Recipe: Seared Sea Bass Steaks with Lemon Butter Sauce

Sea bass is so good that all you really have to do is make sure it’s heated all the way through and then get out of the way and eat it. You could probably just toss a couple of sea bass steaks in the microwave and they would be delicious.

Now, I wouldn’t try that, myself, but I’m just trying to make a point here. With some foods, it’s not the cook, it’s the ingredients.

This dish can be whipped up in about 10 minutes + whatever time it takes to make your side dishes. I conveniently had a nice couscous salad with feta, olives, and tomatoes in the fridge, so I didn’t have to do much else here.

Preparation: pull that sea bass out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature prior to cooking – 30 minutes should do the trick. I like to start up the lemon butter in advance, so I’m not distracted from the delicate art of cooking the fish. The thing about fish is you just don’t want to overcook it. One or two minutes can mean the difference between creating a moist juicy meal that you would recall for the next week with loving affection versus ending up with a heated old tennis shoe with a distinct fishy taste.

Note: this dish calls for 1 iron skillet.

Lemon butter can be done in a variety of ways. Sometimes you put the butter in first and sometimes the lemon. I’ll use about a 1 stick of butter to 1 lemon ratio, and whisk in about a tablespoon of flour per stick. Sometimes, I’ll thin this out with white wine if I want a more delicate sauce – about 1/2 cup per stick of butter. If you’re going to add wine, double the flour ratio and whisk that into the butter prior to adding the wine, to avoid lumps. In general, I like to start with the amount of butter I’m planning to use (maybe a quarter stick per person), then add the lemon to taste. If you start with too much lemon, you’ll end up adding more and more butter to get the taste right resulting in far more sauce than you need, and this goes a long way. You need only a tablespoon of sauce drizzled over the fish to give it just that little je ne sais quoi. You can let the sauce mellow in a small saucepan at warm temperature while you get the fish going.

Get that iron skillet of yours smoking hot on the stovetop – about a medium high setting. Oil it very lightly with olive oil, as too much oil will cause a lot of spitting and spattering at a later stage of the recipe. Ideally, the skillet is large enough to accommodate all of your steaks without crowding.

Prepare the steaks by grinding black pepper over both sides. (remember – they should be at room temperature by now – we are going to be cooking these at high heat but briefly, so we want to make sure they’re cooked all the way through)

Prepare a measuring cup with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup of any type of cooking wine. Warm this in the microwave – you don’t need to bring it to a boil – you just don’t want it to be ice cold, either. Turn your oven broiler on high, and position a rack in the top half of the oven that will fit your skillet.

Sear the steaks in the skillet for 1-2 minutes and flip. Last night, I seared them for 1 minute per side, and I felt like they could have gone a bit longer – I really enjoy the crispy texture of the seared edges and I think another 30 seconds per side would have been ideal.

After 1-2 minutes on the other side, remove from heat, and pour the wine/water mixture slowly into the skillet (not directly on top of the fish) until there is enough to cover the bottom of the pan. You don’t need to use the full cup of liquid. Be careful, as this can spit and spatter as the liquid comes to a boil.

Park that skillet in the oven with the broiler on high. Broil for five minutes, remove from heat, and serve. As pictured, I served with sliced avocado and a drizzling of lemon butter wine sauce.

Bon appétit!

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