Christy learned the art and science of cooking from her Southern kin. Her cooking secrets aren't secrets because she shares them freely.
Everyone Loves Fish
Who doesn't love a good mild, white fish? Tilapia is a staple at our house. Lake trout and northern pike are great when they're available. Cod, pollock, haddock... these are all good fish, but they have one problem. They don't have a lot of taste.
That's where a good sauce comes in. This white wine, mushroom, and caper sauce uses the fond (the browned bits from the bottom of the pan) to make a rich sauce that builds on the fish's own flavors.
My son says this sauce is to die for. And he doesn't even like mushrooms, so it must be pretty darned good.
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For the breading:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon tarragon (optional)
For the sauce:
- 1/2 pound mushrooms
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 cup sherry (optional)
- 3 tablespoons capers (optional)
- 2 pounds fish, any mild white
- Sautée the mushrooms in butter or oil for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are browned and have released their liquid.
- While the mushrooms are sautéing, mix the breading materials in a bowl or Ziploc bag. Remove 3 tablespoons and set aside for the sauce. Dredge the fish lightly in the remaining breading.
- Remove mushrooms from the pan and set them aside. Add more oil to the pan, if needed. Pan-fry the fish until golden brown and the flesh flakes easily with a fork.
- Remove the fish from the pan and set it aside, keeping it warm. Leave about 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil in the pan. If there is not enough, add butter and melt it. Remove some oil as necessary. (When removing oil, however, be careful not to throw away the browned solids.)
- Remove the pan from the heat. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of the reserved breading. Mix thoroughly with the oil to form a smooth, velvety roux. It should stir easily, not clump into a solid mass. If the roux is too thick, add oil or melted butter. If it's too thin, add more breading.
- Stir over low heat for about 1 minute, or until it doesn't smell like flour, but before the roux starts to darken. If you fried the fish in a cast-iron skillet (which you should!), the pan is likely hot enough to do this step without putting the pan back on the stove.
- Slowly stir in the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir constantly and thoroughly, scraping the fond (the browned bits) off the bottom of the pan and incorporating them into the sauce.
- Add the white wine. Return the pan to the stove, if you haven't already, and heat to boiling. Cook at a low boil for about one minute, or until the sauce begins to thicken.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add the mushrooms, pepper, and capers. Taste. Add salt or additional pepper if needed. (Note the prior steps did not call for salt. The breading and the chicken stock both have salt, so only add more salt if the taste test suggests it's needed.)
- Pour the sauce over the fish and serve. Enjoy!
- Thicker batter: If you prefer a thick batter, add milk to the breading and dip the fish in it. Alternatively, use pancake mix.
- Capers: The capers are totally optional. They add an extra dimension, but skip them if you don't like capers—or if you don't have any on hand. (The picture below shows the sauce without capers.)
- Sherry substitutions: If you don't have sherry, use any dry white wine. You can even use beer or whiskey, though they will change the flavor. Experiment and find a variety that works for you!
Which Fish to Choose?
The best fish is the one you have. This sauce works well with any mild fish. At home, I use it most often with tilapia or trout. (There are better options for strongly flavored fish such as salmon or tuna steak.)
In the pictures below, I used it with a northern pike.
It also works well with chicken, which also has a mild taste. And slather the mashed potatoes with this gravy, too. Don't hold back!
Lake Mille Lacs
The fish pictured above is northern pike, caught in Lake Mille Lacs, a premiere walleye lake about an hour and a half north of Minneapolis.
If you remember your French, you'll notice the lake name is redundant. Literally, it means "Lake Thousand Lakes." In other words, the lake is the size of a thousand lakes. It's the third-largest lake in Minnesota, following Lake Superior and Red Lake. If you look at a map of Minnesota that's small enough so it shows only a few of the 12,000+ lakes, Mille Lacs the splotch of water due north of the Twin Cities.
Unfortunately, the lake has been suffering depleted walleye stock for the last few years, so the Department of Natural Resources has implemented strict walleye limits. We had to release the walleye we accidentally caught.
But the northern pike was delicious!