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A few weeks ago, I shared a picture of a halibut dish I created. I had a vision for a tender fish fillet on a raft of green rice swimming in a pool of curry broth. I received a number of great compliments including one from the nice folks at Catch Sitka Seafoods. We got into a dialog about how much I enjoyed shopping for seafood in Sitka during my Alaska charters and they generously offered to send me some of their product to try.
When the box arrived, I was so excited! So many great options. For my first “outing” with their seafood, I wanted to create something that was representative of Pacific Northwest culture, really highlighted the best of the particular fish, was eye-appealing (you really DO eat with your eyes first!) and still was something that the ordinary home-cook could recreate.
I decided to start with their Ling Cod because it suited my mood and the piece I had was large enough that my husband and I could share it.
Many of us know about butter-poaching poultry and meats, but have you ever tried it with fish? It’s a super-easy way to get perfect results — properly cooked fish that isn’t dry, seasoning already part of the butter baste and it really amplifies the already-buttery texture and taste of the cod!
As you’ll see, butter-basting isn’t hard at all. You just give the fish a little initial browning on the presentation side, flip it, add butter and then spoon it over the fish, allowing it to cook at little more in between bastes. The key to success here is to tip the pan toward you so that the butter pools in the pan in front of you, allowing you to scoop it easily onto a spoon. Then, spoon it over the fish…rinse, repeat until the fish is at a 130 degree internal temp. This is where a good instant read thermometer comes in! One with a really narrow tip so that you don’t leave a gaping hole in your food. Here’s a good waterproof one I can recommend, and it’s not expensive. Worth EVERY penny to have one of these friends in your kitchen!
Once your fish has hit 130 degrees, add your garlic and thyme (or whatever aromatics you eventually decide to use) and allow that now to flavor the butter you are basting with! Continue with your baste-cook process until the fish has hit 140 degrees, internally, then remove to individual plates, spoon some more of that yummy butter from the pan over it and ta da! Dinner!
Now, for my dish, I went a step further. It’s not necessary, but it is an added flavor and color pop. The weekend before I cooked the cod, I was foraging in the Oregon Coastal hills, searching for truffles. I didn’t find any of those, but I did find a Sparassis, gobs of Yellowfoot Chanterelles, and these beautiful Black Trumpet Chanterelles. Talk about a color contrast: white fish, black mushrooms…butter. You can’t GET anymore Pacific Northwest than that! (BTW…if you want to learn more about turning “hunting” into finding, check out my online class info!)
Black Trumpets are a mild winter mushroom here in the PacNW so I can expect to find clumps of them until the snow hits. You can also mail order them from several sources if you can’t get them locally where you are. As I said, they aren’t a requirement for the dish, but they did add a lovely extra “umami” note and the color was outrageous.
You can certainly vary the fish you use in the dish as well; halibut, rockfish, or other medium-firm white fish will work fine here. You can also use this technique with other types of fish, such as salmon. Feel free to experiment with your herbs too. Fennel and tarragon are great with salmon, and chervil is a natural with sole or flounder. Keep in mind that thicker cuts will cook more evenly and the thinner the cut, the less time to cook.
I hope you’ll give this recipe a try, and hope even more that you’ll consider the folks at Catch Sitka Seafoods as a source for your Alaskan fish and shellfish. They do ship overnight and everything comes in well-insulated boxes, ready for you to experiment and enjoy!
Would love to hear your comments! Was this recipe helpful? Did it inspire you to give it a try? Share your results and drop a pic, too, if you feel so inclined. I love sharing these posts with you and hope you get as much out of reading them as I do writing them!
Butter Basted Cod Fillets with Thyme & Garlic
- A thin fish spatula (ideal, but not required)
- Instant-read thermometer, like a ThermoPro Instant read
- 2 6oz cod fillets, about 3/4-1" thick
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 Tbs avocado, grapeseed or vegetable oil
- 3 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1/2 cup Black Trumpet Chanterelle Mushrooms (optional)
- Rinse cod fillets and pat completely dry with paper towels. Sprinkle all fish sides with salt and pepper. Heat avocado or vegetable oil in large heavy-bottomed non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just barely smoking. Lower heat to medium then add fish fillet with the darker side down. Using a thin spatula, gently press on the fillets to ensure even contact with the surface of the pan. Cook fillets, without moving them, for 4-5 minutes, until bottom is lightly golden brown.
- Using the thin spatula, carefully flip the fillets. Cook for 1 minute, then scatter butter into the pan around the fish fillets and allow to melt. To baste fish fillets, tilt the pan toward you slightly so that the butter collects at the side near you. Using a large, shallow spoon, scoop up the melted butter and pour over the fillets for 10-20 seconds. Flatten pan out again and allow fish to cook for 30 seconds. Repeat the baste process one more time, then test the inner temperature of the fish at its thickest part with an instant-read thermometer. When the fish temperature has reached 130°, add garlic and thyme sprigs to the pan. This addition will cause some splattering. When the splatter has subsided, continue basting/cooking until fish has reached an internal temperature of 140°, about 8-10 minutes total.
- Remove fish from the pan to individual warmed plates. Discard the garlic cloves. Top each fish fillet with two thyme sprigs, spoon the butter over the fish and serve with lemon wedges, if desired.