Cooking for Others: White Wine, Fresh Fish

EVENT: Informal Fish Fry
VENUE: Phoebe’s Apartment, Flatiron
TYPE: Casual Weeknight Dinner
MENU: Lightly Fried Tilapia with Caper Brown Butter and Lemon-Shallot Orzo, Simple Salad
WINE: Finca Allende Blanco (2006), from Tinto Fino (at 85 First Ave.)

For some reason, ever since returning from my semester abroad in Rome, where as far as my daily diet was concerned, water actually did turn to wine, I have been unable to reignite my love affair with the crisp, fruity Chardonnays and Pinot Grigios I used to prefer.

A few weeks ago with my friend Whitney, a fellow white wine non-aficionado, I wandered into a fantastic little Spanish wine shop in the East Village. Having explained our palate biases, the sommelier suggested a bottle she promised would convert us back to wine-loving bipartisanism.

Unrelated to my usual choice of vino, I also don’t tend to cook fish when I am hosting more than a few friends, for financial and olfactory reasons, as well as out of a fear of guests’ aversions. But this week, in honor of Whitney’s new bottle of Rioja Blanco, I decided to take a page from the Brits: a menu featuring fried fish.

A great trick for getting away with choosing a less expensive fish like tilapia or skate is, in fact, to dredge, lightly fry, and top it with a simple sauce that honors the integrity of the flavors. To offset the cost of a pricer main ingredient, I also decided to pair my fish fry with two simple sides, neither of which were chips.

While more often than not I think I will still crave the rich, spicy flavors of a full-bodied red, the white Rioja won itself a repeat appearance. Likewise, the success of the meal guaranteed that a full-fledged fish fry may be just around the corner.

From my small, fish-friendly kitchen to yours,



Lightly Fried Tilapia with Caper Brown Butter and Lemon-Shallot Orzo
Makes 6 Servings
Budget $30


For the fish:

2 lb tilapia, or 6 large fillets (you can also use skate wing, yellowtail, or snapper)
1 cup flour for dredging
4 tbsp capers
2 oz butter

For the orzo:

1 lb orzo, cooked al dente
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
½ cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (plus an additional 2 tbsp for garnish)
½ cup white wine
1 lemons, zest and juice
1 oz butter

In a medium saucepan, sauté the shallots until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, lemon juice, and zest. Cook until reduced by half. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and parsley. Combine with orzo and season to taste.

On a large plate, season the flour with salt and dredge the tilapia fillets. In a large skillet, heat enough olive oil to coat the base of the pan over a high flame. Lightly fry the fish in batches until golden brown on the outside and just flaky in the inside, about 1-2 minutes per side. Let it drain on paper towels.

Clean out the pan and return to a low heat. Add the butter. When it begins to brown, add the capers and cook for 1 more minute.

To serve, place one fillet of tilapia over a bed of orzo and finish with 1-2 spoonfuls of caper brown butter.

Posted in: Cooking for Others
  • karen

    Hey, I know this is an old post! But I love your site! It’s amazingly fast and simple and delicious. I just have a quick question– I love capers– I’ve just never cooked with them. There are several different caper types …so i’m wondering if you used capers in oil or dried salted capers for this dish? Which do you prefer and can you recommend a brand for me?


  • Anonymous

    Just made this. Decadent and delicious!

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