Butter Basted Fish with Garlic and Thyme

Butter basted fish with garlic and thyme from America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated is a crazy quick and indulgent way to put a healthful dinner on the table pronto. Here’s how.

Two pieces of butter basted fish with garlic and thyme in a skillet with butter foaming around them.

Butter basting sounds like music to the ears: The technique involves repeatedly spooning sizzling butter over food as it cooks. The butter bath, which is also a classic method for cooking big beef steaks, is great for mild, lean, flaky fish. The hot butter helps cook the top of the fillet as the skillet heats the bottom, allowing you to flip the delicate fish only once and early in the cooking process before the flesh has become too fragile.

Throughout the process, the butter browns and coats the mild fish in savory flavor, adding richness. We add thyme sprigs and crushed garlic cloves to the pan, which infuse the butter as it heats and makes for an aromatic dish. Lemon wedges are a must; the brightness of the lemon juice cuts through the butter’s richness.–America’s Test Kitchen

*What kind of fish can I use?

Any firm, flaky white fish works wonders here as long as it’s approximately 1 inch thick, whether fresh or frozen, thawed, and patted completely dry. That includes cod, halibut, black sea bass, haddock, or hake.

Butter Basted Fish With Garlic and Thyme

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 20 M
  • Serves 2
Print RecipeBuy the The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2021 cookbook

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Pat all sides of fillets dry with paper towels. Sprinkle on all sides with salt and pepper.

In a 12-inch (30-cm) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, warm oil until hot but not smoking.

Reduce heat to medium and place fish skinned side down in the skillet. Using a fish spatula, gently press on each fillet for 5 seconds to ensure good contact with a skillet. Cook the fish, without moving it, until the underside is light golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

Using 2 spatulas, gently flip fillets and cook for 1 minute more.

Scatter the butter around the fish. When the butter is melted, tilt skillet slightly toward you so that butter pools at front of skillet. Using large spoon, scoop up melted butter and pour over the fish repeatedly for 15 seconds. Place skillet flat on burner and continue to cook 30 seconds more. Tilt skillet and baste for 15 seconds.

Place the skillet flat on burner and take temperature of thickest part of each fillet. Continue to alternate basting and cooking until fillets reach 130°F (54°C), about 2 minutes more.

Add garlic and thyme sprigs to skillet at the 12 o’clock position (butter may spatter). When spattering has subsided, continue basting and cooking until fillets reach 135°F (57°C) at the thickest point.

Transfer fish fillets to individual plates. Discard garlic. Top each fillet with thyme sprigs, drizzle with the butter in the skillet, and serve with lemon wedges.

Print RecipeBuy the The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2001-2021 cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Recipe Testers' Reviews

Versatility and simplicity are the hallmarks of this cooking technique. And once you've mastered the method, you can cook anything from scallops to pork chops. Change out the herbs to change up the flavor. Add a squeeze of orange or lime in place of lemon, depending on your protein. The possibilities of deliciousness are endless.

My cod fillets were 6-oz each. They took 4 minutes on the first side, and then another 4 on the second with three bastes. I turned off the heat and let them rest an additional 4 minutes because they were really thick. This makes 2 servings—we had the butter basted fish with garlic and thyme with orzo with lemon and capers on the side.

This is a great recipe for a weeknight. From start to finish it takes fewer than 15 minutes for this delicious cod dish. This is a simple preparation with a big reward. The combination of butter, garlic, and thyme are delicious on an otherwise bland fish. I always think of cod as a fish waiting to happen. It needs help and simple as this may be, it is just the help it needs to make it very tasty. The recipe calls for the cod to cook to 135°F. This is the perfect temperature where the fish is done all the way through, but still has plenty of moisture in it. I served the butter basted fish with garlic and thyme with a large salad.


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