Many people are daunted by the idea of cooking fish, especially on the stove top as it can easily go from perfectly cooked to over-done in mere minutes. One second it's perfectly firm and flaky, and in the blink of an eye it's flaccid and falling to pieces. That's why I'm focusing on our fine swimming friends this week, and on a great technique for cooking them: braising.
Braising is a combination of dry and wet cooking methods — starting with cooking a product in a fat, like butter or oil, and finishing by adding a liquid, like booze or broth, and simmering away until it's cooked through. With fish, especially more tender types of white fish, braising allows the fish to pick up the flavors of the sauteed aromatics and vegetables in the pan, as well as get a light sear on one side. The addition of liquid to the pan then helps to poach and steam the fish. Plus, the liquid then becomes a savory sauce for serving it with.
Try out the following recipe for braised white fish with sweet onions, bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes for a fast, fresh and healthy main course for any time of year. You can also easily substitute the white fish for your favorite skinless fish fillet.
Braised White Fish with Bell Peppers and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Makes 2 servings
2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil (canola, grapeseed, sunflower, etc.)
1/2 medium sweet or yellow onion, sliced
1 medium red, yellow or orange bell pepper, core and seeds removed, sliced
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (dry or packed in oil), roughly chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
A few sprigs fresh thyme
2 4-6 ounce skinless white fish fillets (like cod, grouper, haddock, Chilean sea bass, Pacific halibut or swordfish; I used cod)
1/2 cup dry white wine (like sauvignon blanc or an unoaked chardonnay)*
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth or stock*
Salt and pepper to taste
Thyme leaves and/or chopped fresh cilantro
To serve: Cooked rice, quinoa, cous cous or other grains.
Heat a large nonstick or stainless steel saute pan (preferably one with sides that are a few inches high, a "braising" pan) over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add in the oil and let it warm up. When the oil is hot, add in the onion and bell peppers. Let the vegetables saute for a few minutes to allow them to release their moisture and slightly soften; stir occasionally. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and thyme sprigs, and let cook for another minute, stirring occasionally.
Dry off the fish fillets with paper towels and lightly season on both sides with salt and pepper. Push the vegetables aside to make a hole or "well' in the center of the pan. Place the fillets in the center of the pan side by side. Let them sear for a few seconds before pouring the wine over the ingredients in the pan (DON'T try to move or jostle the fillets). Let the wine simmer and reduce by at least half, then pour in the broth. Lower heat to a simmer, put a lid on the pan, and let the fillets and vegetables braise at a low simmer for 5-10 minutes (depending on how thick your fillets are). Optional: About halfway through cooking time, gently flip the fillets over.
When cooked, fillets should easily flake when lightly raked with a fork. Take them out as soon as they are cooked through; do not allow them to overcook. If you want to further reduce the braising liquid to concentrate the flavors, turn up the heat to medium-high and let it reduce by at least half uncovered. Taste the sauce first before seasoning with salt and pepper.
Place the fillets on serving plates on top of, or alongside, cooked rice, quinoa, cous cous or another grain. Top with the sauce and cooked vegetables, and garnish with herbs. Serve immediately.
*Note on the liquids: If cooking a very thin piece of fish, divide the liquid in half. If cooking large, thick fish fillets, you might want to increase the amounts slightly. Make sure the broth used for braising comes to at least one-third to halfway up the sides of the fillets in the pan.