Pan-Fried Salmon with Brown Butter and Fried Capers (Saumon Grenobloise)

Pan-Fried Salmon with Brown Butter and Fried Capers (Saumon Grenobloise)

The traditional French method of making a sauce of “brown butter” for sautéed or pan-seared fish is remarkably easy. Brown butter, in French “Beurre Noisette” (literally hazelnut butter), is simply unsalted butter fried in a pan until the solid bits turn light brown. In its simplest form, with a little lemon juice and parsley, brown butter sauce is “Meunière,” most famous with sole. A slightly darker brown butter sauce with capers is “Grenobloise” (meaning in the style of Grenoble, a city in the Alps), which is a favorite French way of serving pan-fried trout. With the rich flavor of salmon I like a hint of rosemary.

Plate: Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
This dish calls for chilled Chardonnay, my preference is for unoaked Chardonnay. Generally I’m not a fan of Chardonnay, especially if it has lots of buttery and vanilla oak overtones, but the rich fish plus the butter sauce call for Chardonnay. Alternately, a cold Viognier goes well.

The recipe is for four servings. For each diner, allow 4 ounces (1/4 pound) of fish.

1 pound salmon fillet, with or without skin
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons capers, drained
12 tiny leaves stripped of a sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon chunks
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

If fish is frozen, thaw it quickly in its plastic envelope in slowly running room-temperature water. Remove from envelope and pat fish dry with paper towel.

Sprinkle fish moderately on both sides with salt and pepper.

Prepare remaining ingredients and keep separate. Measure and drain capers. If using rosemary, pick 12 tiny leaves off a sprig. Squeeze lemon juice. Cut butter.

Heat frying pan, preferably non-stick, large enough to hold the fish, to medium high. Add oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. When butter fully melts, fry fish on both sides, starting with the skinless side, if the skin is still attached. Scrape under it with a sharp spatula so fish doesn’t stick to pan. When fish is nearly cooked in middle (twist point of sharp knife in thickest part and look for changed color in middle), lift out onto a warm platter. (Before you do this, you can often scrape off the skin, if present.)

Remove any bits of skin or fish from the pan, and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir it over gentle heat until bits of solids turn golden brown. Add capers and rosemary and stir and fry for 15 seconds. Stir in lemon juice. Remove from heat. Taste for salt, and add a little if needed.

Spoon sauce and capers over the fish.

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