Sauces for fish
• Taste your sauce all the time.
• Clarify hot sauces by adding a knob of butter just before serving.
• Remember that sauces get thicker when they cool.
• The finer the stock, the better the sauce.
• The better the color, the more attractive it is on the plate.
Professional fish chefs consulted by Professional Secrets all agree – succeeding with fish is all about getting the freshest ingredients, cooking them with care and not over-complicating things. For the sake of variety, this means it’s important to master the sauces on this page – and ideally even more.
We might have said this before, but... Be aware that the quality of your fish stock has a major impact on the end result.
The simplest basic sauce
Melt butter. Salt if required and pour over the fish. Serve. One important detail is that the plate must be warm so that the butter doesn’t solidify.
The second simplest basic sauce
If nothing has burned, it’s good to use the pan in which you fried the fish. Stir in some white wine, a splash of cream and perhaps a little fish stock, and reduce. Round off with some knobs of butter.
Basic French sauce
The most classic fish sauce is a flavored beurre blanc (“white butter”): Bring to the boil chopped shallot, parsley and white peppercorns in a good quality fish stock, white wine and a little white wine vinegar. Reduce the liquid and strain.
You can bring it back to the boil with a splash of cream to reduce the risk of the emulsion splitting in the next stage: Add the butter bit by bit beating all the time – without letting the sauce boil. This basic sauce can then be flavored with chives, dill, horseradish, whitefish roe, calvados...
A light wine sauce
Melt butter and add flour as if making a béchamel sauce. Dilute with fish stock and wine and boil to reduce. Whip egg yolks with cream and mix into the sauce, stirring all the time. Balance the flavors with salt and lemon juice. For a lighter version, whip half the amount of the cream and stir it in last.
A mussel sauce
As above but replace the stock with a larger amount of the liquid from boiling mussels. Mix in and heat the mussels, but don’t let them cook twice.
Fry the shells, onion and garlic in oil. If they come from larger shellfish like crab and lobster you could crack them and roast them in the oven first. Add white wine, stock and tomato purée and reduce. Strain out the shells and pour in the cream. Then reduce again. Season with salt, pepper and lobster stock.
A filling mushroom sauce
Fry the mushrooms until almost all the liquid has steamed away. Add chopped onion and fry some more. Pour in the cream, stirring all the time, and cook on a medium heat until the right thickness is attained. Season with pepper and salt and add color with a few drops of soy sauce. The sauce can be processed smooth with a hand-held blender.
Hollandaise, mayonnaise, aioli, etc.
You’ll find excellent recipes for these popular emulsions in books and on the internet. They’re not as hard as people think – as with everything else, it just takes a bit of practice. They can be flavored with saffron, chili, pepper and other good things.
To reduce the risk of the sauce splitting, the ingredients need to be at the same temperature. One trick if it does split: Beat one egg yolk in a bowl. While beating, drip the split sauce into the egg yolk – very slowly to begin with. It will work.
The base of a cold fish sauce can be yoghurt, sour cream or crème fraîche. Often with a dollop of mayonnaise for a little saltiness and umami. Common flavors are lemon, lime, roe/caviar, dill, parsley, chives, mint, pepper, chili, garlic, capers, pickled vegetables, etc. Sauce Verte with chopped spinach and fresh green herbs adds a good splash of color on the plate.
“Salsa” is actually the Spanish word for sauce, but in international cuisine it has come to mean a fresh – often cold – sauce made from a base of tomato, onion, garlic and chili. It goes well with anything grilled, including fish.