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'Mise en place,' or preparing ahead for sautéed blackfish with Mexican corn sauce. (Credit: John Ross)
‘Mise en place,’ or preparing ahead for sautéed blackfish with Mexican corn sauce. (Credit: John Ross)

Restaurant chefs use the sauté pan extensively. Unlike the straight-sided, cast-iron skillet, the sauté pan has sloped sides and a thick bottom to evenly distribute the high heat and to give the chef the ability to move food around in the pan easily as it cooks. Sautéing allows you to cook quickly to order, in small batches, and allows you to create an infinite variety of seasonings, garnishes and pan sauces.

But the secret that every chef knows about sautéing is the “mise en place” that occurs beforehand. This term means “everything in its place” and requires setting up small dishes of ingredients ahead of time. When it is time to serve the meal, the sauté goes very quickly, with each ingredient at your side, assuring the guests of piping hot, freshly cooked, delicious food.

Since we are in the heart of local fish season, I have selected three of my favorite sautés along with the mise en place to make them work. 

Sautéed Blackfish
with Mexican Corn Sauce

Purchase 1 1/2 pounds of blackfish fillet. Remove the small line of bones running along the lateral line by slicing off a thin strip of flesh.

Place 1 cup flour in a pie tin and season it with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Pour 1 cup buttermilk into a shallow dish and 2 cups panko crumbs into another pie tin. Dredge the fillets in the flour, dip them into the buttermilk and press them into the panko crumbs. When all fillets are breaded, put them in the refrigerator while preparing the mise en place.

Scrape the kernels from 4 ears of corn into a small bowl. Finely dice 1/2 cup red pepper, 1/2 cup green pepper and 1 jalapeño pepper (without seeds).  Mince 1/4 cup shallots and 1/2 cup cilantro. Grate the zest from 1 lime and squeeze the juice into a small dish. Set aside 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1/4 cup olive oil.

At service time, heat a large sauté pan and add the olive oil. Sauté the panko-coated fish in batches, adding more oil if necessary. Cook about 3 minutes per side, being careful not to burn. When golden, remove the fish to a sheet pan and hold in a warm oven.

Scrape out any burned crumbs from the pan and place it on low heat. Add the reserved butter, corn, peppers, shallots and salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for 5 minutes and add the lime juice, zest and cilantro. Place the cooked corn mixture on plates with the fish on top.

Serves 4.

For Ross’s yellowtail flounder francese and sauteed striped bass with olives and tomatoes recipes, pick up a copt of The Suffolk Times or Riverhead News-Review.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]