"Where is he from and how come I've never seen him before?" I asked her. "John Dory can come from all over, but this one is from North Atlantic," she said. "You might have seen it as St. Peter's fish," she added. I have heard the name, but haven't seen it in markets or restaurants before, so I was eager to try it.
To see what this little fish is all about, I simply seasoned it with salt and pepper and seared in a hot skillet with a little olive oil. The thin fillets were done in 3-4 minutes and I served them on a bed of Tomato Cream Sauce with Sugar Snap Peas. It was a lovely dish -- almost more summer than spring tasting, but I just couldn't pass those beautiful tomatoes from Formaggio Kitchen. I wonder where they get such yummy ones this time of year.
John Dory turned out perfectly -- sweet, delicate, and much more expressive than cod, haddock, or any of those sauce-vehicle type fish. I'd say it was somewhere in between the overly shy sole and an oily trout. The only thing I'd change next time would be to remove its skin. I cook most small and medium size fish with the skin when using direct high heat methods like searing and grilling. It turns crispy and very yummy like the skin on a roast chicken. But John Dory is another type of animal. Its skin didn't crisp up and just turned kind of gummy. Not a biggy, since it's easy to remove after the fish is done, but removing it before cooking would let me crisp up both sides of the fish. You can ask your fishmonger to skin the fillets for you, or you can do it yourself.
John Dory with Tomato Cream Sauce
Fish substitutions: any white or cream colored thin fish fillets like white trout, flounder, sole, and branzino. You can use thicker fish too, like striped bass, sable, cod, haddock, and hake, but you'll have to finish them in the 400F oven as they won't be cooked through enough by the time they brown on the outside.
For the fish:
4 John Dory fillets without skin (6 oz each)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Chopped dill, parsley, or herb of your choice for garnish
For the sauce:
1 Tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
1-1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (you can use any type of tomatoes as long as they are ripe or good quality canned tomatoes)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp heavy cream
Salt and Pepper to taste
To make the sauce
- Set a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the butter and wait for it to melt. Add shallot and a pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until translucent, 3-5 minutes.
- Add tomatoes, turn up the heat to high and cook until they sizzle, start to release their juices and get tender, but not mushy, 2-3 minutes.
- Stir tomatoes and pour the wine and water over them. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. During the last minute, you can add some sugar snap peas before uncovering tomatoes, adding cream, and finishing the sauce.
- Stir in cream and bring to a simmer uncovered. Take off heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Dry the fish off very well with paper towels and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Set a large non-stick skillet over high heat. When hot, add the oil and wait a few seconds for it to heat up. Place the fish into the skillet with its better looking side down (if substituting fish with the skin, place it in the skillet skin side down). Cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until the fish almost flakes, but is still a little translucent at the center, another 1-2 minutes. The total cooking time should be about 8 minutes per inch of thickness.
- Divide the sauce between plates, top with the fish fillets, and garnish with herbs.