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How-To

Quick-Braised Fish

A one-pan meal that’s fast enough for weeknights and fancy enough for company

Fine Cooking Issue 84
Photos: Scott Phillips
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To many of us, the word “braising” conjures up thoughts of slow-cooked short ribs, pot roast, or chicken, but probably not fish. The moist, slow heat of a braise is ideal for melting tough cuts of meat into tender morsels, so why bother using the technique with fish, which is naturally tender? Because by braising fish, you’ll get the benefits—melt-in-your-mouth texture and a full-flavored pan sauce—without the long cooking time. The recipes here are speedy enough for a weeknight yet fancy enough for company. And the chunky vegetables in the braising liquid double as a vegetable side dish, so in the end, you have a saucy, hearty, one-pan meal.
First, I make the sauce, which includes vegetables, aromatics, and a liquid like wine or clam juice. Next, I nestle the fish into the sauce, piling some of the vegetables on top to keep the fish moist. Then I cover the pan and finish the dish in the oven. Once it’s done, I remove the fish from the sauce. Though the sauce is perfectly delicious as is, in two of the recipes (the red snapper and the salmon), I like to reduce it slightly to concentrate the flavors, especially when I’m cooking for guests. This is also the perfect opportunity to add a few finishing touches, like vinegar or fresh herbs.


Tips for Braising Fish

  • Try it with other fish. Once you’ve mastered the quick-braising method with snapper, cod, and salmon, you can experiment with other fish, such as grouper, barramundi, black sea bass, striped bass, or halibut. Remember that cooking times may vary, depending on the thickness and texture of the fish, so be sure to sneak a peek before removing it from the sauce.
  • To check if your fish is done, use a paring knife to peek between two bits of flesh in the center of the fillet. The very middle should look ever-so-slightly translucent, which means it’s almost cooked through. The fish will continue to cook as you finish your sauce, so it’ll be perfectly done by the time you’re ready to serve it.
  • Fillets that are 3/4 to 1 inch thick work best, but if you can find only long, thin ones, they will do. Score the fish crosswise on the bone side, being sure to cut only halfway through. Flip the fillets over and fold them in half, skin side in, and proceed as if they were thick fillets. As the fish cooks, it will firm up and hold this shape.

A few tools are helpful to have on hand when braising

I use an ovenproof skillet to make these dishes, but if you don’t have one, you can transfer the fish and sauce to a Pyrex dish for the oven braising (just note that cooking times may be slightly longer). Also, a fish spatula comes in handy when removing the fish from the pan.

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