A sauce to make your fish dish sing

A beurre blanc primer in time for albacore season

While standing in the condiments aisle in Market of Choice, a friend I hadn't seen in months appeared from the direction of the fish counter.

"Wow, talk about good timing," said Deb. "We just bought a piece of swordfish. Any thoughts on how we should handle it?"

A few ways with fish

Some of my best summer meals have been centered around fresh, local, line-caught Pacific albacore. I employ one of these basic maneuvers:

1. Prepare a foil pan roomy enough to form a base for the fish, with enough foil remaining to loosely drape over the top. Add a splash of wine, lemon and herbs, then place on a preheated grill and cook just until the fish is firm when gently nudged.

2. Give the albacore a brief stint in either an herbed or teriyaki-style marinade (a couple of hours at the most), then when ready to cook, prepare a foil pan roomy enough to form a base for the fish. Glug in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, then add the drained fish and place this pan on the grill over preheated coals and cook just until the fish is firm when gently nudged.

In either of those approaches, one of my beurre blanc-style sauces will bring depth of flavor and sophisticated intrigue to the party. While the fish is cooking, complete the final phase on the sauce, according to the accompanying recipe. By this, I mean that you will have completed step one (the reduction) at an earlier point. Then just before serving, simply bring the sauce to a simmer and whisk in the bits of butter to complete it.

If you want to get really fancy, instead of serving the fish family-style, spoon a bit of sauce into the center of each dinner plate, then place a serving of the fish in the center of the sauce, along with whatever side dish you're serving.

Thoughts? Boy, howdy.

And although the words that tumbled from my brain sounded fairly labor-intensive, I took a breath then distilled it down to one word: "beurre blanc."

OK, two words. But one sauce. A sauce that is both buttery and zesty. A sauce that will support the fish without overwhelming it. A sauce that will dance on the palate so delightfully and with such grace that your lucky dinner companions will just sigh their approval.

The problem with such a sauce is that it is created in two steps, which in my book isn't such a big deal. But these days, with so many conveniences on the market to ease your time and efforts over the stove, some would consider it the savory equivalent of making layer cake from scratch.

But the fact is, you'll be uniting your sauce with a very simple fish preparation — one that's been achieved over coals or a gas grill. So the overall impact on your psyche is minimal.

I've talked about this style of sauce before. But there's a good chance you weren't paying attention. And besides, with albacore season upon is, it's the perfect time to be reminded of some jazzy variations to try on the grilled loin or steaks you'll be serving over the next few weeks.

A classic beurre blanc is made by taking a large amount of white wine and/or vinegar and simmering it down to a much lesser amount, along with a handful of chopped shallots and maybe a pinch of fresh herbs. This is called a reduction, by the way.

So, that's step one. At this point, a large amount of butter is whisked, one dollop at a time, into the simmering reduction. Boom, step two is now behind you, and all that's left is fine-tuning flavors with the addition of salt and pepper.

Of course, that's merely a basic beurre blanc — French in origin. But you'll encounter this same sauce in many guises if you hang out in restaurants where good sauces are respected.

One such place is Aqua in downtown Corvallis. My beurre-blanc education was expanded after a chat with chef-owner Iain Duncan a few years back. I had asked him how home cooks could inject the same sort of Pacific Rim-Hawaiian influences into their nightly menus that he brings to Aqua.

One approach, he advised, would be incorporating a few Asian-Hawaiian elements into said beurre blanc with shredded bits of fresh ginger, a drop of sesame oil and a splash of soy sauce, for example. I have discovered this is an exciting way to achieve Asian-influenced flavors in elegant style when working with my go-to summer fish, albacore.

And even though the sauces that I'm going to share with you are certainly rich, the idea is to use them sparingly, as an accent to grilled albacore (or halibut or swordfish or salmon ... ) If you add a third element, such as the Tomato-Ginger-Hazelnut Salad I'm also providing, or a simple cucumber salad tossed with vinegar, chopped green onion and coarsely ground black pepper, then you lighten the meal even more.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com. ;

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