FRONT BURNER: Butter-basted fish pleases picky eater

Butter-Basted Fish Filets With Garlic and Thyme (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Butter-Basted Fish Filets With Garlic and Thyme (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

I don't cook nearly as much fish as I'd like. There are multiple reasons — my husband is a card-carrying beef lover for one — and so I often fall into a rut when I do cook fish.

"Foolproof Fish: Modern Recipes for Everyone, Everywhere" from America's Test Kitchen makes it easy to get and stay out of that rut with its nearly 200 recipes.

It didn't take long leafing through "Foolproof Fish" to find half a dozen or more recipes I wanted to try, including one or two Mr. Picky will enjoy.

One feature in the book I found to be especially helpful is a handy chart of 30 fish, a brief description of their flavors; whether they're usually sold fresh or frozen; whole or in filets; the best cooking method for each; and acceptable substitutions.

I picked this one to try first simply because I had all of the ingredients on hand already. Other recipes from the book on my to-make list include Halibut en Cocotte With Roasted Garlic and Cherry Tomatoes; Pan-Seared Scallops (which are cooked using a method similar to the one here); Moroccan Fish and Couscous Packets; Hake in Saffron Broth With Chorizo and Potatoes; Roasted Salmon With Orange Beurre Blanc; Grilled Tuna Steaks With Vinaigrette; Fennel and Bibb Salad With Scallops and Hazelnuts; and Lemon Basil Cod Cakes.

Butter-Basted Fish Filets With Garlic and Thyme

2 (6- to 8-ounce) skinless cod filets, about 1 inch thick

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Pat filets dry with paper towels. Season all sides with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Reduce heat to medium and place the fish, skinned side down, in the skillet. Using a fish spatula, gently press on each filet for 5 seconds to ensure good contact with the pan. Cook filets, without moving, for 4 to 5 minutes or until underside is light golden brown.

Carefully flip fish and cook for 1 minute. Scatter the butter around the fish. When the butter is melted, tilt the skillet slightly toward you so the butter pools in the front of the skillet. Using a long-handled spoon, scoop up melted butter and pour it over the fish repeatedly for 15 seconds. Return skillet to flat position and cook 30 seconds. Tilt and baste again with butter for 15 seconds. Return skillet to flat position and using an instant read thermometer, check the internal temperature of each filet. Continue basting and cooking until fish reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees. Add garlic and thyme at the "12 o'clock" position -- careful -- butter will spatter. When the spattering subsides, continue basting and cooking until the filets reach an internal temperature of 135 degrees at the thickest point. Total cooking time will be 8 to 10 minutes.

Transfer filets to individual plates. Discard garlic. Top each filet with thyme sprigs and melted butter. Serve with lemon wedges.

Makes 2 servings.