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Perfect Match Recipe: Black Bass with Hot Black Butter, Sunflower Sprouts and Cucumber

How to cook this summery dish, paired with Oregon Pinot Blanc
To flatter the delicate fish and rich, tangy black butter sauce, pair this with a juicy, textured white wine.
Photo by: Andrew Purcell
To flatter the delicate fish and rich, tangy black butter sauce, pair this with a juicy, textured white wine.

Hilary Sims
Posted: April 26, 2018

It’s not difficult to cook a black bass fillet. But if you want to knock yours out of the park, you’ll want to mind the details.

“The best way to cook a thin white fish is to make sure the skin’s dry, season it really well on both sides, and then place it in a hot pan,” advises chef Andrea Reusing of North Carolina restaurants the Durham and Lantern. Weighting the fish with another pan or a fish spatula makes for even cooking.

Reusing recommends restraint when it comes to pan-searing black bass. “You’re cooking it until it’s almost done, so it’s starting to get opaque all around the edges, and it’s only kind of pearly translucent right in the middle, on the top of the fish. And then you flip it for maybe 30 seconds. And then you pull it. It’s going to still have a little translucence in the middle, but by the time people are eating it, it’s going to be cooked,” she explains. If you’re worried, she advises inserting a small, sharp knife into the thickest part of the fish for four seconds, then touching it to your chin. If it’s slightly warm, the fish is ready.

The black butter sauce is what makes this recipe special. It relies on a base of perfectly browned butter, boosted with a red-wine vinegar reduction—but it’s OK if you’re not a butter-browning expert. “There’s a way you can slow the whole process down if you’re hesitant,” Reusing says. She suggests taking the butter off the heat when you think it’s almost ready and pouring it into a glass dish; it will keep cooking off the heat for about 30 seconds or a minute. If the color hasn't changed enough at that point, return it to the pan and keep going until you have nutty, fragrant dark brown butter; the aroma will be unmistakable.

Pairing Tip: Why Pinot Blanc Works with this Dish

Visit our YouTube channel to watch a version of this Perfect Match video with closed captions.

For more tips on how to approach pairing this dish with wine, recommended bottlings and notes on chef Andrea Reusing’s inspiration, read the companion article, "A Perfect Match: Black Bass With Oregon Pinot Blanc," in the June 15, 2018, issue, via our online archives or by ordering a digital edition (Zinio or Google Play) or a back issue of the print magazine. For more wine pairing options, WineSpectator.com members can find other recently rated Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio bottlings in our Wine Ratings Search.

Black Bass with Hot Black Butter, Sunflower Sprouts and Cucumber

Recipe courtesy of chef Andrea Reusing

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons high-quality Sherry vinegar
  • Four 6- to 8-ounce skin-on wild black bass fillets
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
  • 1 cup sunflower sprouts or purslane sprigs
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • 1 large thin-skinned cucumber, cubed into small chunks

1. In a small nonreactive saucepan, add the red wine vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer over medium heat. Cook until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

2. Set a small skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and swirl to melt. Stand closely by while it begins to brown. When the butter is dark-brown and fragrantly nutty, about 4 minutes, remove it from the heat and carefully pour it into a cold pan or heatproof dish, scraping the bottom to incorporate the caramelized and blackened bits. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, the reduced red wine vinegar and the Sherry vinegar. Don’t strain; it’s a “broken vinaigrette,” and the dark parts bring the flavor.

3. Pat the fish dry. Use a sharp paring knife to score the skin of each piece of fish with about a 2-inch-long, shallow lengthwise cut. The idea is to just perforate the skin without cutting deeply into the flesh. Season generously on both sides with salt and pepper.

4. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, then season with salt until it tastes salty.

5. Heat one or two heavy steel or cast-iron pans (enough to generously accommodate all of the fish) over medium-high for 5 minutes or until a small spoonful of water immediately beads across the surface of the pan and disappears. Add olive oil to pan and swirl to coat. Immediately place the fish, skin-side down, on the hot pan. Weight with a small pan. Occasionally rotate pan like a clock on the burner for even cooking, but don’t disturb the fish itself. Cook for at least 3 to 4 minutes, at which point it will be almost completely cooked. Remove the weights and carefully flip the fish. Cook for 30 seconds more, and immediately remove from pan. Let rest in a warm spot.

6. While the fish is cooking, place sunflower sprouts or purslane in a small mixing bowl. Toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

7. While the fish rests, add cucumber to boiling water and cook for only 15 to 20 seconds. Immediately drain and spread in a thin layer on paper towels to cool slightly.

8. Place the hot cucumbers and fish skin-side up on warm serving plates. Top with the black butter and sprouts. Serves 4.

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