Pan-fried Red Snapper with Chipotle Butter

Posted by    |  January 27, 2010  |  Filed under: Recipes

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl

Aside from the fact that this is an impossibly easy and tasty dish, I’m offering this recipe to you to introduce you to the world of compound butters.  Sounds fancy, eh?  Nah.

Compound butters are just butter with flavors mixed in- powdered dried porcini mushrooms, curry, chili peppers, citrus zest, lavender, herbs… Get it?  Why not just take those same flavors and sprinkle them on the food before serving?  The fat in butter is like a flavor sponge- it very readily absorbs the flavors around it.  When you mix your flavors with butter, the butter helps to disperse and carry that flavor more evenly over whatever it is you’re cooking.  Think about simply grilled or roasted meats.  They’re wonderful when finished with a compound butter flavored with whatever inspires you.  How long would it take you to mix finely minced fresh herbs or citrus zest into some butter?  How hard is that?  And these butters keep indefinitely in the freezer- ready to jazz up simple dishes at a moment’s notice.

This dish would also be fantastic if you grilled instead of sautéed the fish.

½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 -1 tablespoon finely chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo (depending on your heat tolerance, though it seemed to me that the heat was tempered in some way by being emulsified in the butter)
About 2 teaspoons of adobo sauce from canned chiles
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 6-oz red snapper fillets with skin
Lime wedges for serving


Prepare the compound butter

  1. With a hand-mixer, fork or mini food processor, mash together the butter, chipotles, adobo and salt until thoroughly integrated.  Refrigerate tightly sealed.

Coat the fish fillets

  1. Heat a skillet or sauté pan to medium high heat.  Add enough oil to lightly coat the pan bottom.
  2. Spread flour in a shallow dish or on a dinner plate.
  3. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel.  Season with salt and pepper and dredge the filet in the flour on both sides, shaking off excess
  4. Add the fillet to the pan, skin side up. As a general rule, always cook the side which will be served up first.  You’ll always get better browning on the side that’s cooked first.
  5. Repeat steps 1-3 with next fillet.  Do not crowd the pan.  Do in repeat batches if necessary.

Cook the fish

  1. Cook 2-3 minutes on first side.
  2. Use a spatula to loosen fish from skillet before turning.  If it is adhering to bottom of pan, try giving it another minute to cook.  The fish should loosen up from bottom of pan (assuming you added enough oil) when its well-browned.
  3. Turn fish and cook another 2-3 minutes until done (test at center with fork for flakiness).


  1. Top fish with a dollop of chipotle butter and serve with lime wedges.

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