Pan-Fried Butterfish

I love Monterey Fish Market, near my house in North Berkeley. The folks who work there are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, the fish and shellfish are always fresh and inviting, and there is an air of responsibility and love about the place as a whole.

I went in the other day with no goal in mind. I just wanted to pick up something to cook for diner that night. As I walked in the door, I heard one of the staff singing the praises of this itsy-bitsy fish, called a Butterfish. I'd never seen the likes of it in a fish market before. Needless to say, I was intrigued. The market tray held a dual line of what looked like miniature albacore, the skin was a beautiful steel grey, the dorsal fin ran the whole length to a relatively large and powerful tail. This was a little fish that could really move through the ocean with authority.

"What's the story with this little fellow," I asked. "Delicious!" was the consensus from behind the counter. One of the guys said that Butterfish is a semi-pelagic fish, which means it spends most of its life out in the deep ocean, beyond the range of most fishermen. The season for finding it in markets is very short, just about a month and a half, in June and July, corresponding to its spawning season, when they come in closer to shore in the north Atlantic. I should say here that Butterfish is one of those slippery, vernacular names that has been applied to a variety of fish over the years. Other fish that have been called Butterfish include Sablefish and Black Cod. The key to distinguishing Butterfish from anything else is the size. They never exceed 12 inches in total length, but most run from 6 to 9 inches. The ones I bought had had their heads removed and were no more than 5 inches long.

"These fish taste just like their name implies." I was told. "They are the favorite of the owner; the fish he would choose above all others to eat." Sold.

I took home eight for my family of four, which only amounted to a bit over a pound; total cost, about $8.

• 8 Butterfish, heads removed but skin on
1/2 Preserved Meyer lemon
• 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
• 1 pinch red pepper flakes
• flour for dusting (GF folks, we used Sorghum flour)
• olive oil and butter for seasoning the pan

You could certainly grill these guys, but I chose to pan fry them. I started by taking a very sharp knife and cutting an X in each side, going right down to the bone. This was just to help get the seasoning I was preparing a bit further into the flesh.

For seasoning you could put together just about anything that sounds good going with a firm, mild fish. Even a quick brush of olive oil and squirt of lemon juice would hit the spot. I decided to dice up a half of one of E's preserved lemons, chop a few tablespoons of fresh parsley from our garden, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes. I covered both sides of the fish with this concoction, then I dusted them with a bit of gluten-free flour, and put them in a hot pan, seasoned with olive oil and butter.

I cooked each side about about two minutes, and that was that.

We garnished with some chopped up parsley blossoms, our garnish of choice these days. We ate the fish with a simple green salad.

The fish was succulent, as advertised. I was licking my fingers as I made my way through each little fellow. My only bit of warning is about bones. There are plenty in there, and they do need to be picked out.


  1. I love butterfish, just had some last week in a restaurant, sooo good...and delicate...

    I like the way you cooked it, with preserved lemons and red pepper must have been delicious!

    Nice presentation with parsley blossoms for garnish, you will not belief how much they cost at the farmers market...$5 a bunch! :D only in SF.

  2. Love the sight of these- so simple and looks delicious. Perfect for summer meals!

  3. now i'm getting really excited to read all your posts from your year abroad. i'm going to learn so much. great writing. fabulous photos. erin, you're getting so damn good with that camera! and it was black cod i was trying to think of the other day that i use to make the nobu white miso dish. i hope to make it for you before you go...

  4. Thanks ladies! Wish we could have shared the little cuties with you:)

  5. This butterfish looks delicious and yummy :)


So good to hear from you... I appreciate each and every note you leave for me!