This has long been one of my favorite fish recipes. I love the taste of the lime and the capers and the vodka is always an interesting ingredient; together these flavors compliment the fish perfectly. The fresh dill brings a nice finishing touch by adding a fresh bite as well as an attractive visual component. Once you’ve had a little practice it only takes 10 minutes or so to prepare and it’s an impressive and tasty enough dish for company.
There is really nothing complicated about pan-searing. You may have noticed already, I use the technique a lot. It really is a very convenient way to cook fillets, steaks, or chops when you don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen. What makes pan-searing even more appealing to me is the browning really gives whatever you are cooking a real boost of flavor. Called the Maillard Reaction, this crust of caramelized goodness is the secret behind many delicious restaurant dishes.
With just a couple of key things in mind most anyone can use the pan-searing method, in most any kitchen…
Moisture prevents browning – You will often hear me preach about getting the surface of your fish (or any other protein) dry before searing it. When pan-searing it’s especially important to remember that moisture will inhibit browning. Oil on the other hand promotes browning.
How hot is hot? – Ok, as well as I can describe it; when you heat a pan and add olive oil, then leave the oil to get hot, there is a point just before the oil begins to smoke. At this point the molecules in the oil have loosened or thinned about as much as they are going to and the surface of the oil takes on a shimmering look. That is the right heat for pan-searing.
Wow! That’s really hot! – Always remember: you can move that pan off the fire. Any time you feel your pan might be getting too hot the first step is to simply move it off the burner. Never panic! Be careful and be confident.
Notes: Firm white fish is ready when the fish flakes easily with a fork and the flesh in the center is almost solid white showing very little if any transparency. Remember, fish will continue cooking for a minute or two after you remove it from the heat so be careful not to overcook it. Depending on the thickness of your fillets it should take no longer than 5 to 7 minutes in the oven to finish cooking through.
Side notes: Yes, this recipe contains butter…possibly as much a 1 tablespoon (or pat) per serving which if you think about it really isn’t that much. Once in a blue moon I do allow myself the pleasure and I hope you will too!
Pan-Seared Fish with Vodka Lime Butter Sauce, Capers and Fresh Dill
2 to 4 – (6 Ounce) Firm white fish fillets at least 1” thick. (Such as Mahi-Mahi, Grouper, or Halibut)
¼ Cup – Premium vodka, unflavored
1 Ounce – Fresh squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp – capers
2 Sprigs – Fresh dill
4 Tbsp – Butter, well chilled, cut into 16 equal cubes
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 400 and use a paper towel to dab the fish to dry it very well. Season both sides with salt & pepper then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Swirl the pan to evenly coat the cooking surface and carefully place the fish, skin side up / flesh side down, in the pan. Cook 3 minutes (without moving) then gently turn over and cook 3 minutes more. Carefully remove the fish to an oven-proof dish and place it in the oven to finish cooking through.
While the pan is still hot, pour out any excess oil and with the pan still off the heat add the lime juice. Swirl the sizzling juice for about 30 seconds then add the vodka and return the pan to the heat. Simmer, swirling the pan from time to time until the liquid begins to thicken, about 3 minutes. Add 4 of the butter cubes and swirl the pan as they melt.
Reduce the heat to medium and when the first 4 cubes of butter have melted swirl or whisk in 4 more while alternately moving the pan on and off the heat. (Note: The pan should stay hot enough to keep the butter melting but not so hot that the butter burns or separates from the sauce.) When the butter has melted, add the capers along with 4 more butter cubes. Continue gently whisking as the butter melts, finish the sauce by melting the last 4 cubes of butter and set the pan off the heat while you plate the fish.
The fish should be done about the same time as the sauce. Check to make sure the fillets have cooked through, leaving it a little longer if necessary. Carefully (it’s hot!) remove the fish from the oven and place each fillet on a plate. Spoon some of the sauce and the capers over each fillet then use a pair of kitchen shears or scissors to snip a sprinkling of fresh dill over each serving. Serve with a little sprig of dill and a slice of lime on the side.