PAN-ROASTING—the method that is neither sautéing nor braising, but something in between—is one of the basic techniques of the Italian kitchen for cooking fish as well as meat, chicken, and smaller birds. It is more controlled cooking than oven-roasting, combining the slow concentration of flavor that takes place in the dry air of the oven with the juiciness and superior texture one can achieve on top of the stove.
The recipe below is most successful with small, whole fish, but firm-fleshed, thick fillets with the skin on can also be used.
For 4 to 6 servings
- 4 small or 3 medium whole fish, such as porgies, bass, pompano, about ¾ to 1 pound each, scaled and gutted, but with head and tail on
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup flour, spread on a plate
- 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves OR ½ teaspoon dried
- Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1. Wash the fish inside and out in cold water, then pat thoroughly dry with paper towels.
- 2. Lightly mash the garlic with a heavy knife handle, just hard enough to split the skin, and peel it.
- 3. Choose a lidded saute pan or deep skillet that will subsequently be able to accommodate all the fish without overlapping. Put in the butter and oil and turn on the heat to medium high.
- 4. When the butter and oil are quite hot, dredge the fish in flour on both sides, and put it in the pan together with the garlic and marjoram. If using thick fillets, put them in skin side down first.
- 5. Brown the fish for about 1½ minutes on each side. Add liberal pinches of salt, black pepper, and the lemon juice, cover the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, turning the fish over after 6 minutes or so.
- 6. Transfer to a warm serving platter, lifting the fish gently with two metal spatulas to keep it from breaking up, pour all the juices in the pan over it, and serve at once.