Flounder with Lemon-Butter Sauce

Elegant and fast, pan-seared flounder is an easy weeknight meal to pull together without a hassle. What sells this dish to my family is its crisp, browned crust. The key to crisp perfection is to make sure the fillets are extra dry by patting them with paper towels and dusting them with just a tiny bit of flour. You may be tempted to pull out your nonstick skillet, but to get that crisp crust you’re better off with a heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan. Any white fish fillet works in this recipe, so go with what looks good and is priced best.–Melissa d’Arabian

LC Going Gluten-Free Note

Yes, per this recipe, a dusting of flour does make for a swell crust on fish fillets. But there’s an editor here at LC (ahem) who can attest that flour isn’t essential for a lovely sear. She sizzles up flounder fillets for supper quite frequently, and they never, ever come in contact with a flour coating. It’s just not necessary. There’s no trick to it at all. No gluten, either.

Actually, there is a trick, but it has nothing to do with gluten. The catch is that you’re not going to find fresh flounder for $10 a pound, at least not in Manhattan. This nifty little weeknight number is definitely worth a few extra hard-earned dollars if you do have fresh flounder available, although it also works with any thin, mild, white-fleshed fish. Think wild sea bass, snapper, catfish, tilapia, and so on. Though it may be tempting, don’t substitute thawed frozen fish, as it’ll throw off quite a lot of moisture during cooking, destroying that lovely crisp crust.

Flounder with Lemon-Butter Sauce Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 15 M
  • 15 M
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 4- to 6-ounce, 1/2-inch-thick flounder fillets (fresh, not frozen)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon or so all-purpose flour (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 slices
  • Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, chives, or flat-leaf parsley

Directions

  • 1. Pat both sides of the fish fillets dry with paper towels and then season them with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a medium skillet (preferably cast-iron or stainless steel and not nonstick) over medium-high heat until the oil ripples but isn’t smoking, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. While the oil is heating, go ahead and pat both sides of the fillets dry a second time.
  • 2. Sprinkle a little flour, if using, over both sides of the fillets and use your fingers to evenly coat both sides. Add the fillets to the skillet and cook, without moving, for 2 minutes. Slide a thin metal spatula underneath the fillets (making sure to use firm pressure to scrape up any of the golden crust that may be sticking to the bottom) and carefully flip the fillets. If it seems impossible to slip the spatula beneath the fillet and the skillet, wait 30 seconds or so and try again. The fish will release when it’s ready–and only when it’s ready.
  • 3. Place a slice of butter on top of each fillet and stand idly by as it melts and drips off the butter and into the skillet. Cook the fillets until they spring back from light pressure, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer the fish to a platter or to 4 plates. Squeeze the lemon juice into the skillet and, with the skillet still over the heat, use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Stir in the fresh herbs and spoon the sauce over the fish.
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Testers Choice

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Testers Choice
Helen Doberstein

Jul 26, 2012

There’s nothing better than simple for dinner. This is easy to prepare and delicious to eat. The preparation allows the fish to shine as the main ingredient. I chose not to use the flour and just used a good stainless steel pan that I’d lightly oiled. This produced a light crust without overcooking the fish. The juice of one large lemon was enough to make a light pan sauce, and I chose fresh tarragon and parsley for the herbs. Since basa was on sale, I used that. A simple dish that made for a great meal. I’d certainly make this again.

Testers Choice
Tamiko Lagerwaard

Jul 26, 2012

This makes a nice, light, and quick meal. I used snapper, as flounder was not to be found, and I lightly dredged the fish with flour instead of dusting. The pat of butter on top of the fish was a unique twist to the way I usually make fish, and it did add a richness to the fish and not just the finished sauce. I liked the tangy lemony sauce on its own and left out the herbs. The crust was indeed crisp and brown, and the fish tender and moist. Wonderful on a hot summer day.

Testers Choice
Sita Krishnaswamy

Jul 26, 2012

This was an easy recipe. I loved the flavors. The lemon butter sauce had the most amazing lemony, nutty butter flavor. Poured over the the flounder, it was the right balance for such a delicate fish. I used four flounder fillets and sprinkled just a wee bit of flour on them. I did not dredge them in the flour. An easy weeknight recipe that takes under 30 minutes to put together.

Testers Choice
Ayanna Fews

Jul 26, 2012

This is a nice, easy, and quick recipe! The lemon butter sauce makes the dish, as the fish is so mild. I used swai fillets, as my grocery store didn’t have flounder or tilapia. I opted to flour the fish, and unfortunately, my fish did stick a bit. I find that this type of fish tends to be a more fragile fish once cooked. I don’t think that the suggested two minutes was long enough for it to form a crust. Perhaps I should have cooked it a bit longer. I didn’t let the sticking fish deter me from finishing off the sauce, though. I went ahead and cooked the fish on the other side, removed it, and just scraped up everything, added the fresh herbs (I used parsley and chives), and lemon juice, and poured all the little crumbles and sauce over the fish. It was still very good!!

Testers Choice
Anna Scott

Jul 26, 2012

I liked this recipe mainly because I love anything involving lemons. It’s one of those recipes that you probably already have all of the ingredients for in your pantry–all except for the fish, I mean. I couldn’t find flounder in my grocery store, so I used tilapia instead. Since tilapia is thicker than flounder, I adjusted the cooking time accordingly. (I cooked the tilapia for three minutes per side instead of two.) I would not omit the flour-coating step to this recipe; I think that is what gives the fish that nice brown coating that goes oh-so-well with a lemony sauce. We had some nice chives in our herb garden, so that is the herb I chose to use here. Some fresh dill would also work well, I think. I recommend using more than one lemon for the sauce; we used two for two tilapia filets and it was just enough sauce in my opinion. Overall, this is a great technique for cooking a thin, white-fleshed fish. Adding some capers to the sauce before serving would work well, too.

Testers Choice
Sheri C.

Jul 26, 2012

This is barely a recipe, it’s so simple. But it’s a lovely way to prepare any firm white fish fillet.. It comes together in just a few minutes. I used sole and parsley, although it would be really nice with tarragon, too.

Testers Choice
Jackie G.

Jul 26, 2012

We made this using Pacific Dover sole. Flounder is not something really found here on the West Coast. The sole fillets weighed between two and three ounces each, but that didn't seem to make a difference in the cooking time. It turned out to be a very nice alternative to Sole Meuniere or other dishes where you make browned butter for the fish. Letting the butter melt into the fish after turning it for the first time made the dish very easy and quick to make.

Testers Choice
Brenda Carleton

Jul 26, 2012

Today’s lunch was a delightful fish feast! Rather than flounder, which I cannot get where I live, I used sole, which is a great substitute. Sometimes fish does not crisp as you would like, but this recipe provides a great solution. The key really is patting the fish dry twice and using a tiny bit of flour (I used rice flour as it does a great job of crisping things up). It was subtly buttery with a fresh hit of lemon, which goes extraordinarily well with white fish. I really enjoyed the chives as well. Capers would be fabulous with this fish. If you have flounder or sole and about 10 minutes (even seven or eight), you can create this wonderful dish. I have to say I loved it! As the recipe says, don’t be tempted to use a nonstick pan. It won’t work nearly as well.

Comments
Comments
  1. Alexis says:

    I make an almost identical recipe regularly. A good variation (which gives a thicker crust) is to dust with flour, then dip in beaten eggs (thinned with a little milk) and then straight into the hot pan. Even a picky 5.5 year old can’t fault it.

  2. Martin says:

    I didn’t have any lemons in the house, so I substituted key lime juice. It worked well. Great and fast recipe. I had problems with the fish sticking, too, and worried between not letting the fillets fry long enough and letting them in the skillet too long until they burnt and stuck to the skillet. I chose not to flour them.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Martin, I pan-fry fish quite a lot, and I’ve had my share of sticking, too. Although I find when I start it on medium-high and wait until it gets a crisped, golden-brown surface, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let the fish finish cooking until it’s opaque throughout, the fish will release when it’s done, and without getting burnt on the outside. You can flip it if you wish. I have also tried starting it on the stovetop and then instead of turning the heat down, I slide the entire skillet in a 350°F oven for a few minutes, the fish also remains moist throughout and releases easily, although the crisped side turns a tad soggy. lIt takes a little practice to discern when to turn the heat down or slide the skillet into the oven, which is largely dependent on the thickness of the fish fillet. But perhaps that will help…?

  3. Joyce says:

    Wow! so easy, so quick, soooooooooooooooo good.

  4. Milica says:

    This got way too oily. I prefer to bake fish and use some lemon. Simple but too oily for my taste.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      I’m really sorry to hear that, Millica. If you like the flavor of some, but not all, of the brown butter, you could always sizzle a touch of butter in a skillet and dribble it over baked fish for sorta the same effect.

  5. Roseanna Witherell says:

    Can I cook this recipe without using the flour?

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