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Butterfish

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My small town recently got a good fish and seafood store, and I've been trying out different things. Today I went hoping for some grouper or monkfish, but there was none on display. So I decided to try something I've never seen or heard of before - butterfish. I have a 1-lb piece with the skin on.

I'm finding very little information on the internet about this fish. The fishmonger says it's light and flaky with a good taste to it. He recommended panfrying skin-side down until the skin gets crispy. Not a bad idea, but I figured I'd come here to fish for other suggestions. I probably won't make it until tomorrow night.

Probably, most generic fish cooking techniques will work on it. But I'm just learning how to cook good fish, so I don't have a whole lot in my arsenal. Also, I'd appreciate any suggestions on light sauces to make with seafood. I made what I thought would have been a good lemon-butter sauce for some grouper a couple of weeks ago, but I was not happy with the results.

Any advice for a fish noob - especially as it pertains to butterfish - would be appreciated.

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  1. If you have a one-pound piece of filleted fish, you almost certainly have a piece of sablefish. Butterfish are quite small, about 6 to 8 inches long, with thin, compact bodies. They're too small to fillet and are usually panfried whole.

    Sablefish can be prepared as you would any firm-fleshed fish such as haddock, salmon, or swordfish. Marcella Hazan has an outstanding recipe for swordfish that you might like. Broil the fish and when cooked prick with a fork and pour over it a mixture of a big pinch of salt, freshly ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons chopped oregano, into which you drizzle about 1/4 cup of olive oil while beating with a fork or whisk. Truly simple; truly delicious.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JoanN

      I've made Marcella's recipe before, and it's great, and I think it would be wonderful with sablefish (which I adore).

    2. One easy way I love to cook fish is to rub with a little turmeric (just to turn white flesh golden yellow), cayenne to taste and kosher salt. Pan fry in a film of oil- and I agree, the skin is wonderful when it gets crispy!

      1. I think its best prepared in the way I have tried it at Hawaiian Japanese delicatessens known as Okazu-ya. The two styles are generally a miso glazed or sweet- soy braised. Both are absolutely delicious due to the high oil content of the fish paired with sweet- and salty yin-yang. Soy braised is particularly great over hot steamed rice

        6 Replies
        1. re: kare_raisu

          Google Escolar

          There are sometimes undesirable results from eating butterfish.

          1. re: mar52

            Many fish go by the generic name "butterfish." Escolar is a kind of mackerel and is different from both true butterfish and from sablefish. I sincerely doubt anyone could even buy escolar in a fish market in the US.

            1. re: JoanN

              I saw it in a grocery here last summer. I asked the guy at the seafood counter about it and he said yes, he'd heard "some people get sick after eating it." I was pretty surprised, but at least they labeled it accurately, so people hopefully knew what they were buying. It made me wonder about their buyer, as in "What exactly was he thinking?"

              1. re: amyzan

                I've never heard escolar called butterfish, but it's pretty common, if not "routine" in NYC from what I've seen. Most often it seems to be labelled "white tuna" around these parts.

                Some people (or their GI tracts) do react badly, especially when they eat a large portion, but it's hardly like swallowing a tablespoon of mineral oil -- lots of people including me eat it with little if any noticeable impact.

                1. re: MikeG

                  Aha! White tuna? I had no idea. Escolar gets a bad reputation so they just change the name? Boy, talk about truth in labeling. Kinda like Patagonian Toothfish being sold as Chilean Sea Bass to make it more acceptable to the public. It certainly does make it difficult to know what it is you're buying.

          2. re: kare_raisu

            That's exactly the way I had it the very first time...in miso/soy glaze on rice. So wonderful!

          3. Well, I ended up eating half of it tonight. I panfried it for ~7-8 minutes or so skin-side down, flipped it and gave it some color on the other side, and finished it off for about 5 minutes in a 375F oven.

            Topped it with some lemon juice and a basil cream sauce and served with some crispy fried garlic spinach and a diced tomato. It looked like an Italian or Mexican flag when I laid it all out.

            I still have the other half to try something out with. I might make a ginger-soy-butter type sauce or something to go with it. I was pretty happy with panfrying/nuking, so I'll probably just stick with that.

            By the way, they had escolar at the fish market, and I know of at least one restaurant (Japanese/sushi) where you can order it in town. I've never tried it, but I have heard that parts of it are indigestible in some folks. An orange, involuntary discharge doesn't sound like any fun, but I might roll the dice one weekend when I know I won't be going very far from a toilet.... It could be tasty, after all!

            1. i've had sablefish and butterfish which seem to be the same thing. i've also heard it called alaskan black cod. white tuna and escolar are distinctly different from each other and butterfish.

              my favorite way of having it is with a miso sauce. 1/2 red miso and 1/2 sugar (yes, a lot), with some ginger and soy. marinate 15 minutes or so. roast in the oven or steam. it comes out meltingly tender.