White Fish in Wine Sauce captures the West Coast vibe of the Sunset Cook Book, a colorful warm-weather meal that dresses up fresh seafood with vibrant Spanish flavors. Delicate and filling, casual and elegant, and only takes an hour or so start to finish. It seems like a perfect weeknight dinner for the California coast, served outdoors on a wrought iron patio set overlooking the ocean.
Preparation is straightforward. The fish is lightly seasoned and marinated in white wine with onions while the oven preheats. The fish and onions are removed from the marinade, topped with tomatoes and mild green peppers and baked, basted liberally with the marinade until the fish is cooked through. The recipe doesn’t specify a particular type of fish, but seems best-suited for mild-flavored firm-fleshed white fish filets. During the process the fish will be poached and barely browned; all of the flavor comes from the baked vegetables, so choose a fish whose flavor will blend into the background. Cod, halibut, ono, or a good-sized rockfish filet will all work fine. You might even consider a mild Coho salmon or steelhead, but save your bright red sockeye for the grill. And steer clear of tilapia – the delicate filets will disintegrate in the marinade.
What is important is to use good quality veggies – they are front and center in this dish and you don’t want to skimp. Sweet onions are a must. The original recipe calls for “chopped tomatoes” but flat, flavorless supermarket beefsteaks just won’t work here. I recommend using cherry or grape tomatoes instead, simply because they tend to be sweeter and taste more like properly ripened tomatoes (even if they’re factory farmed). If you have access to good quality ripe tomatoes they’ll work just fine, but cherry tomatoes are widely available and are your best bet for a supermarket variety. I’ve also replaced the green bell peppers in the original with pasilla peppers, for no other reason than I really don’t like cooked green bell peppers. I’ll tolerate them on a cheesesteak or meatball sub, but flaccid, bitter peppers can’t be the star of the show here. Pasilla peppers are still mild like bells but will stay crisp and sweet when cooked. They also retain their color after baking, which adds some visual pizzazz.
White Fish in Wine Sauce is much different than what my family is accustomed to eating. We eat a lot of big-flavored American dishes and boldly-spiced “ethnic” cuisines, a stark contrast to a delicate fish dish, and yet the family were still big fans. The veggies are very much front and center. The fish and wine add protein and body but play more of a supporting role. It feels healthy, like eating a salad, but is still deeply satisfying; filling but won’t weigh you down and perfect for a warm summer evening. A little squeeze of lemon during serving gives it just the right amount of acid to make it craveable. Everyone went back for second helpings. I can’t put my finger on what exactly they liked about it, but it was a big hit.
I served this to my family on a bed of basmati rice with a side salad and sliced cucumbers, which is typical for a warm weather meal in our home. This would also work well with a bold, contrasting rice side dish, such as saffron rice, baked green rice casserole, or even a rich risotto with steamed asparagus or green beans. Enjoy!
- 3 lbs firm-fleshed white fish (or a mild variety of salmon)
- salt and pepper
- 1 sweet onion (peeled and thinly sliced)
- 2 cups dry white wine
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
- 2 large pasilla peppers (cored and coarsely chopped)
- 2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
- lemon wedges (for serving)
- Preheat the oven to 375º F
- Lay the fish in a single layer in a large, glass casserole dish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper on both sides and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Add a layer of onion slices, then pour the wine on top. Marinate for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally.
- Remove the fish and onions to a plate. Drain the marinade into a separate bowl and mix with the Worchestershire sauce. Do not wipe out the casserole dish.
- Melt the butter and add it to the casserole dish. Return the onions to the dish and layer the fish on top. Top with tomatoes and peppers and additional salt and pepper.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, basting periodically with the reserved marinade, until tomatoes are wilted, peppers are tender, and fish is firm and flakes easily. Serve with lemon wedges.