whisking in the butter a little at a time. It can also be incorporated by adding it all at once and shaking the pan until it's melted. How much you add will depend on how rich you want it. Taste and adjust the lemon juice, pour it over the fish, then sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve.

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