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Sauce For Fish

Grilled salmon with citrus sauce
Khairil Zhafri via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Grilled salmon with citrus sauce

Over the years I've tried to incorporate more and more seafood into my diet, and despite not being very adept at cooking fish, I do try. What often saves the dish is the sauce that I whip up...something I'm a little better at. And as I joked with Chef Jerry Pellegrino, what's sauce for the goose isn't necessarily sauce for the grouper.

A lot of us have simple everyday hacks for fish sauce. One of my favorites for tuna or salmon is to mix a little horseradish into some Hellman's mayonnaise and toss in a bit of dill. Simple, and effective.

But let's get a little more sophisticated. Let's think about matching the sauce to the type of fish. For instance, there's delicate, light fish like Dover sole or flounder; then there's the meatier, flaky white fish like rockfish or cod; and finally I think of full flavored red fish like arctic char, salmon or red snapper. Let's look at one sauce for each.

Here's a simple sauce for delicate fish: brown butter and lemon. You just melt a quarter stick of butter in the skillet you used to sauté the fish. Add some lemon juice and over low heat, scrape up the brown bits. Finish with some white pepper and finely chopped parsley and you're good to go.

Here's one of many sauces for Dover sole that involve cream or milk.

Cream And Capers Sauce For Dover Sole


1/4 stick of unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 shallot, finely minced

5 oz. dry white vermouth

5 oz. fish stock or clam juice

4 oz. whipping cream

1/4 cup rinsed capers

kosher salt and white pepper

1. In a large skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and shallots and cook until translucent.

2. Pour in the vermouth, and reduce by half over medium heat. Add the fish stock and once again reduce the liquid by half.

3. Remove from heat and strain to remove garlic and shallots. Return liquid to the skillet and stir in the cream and capers. Adjust seasoning. Keep warm to serve immediately over the fish.

For our meatier fish, let's try Sauce Bercy, a simple sauce that calls for fish velouté. And all that is, is 6 ounces of fish stock blended into a simple white roux.

Simmer some chopped shallots in white wine, and reduce by half. Stir in a pint of the fish velouté and again reduce by half. Finish off with a knob of butter, some chopped parsley, and a squirt of lemon juice. Easy and impressive.

And here's a useful tip. Fish stock isn't always easy to find, but clam juice is. Feel free to substitute clam juice or even chicken broth in your recipes.

For salmon, it's hard to beat a simple butter and lemon accented Hollandaise sauce. For a unique twist, use orange juice and grated orange peel instead of lemon.

For a very creamy sauce for let's say grilled tuna, try this in your blender: avocado, lemon juice, plain yogurt with a touch of sea salt and chili powder. Give it a good blitz, cool it down in the fridge and you're good to go.

Tuna is something of a special case. Firm and full of flavor, raw or lightly cooked tuna can stand up to a lot of flavor, particularly ingredients with Asian accents. There are a lot of sauce recipes based on soy sauce (including low-salt soy sauce). One very attractive idea involves low-salt soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi paste. Heat and spiciness are balanced by lime juice and brown sugar, and the whole thing is as easy as dumping all the ingredients into a sauce pan and bringing it to a boil.

Quick Soy Wasabi Sauce For Fish


1/4 cup low-salt soy sauce

1 tbs minced fresh ginger or pickled ginger

3 tbs rice vinegar

1 tbs minced garlic

1 tbs wasabi paste

2 tbs lime juice

1/2 tbs brown sugar

1 tsp corn starch mixed smooth with a little cold water

1. Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, allowing it to thicken. Serve at room temperature.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.