Making a fish dinner at home can be a bit of a splurge, given how expensive fresh seafood is. It would be a shame to overcook your hard-earned haul.
Broiling or grilling can cause lean, white-fleshed fish like halibut (but also thick flounder fillets, snapper, grouper and large sea scallops) to dry out. For moist, juicy results, frying or searing is the best option. I tend to use a simple searing method for cooking firm, white-fleshed fish on the stovetop; it’s easier and cleaner than frying.
For best results, use a cast-iron pan, or any other heavy nonstick pan (even a griddle). Coat the pan with olive oil, and let it get hot before you put in the fish fillets. Leave the fish undisturbed until it is nicely golden on the first side, then flip it and cook the second side until just done.
With perfectly pristine fresh fish, you want no sauce at all — or a sauce that enhances without distracting from the fish’s flavor. Sometimes, the best solution is a drizzle of olive oil and a lemon wedge.
For something a bit fancier and not much more effort, a quick sauce made in the pan is a good choice, too. A browned butter sauce, what French cooks call beurre noisette, tastes rich and nutty. You make it at the very last minute, just after the fish comes out of the pan.
When a chunk of cold butter hits the hot pan, it immediately begins to sizzle and foam. Be careful to cook the butter until it just starts to brown, then turn off the heat. As when making caramel, residual heat will continue to cook the mixture, and the brown will deepen. You want the sauce to taste toasty, not burned, and there’s a fine line. To stop the browning and supply a welcome citrusy hit, give it a squeeze of lemon.
As an additional enhancement, throw a handful of fresh sage leaves into the pan. It is amazing how immediately the sage flavor permeates the sauce. The herb contrasts nicely with both butter and fish, and the subtle combination is quite wonderful.
The brown butter and sage sauce — a classic Italian combination — has other uses. It is delightful spooned over a bowl of gnocchi or ravioli.