The Boy’s Favorite Fish (Fish Piccata)

I believe I’ve mentioned that The Boy is not a super picky eater. As a baby, he pretty much ate what we ate. Store bought baby food? Spice that up with some salt and lots of black pepper. Mexican restaurant? Refried or mashed up beans and rice into the little yap. Teething Boy? Here’s a pizza bone to gnaw on (yes, we had one of those mesh safety thingees so he didn’t choke to death). As he got older and started eating more “normal” foods, we’d simply get an extra plate and put some of whatever we were having, albeit chopped into little toddler sized pieces, in front of him. Except for a few things (strained peas [ew!], dill pickles, mushrooms, cooked spinach), he was usually content to eat whatever we put in front of him because, well, we gave him no other option.

He still has a few things that he finds objectionable. Mushrooms are evil. Just evil. He wants to like them and often asks me to include them in things so he can try again, only to pick them all out. I think it’s a texture issue. He also still despises dill pickles. But my mom does too and Chef J isn’t super fond of them either so I think The Boy comes by his hatred naturally. He can tolerate cooked spinach without gagging now but would rather not eat it. And big chunks of onions or bell peppers in things are not his favorites either – again, a textural thing. So on a scale of childhood pickiness, I’d say he’s on the less annoying end. I know kids who will only eat beige things and who never, ever, ever try new foods. I always long to get them to branch out because it can be so much fun to experience new flavors. And I wonder how they will react traveling to a foreign country or someone’s home where chicken nuggets and fries are not an option. We’ve been lucky traveling with The Boy in that he always has fun in restaurants and is excited to try something crazy. He had escargot on a cruise and LOVED it and we had conch fritters in the Bahamas (none of us were crazy about those).

One of the things The Boy has always really liked (which not a lot of kids his age seem to) is fish. He regularly orders it in restaurants and is always happy to have it when I make it at home. When I was on a bit of a health kick a few months ago, I started figuring out ways of cooking fish that were pretty low in calories and fat but really big on flavor. I messed around with a number different methods and recipes but what The Boy calls “Fish in Wine Sauce” is the favorite in our house. I generally serve this with a quinoa or rice pilaf and some steamed sugar snap peas for a quick, protein packed meal. It’s fancy enough that you could cook this for company, but simple enough to crank out on a weeknight.

Ingredients: fish, wine, stock, olive oil, butter, flour, shallot, parsley, lemon, capers
prepping fish
Cut large filets in pieces to fit in pan. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Dust lightly with flour.

Now, Chef J is VERY particular about his fish. He’s got all sorts of food safety certifications and is a stickler for freshness. You’d think that living in the lowcountry, it’s a snap to get fresh fish but that’s not always the case. If I can make it down to my local fish market and I KNOW the fish was caught a few hours ago, hooray! But buying “fresh” fish at the supermarket is usually not a great option. It may have been fresh weeks ago when it was caught and frozen on the ship. Then the grocer thawed it and it’s been sitting on that ice for a while now. Always ask to smell the fish before it is wrapped up for you. Unless it smells like the ocean, leave it there. If it smells like fish, it’s a no go. I like to keep flash frozen, individually cryovac-ed fish filets on hand. That way you can buy them when they go on sale and just pull out what you need on the night you want to use it. If you pop the cryovac packs into a sink or bowl of cool water while you prep the rest of your meal (or help with homework), they’ll be ready to go by the time you want to cook.

cooking the fish
Melt butter into olive oil. Cook fish about 3-4 minutes on each side until lightly golden.

This particular meal goes REALLY fast so it is best to get that quinoa or rice going before you start the fish. You may as well start the water boiling for your veg too as you can toss the veggies in the pot while your sauce is thickening. And by the way, I know I said that I messed around with “healthy” recipes. This recipe started that way but morphed into something buttery and delicious. It’s neither the least healthy nor the most healthy thing in the world, but it’s sure one of the tastiest.

starting the sauce
Remove fish to plate. Sweat shallots in oil and butter. Whisk in flour for about a minute. Stir in wine and stock and bubble until smooth sauce is formed. Remove from heat add butter gradually, incorporating after each addition. Finish sauce with lemon zest, parsley, and capers

This is essentially Fish Piccata. You could do this recipe with thinly pounded chicken or veal or even shrimp. We are just very partial to the fish in our house.

finishing the dish
Gently slide fish back into pan and turn to coat with sauce.
Fish in Wine Sauce (a/k/a Fish Piccata)
1 – 1 ½ lb mild white fish (frozen tilapia and swai are on sale a LOT at my local supermarket)
¼ C all purpose flour, divided
Salt and Pepper
2-3 T olive oil
4 T unsalted butter, divided
1 small, shallot, finely diced
1/2 C white wine
1/2 C low sodium chicken or vegetable stock (you may need a little more so leave the can or box out)
Zest and juice of one lemon
2 T capers, drained
2 T Fresh chopped parsley
Rinse and pat fish dry. If your filets are really big, cut them in half. You want about 4-6 ounces of fish per serving. Squeeze just a little lemon juice over filets and then salt and pepper the fish. Dust lightly with flour, reserving about a tablespoon for later.
Preheat large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add in olive oil and allow to warm up a bit. Melt in 1 T of the butter until it begins to bubble. Gently slide the fish in and don’t mess with it. Allow it to brown and crisp on one side 3-4 minutes (it will be slightly golden around edges) and gently flip over. Brown other side for 3-4 minutes, remove to a plate, and set aside
(At this point, you could put your veggies on to steam).
Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and bring to a bubble. Sweat shallots for a few minutes until just translucent. Whisk in reserved flour and cook for about a minute or two to get rid of the raw taste. Slowly whisk in the white wine  and stock and allow to bubble until a smooth sauce is formed. Remove from heat and whisk in reserved butter a little at a time, stirring until fully incorporated.  Stir in lemon zest, parsley and capers and allow to warm for a moment. Salt and pepper to taste
Return fish to pan and gently turn in the sauce. Garnish with additional parsley, if desired, and serve.
Serves 4

finished plate

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