Really good, crispy skin, pan-seared fish is something everyone deserves to learn how to make. Pan-frying is simply the preparation method that does most justice to fish and also brings out all the nuances of how fish should taste. This recipe for pan-seared trout with caper dill sauce gives you an easy step-by-step instruction for how to sear a piece of fish fillet without messing it up.
For years the thought of pan-searing a piece of fish left me with nervous tics and sweaty hands. I simply had not had much luck with it. Every time I attempted it, it ended up looking like something the cat had already had a go at. The fish would be mushy and the skin would either be soft, half falling off, or both. What a far cry from the beautiful pan-seared specimens you get in good restaurants!
What you need is a good pan!! (Good excuse to throw out that ancient one that never really worked anyway :))
But honestly the road to success here is rather simple: a good pan and patience. I realized the cause of my failure was that I had had neither. So it was only when I bought myself a really good pan and managed to resist the urge to turn the fish too soon, and too frequently, that I finally nailed it. And yes, I felt rather stupid. The good thing is, though, I got my happy ending, and now I get to eat great pan-seared fish whenever I want!
I find that the creamy caper dill sauce is the perfect accompaniment for pan-seared trout. It gives a zest and saltiness that plays well with the strong, crispy taste of the fish skin and balances the slightly sweet taste of the fish meat. The butter-roasted Brussels sprouts add a little further sweetness that rounds off the fish and cream sauce very nicely.
Now this version is low-carb, but if you feel like adding a bit of starch, a creamy polenta or vermicelli pasta (kind of ultra-thin spaghetti) would make great options.
Pan-seared trout with creamy caper dill sauce and butter-roasted Brussels sprouts (serves 4 as a main, 6 as a starter)
1.75 lbs (700-800 g) fresh trout fillet (not previously frozen fish means higher chance of success)
4 tbsp capers
4 tbsp fresh dild (about a handful of sprigs, stems removed), chopped
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp canola (rapeseed) oil
2 cups (1/2 liter) full cream, min. 35% fat
A little lemon zest and juice to taste (probably about 1/4 lemon)
3/4 lb (350 g) fresh Brussels sprouts
Salt and pepper
1. Start by preparing the fish. Under cold running water, gently wash off any excess scales and grease on the trout fillets. Lay the fillets on a cutting board and carefully dab dry with paper tissue. Make sure none of the tissue sticks to the fish. It is important that the fish is dry when you start searing it, otherwise it will very likely stick to the pan.
2. Cut the fillets into either 8 pieces (if served as a main) or 12 pieces (if used as a starter) of about equal size. Season on both sides with salt and pepper.
3. Now get the Brussels sprouts ready. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Cut off the brown end of the stems of the sprouts and then divide them into quarters.
4. Heat up a pan with about 1 tbsp of butter at medium heat. Once the butter has melted, pour in the Brussels sprouts, and then fry for about 5 min. at medium to high heat. Let them brown just a little without burning and also season with a bit of salt and pepper.
5. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to an ovenproof dish and put in the oven. Meanwhile sear the fish and prepare the sauce.
6. For the fish, use your absolute best pan. And one that has already proven its worth. A pan that tends to go dry quickly is a no-go. Some prefer a cast iron skillet, but personally I use a good ceramic pan, and I have no complaints. In this superior pan pour in a 2-3 tbsp of canola oil. I like to add about 1 tbsp butter as well, but that’s optional. Heat up at high heat and wait till it starts to bubble slightly. But don’t let the oil/butter start to brown!
7. As soon as the oil (and butter) is heated put on the fish fillet pieces. I prefer to sear the meat side first and then the skin side, but it’s not a must. Now to the important part: Do not try to flip the fish for at least 3 minutes! You can test if the fish is ready to be flipped by tossing the pan to and fro. If the fish moves on the pan, it’s a good sign it’s about ready for flipping. Usually I sear the fish for about 5 minutes before turning it. However, it depends of course on the thickness of the fillet.
8. While the fish is searing, prepare the sauce. In a deep pan, melt about 1 tbsp of butter at high heat. When it starts to bubble slightly add the capers and then stir for about 1 minute. Then pour in all the cream and let it come to a boil so the cream starts to thicken and reduce. It will take about 5-10 minutes to get the right thickness. Check with a spoon: when the sauce sticks to the back of the spoon it’s about ready.
9. While the sauce is cooking keep and eye on the fish and flip when you’re absolutely sure it doesn’t stick to the pan. Beware though, this should not take more than 5 minutes. (If it still sticks after that, I’d consider an early retirement for that pan.) Sear the other side the same way without flipping again. If the fish is done before the sauce, take the fried fillet pieces off the pan an let them rest shortly on a cutting board, skin side up.
10. Take the Brussels sprouts out of the oven and let rest till the sauce is ready. When the sauce is thick enough to cling to the backside of a spoon, stir in the chopped dill and lemon zest and juice to taste. Season with a bit of black pepper. Don’t add salt without tasting the sauce first. The capers will give off quite a lot of salt, so extra salt is usually not necessary.
11. Arrange the sauce, fish and Brussels sprouts on individual plates and serve immediately.