Lemon butter sauce...does everyone dream about it the way I do? No? Well that makes me sad for them.
When I started writing about my Weekday Pescatarian adventures, my best friend of 20 years had just one request. Lemon butter sauce. Specifically, that I recreate the lemon butter sauce we ate over grilled fish at one of our favorite restaurants.
Five and half pounds of butter and 19 batches of lemon butter sauce later...we have a winner, ladies and gentlemen.
This sauce is simple, silky, ridiculously flavorful and done in about 6 minutes.
It will turn your busy Tuesday night tilapia or your leisurely Saturday grilled salmon dinner party with friends into a restaurant quality experience
What you need to make Baked Tilapia with Lemon Butter Sauce
- tilapia (or any mild whitefish), 3-4 fillets
- olive oil
- coarse sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- flat leaf parsley, chopped, for garnish
LEMON BUTTER SAUCE
- very cold butter
- lemon juice
- dry white wine
- heavy whipping cream
- whole garlic clove
What you need to know about Lemon Butter Sauce
Lemon butter sauce is famously finicky and easy to break, meaning the milk solids in the butter break away from the emulsion and you are left with a greasy, curdled eyesore.
By adding cream in this recipe, we stabilize the emulsion a bit more. But we can’t outsmart science, so if the sauce is heated too much or the whisking is inconsistent, break it shall!
If this happens, try adding a teaspoon or two of wine or lemon juice to the mixture and whisking vigorously to re-form the emulsion.
Gently blot your fish fillets to dry the surface. Lightly oil the bottom of a large baking dish. Place the fillets in the prepared baking sheet or baking dish in a single layer. Combine salt, pepper and paprika and dust the seasoning mixture over the top of the fish, ensuring a good amount of seasoning on the thickest part of the fillet.
Once the oven has preheated, place the fish in the oven to bake for 10-14 minutes, or until fish flakes easily and is cooked through.
For the Best Ever Lemon Butter Sauce:
Begin by combining 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of dry white wine in a small, heavy saucepan. Crush the garlic clove lightly on your cutting board, and add to the pan with the wine and lemon juice.
Bring the fresh lemon juice and wine to a simmer and reduce the mixture for about 3 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream to the pan and return to a simmer (this will only take about 30 seconds). Remove the pan from the heat. Begin adding pieces of butter to the hot pan and whisking continuously to ensure a smooth emulsion.
As each piece is melted, add the next. If the sauce cools and the butter has stopped (or slowed) melting, return the pan to the heat for 10-15 seconds - just long enough to begin melting the butter again - and remove from the heat and continue adding butter and whisking.
Once the butter has incorporated, remove the garlic clove from the sauce.
Taste the sauce to determine if it needs a pinch of salt. (When I use salted butter I often find the sauce is ideal at this stage, without any additional salt).
Plate the tilapia, drizzle with lemon butter sauce and top with fresh parsley.
More of my favorite seafood recipes!
FAQ about this recipe
In the U.S., tilapia is my go to fish. In Europe, Basa fish is stocked in every grocery store. I have found it to be a versatile fish and a good substitute. Lemon butter sauce would be transcendent on any number of white fish or fatty fish fillets, including: Hake, Cod, Red Snapper, Tilapia, Catfish, Trout, Chilean Sea Bass, Haddock, Salmon or Swordfish.
Absolutely, I most often make it with any white fish fillets in my freezer or on sale that week. Simply thaw your fish in the refrigerator overnight or in a bowl of very cold water, and blot dry before seasoning.
French green beans and rice would be a perfect complement to these fish fillets in creamy lemon sauce. You should have enough lemon butter sauce to drizzle a bit on whatever side you choose, and I encourage you to avail yourself of that option.
For sure. Depending on the size of your fillets, cook in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat for 4-5 minutes per side. Test for doneness then cover with aluminum foil while preparing the lemon butter sauce. Pour sauce over the tilapia fillets and serve.