My favorite dinner party dishes are simple and elegant. This Fish with Lemon Caper Sauce definitely fits that bill. It works with lots of different types of fish too. The lemon and capers give the sauce what my mom used to call “zing.” If the lemon and caper combination seems familiar, you might be thinking of the Italian favorite, veal piccata.
This dish is my contribution to this month’s Progressive Eats, A Citrus Feast. As this month’s host, I got to pick the theme. Since I’m a glutton for the tangy taste of citrus fruits, I decided to feature them; so, all our dishes use citrus in at least one form.
My love of citrus goes back to childhood. I was the kid who used to beg for a slice of lemon to suck on, enjoying the sensation when my lips puckered up. And when my mom introduced me to kumquats, I thought I’d gone to citrus heaven. (In those days, kumquats were only available a few weeks out of the year.) I ate as many oranges and grapefruits as I could get my hands on, and reveled in the super-sized ones that came in gift boxes from Florida and Texas. When I became pregnant, I didn’t crave pickles. Instead, I went for navel oranges, eating several at a sitting.
Going back over old blogposts, I realize that many of my favorite recipes use citrus. From Chocolate Tahini Babka with orange syrup, to Gingersnap Mini Lemon Curd Tarts, I find many citrus-laden desserts among my sweets. And then of course, there is Jamie Schler’s Baked Orange Rosemary Chicken, not to mention the Blood Orange Campari Cocktail. I could go on, but you get the point. Citrus is in my heart and frequently on my table.
I couldn’t resist researching a bit about this part of the fruit family that I love so dearly.
It turns out that there are more than 50 varieties of citrus. They range from familiar ones like clementines, blood oranges and meyer lemons, to more exotic types, such as Moroccan citron and calamansi. (That last one is sometimes called Filipino lime. My friend Betty Ann Quirino has many recipes with it on her Asian in America blog.)
The latest scientific word that I found on the genus citrus, in the journal Nature, says that the genus includes an unknown number of species. I may not be able to decipher the rest of the article, but I can tell that some scientists are obviously as fascinated by citrus genomics and evolution as I am delighted by how wonderful it is to cook with and eat.
All those varieties developed from a handful of citrus ancestors, millions of years ago. They started out in Asia and have only traveled more recently to the Americas and other continents. An Israeli archeobotanist Daffna Langgut traced the movement of citrus from Asia to the Middle East.
Lemons were among the earliest types of citrus to journey across Asia. Langgut dates the earliest lemons in Rome to 100 B.C – 100 A.D. According to her, they didn’t get to the other countries around the Mediterranean Sea for another 400 years. She says lemons were the province of the rich at that point, prized “due to [their] healing qualities, symbolic use, pleasant odor and its rarity,” as well as their culinary qualities.
My favorite quote from my citrus research is from pomologist David Karp. Pomologist is the fancy word for a scientist who studies fruit. Karp may be a citrus nerd, but I’m with him when he says, “There’s something fascinating, freaky, even sexy about citrus….”
But enough about citrus science and history – back to my Fish with Lemon Caper Sauce.
Compared to some of my other recipes that use citrus, this is a rather basic dish. But that’s part of its charm in my book. This is the type of dinner you can whip up on a weekday evening, yet it’s fancy enough for company. You can make a single serving or enough for a crowd with basically the same few ingredients and effort.
The ingredients for the lemon caper sauce are simple: lemon, fat (oil or butter), seasoning, and capers.
Before writing my own recipe, I checked out 10 versions. While some use all oil for the fat, others call for all butter. Still others use a combination. The ratio of fat to lemon juice varies too. Several recipes call for twice as much fat as lemon juice, while others use mostly lemon juice. A few even substitute white wine and/or chicken broth for fat. The amount of capers varies too, from 1 teaspoon (for a sauce serving 2) to 1 1/2 tablespoons. And the add-ins vary; parsley, onion, garlic, grated lemon zest and even herbs like thyme.
In case you’re interested, here (in no particular order) are the 10 recipes I reviewed:
- Food & Wine’s Tuna Steaks with Lemon Caper Sauce
- Blue Kitchen’s Sole Fillets with Lemon Caper Butter
- Epicurious’ Salmon with Roasted Asparagus and Lemon Caper Sauce
- Rachel Ray’s Lemon Caper Sauce (by Christina Stanley Salerno)
- Williams Sonoma’s Fish with Lemon and Caper Sauce
- My Modern Cookery’s Sea Bass with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce
- Acadian Sturgeon’s Grilled Sturgeon with Lemon Caper Sauce
- Redbook’s Lemon Herb Caper Sauce
- Tasting Page’s Cod in White Wine Lemon Caper Sauce
- Food 52’s Grilled Swordfish with Lemon and Caper Sauce (by Chef June)
The bottom line? You really can’t go wrong with lemon caper sauce. In fact, when I make it, I often don’t measure the ingredients exactly. Instead, I simply let my tastebuds be my guide.
In this version, I use roasted cod as the fish “base” for two reasons. First, it is a mild white fish, so it shows off the sauce. Second, it is quick and easy to prepare.
A few notes on my lemon caper sauce ingredients. I used a combination of oil and butter – a compromise between healthier (oil) and tastier (butter.) While I used dill, flat leaf parsley is a fine substitute. Unsurprisingly, given my longstanding love affair with lemons, I amped up the citrus flavor with grated lemon rind.
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. Each recipe in our menu this month features citrus in some form: slices of fruit, juice, rind etc. I’m the host this month.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
A Citrus Feast
Cocktails & Other Beverages
- Blackberry Lime Margaritas from The Redhead Baker
- Orange Frosty, a from the the Orange Appeal Cookbook, Creative Culinary
Asparagus Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette (Gluten-Free) from The Heritage Cook
- Crab and Mango Salad with Spicy Lime Dressing in Endive From A Chef’s Kitchen
- Fish with Lemon Caper Sauce from Mother Would Know (you’re here!)
Stir-Fried Crispy Orange Beef from Karen’s Kitchen Stories
Roasted Asparagus Salad with Preserved Lemon from OMG Yummy
Cauliflower Scampi in a Garlic Lemon Sauce from The Wimpy Vegetarian
Glazed Lemon Pound Cake from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
Fruited Orange Summer Dessert Salad with Orange Marmalade Whipped Cream from Life’s a Feast
Fish with Lemon Caper Sauce
A fish dinner that is quick and easy enough for weeknights, yet elegant enough for company.
- 12 ounces cod or other firm white fish
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon capers, well rinsed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill or flat leaf parsley, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried dill)
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, divided
- freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the fish in a lightly greased cast iron or roasting pan or a sheet pan lined with parchment. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and ground pepper. Bake for approximately 15 minutes until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
While the fish is cooking, put the oil and butter in a small saucepan and melt the butter. Add the capers and continue cooking for less than 1 minute, just until the capers are aromatic. Then take the sauce off the heat, add the lemon juice, zest, dill, salt and pepper.
Once the fish is done and plated, serve topped with sauce.
You can serve all of the sauce on top of the fish, or use only a small spoonful, reserving the rest for diners to add at their discretion.
If you accompany the fish with vegetables that also go well with lemon caper sauce, you might make an extra portion of the sauce to serve on the side.