This easy sauce makes everything taste better

This flexible, simple lemon butter sauce will work with chicken, steak or even vegetables, but perhaps pairs best of all with fish.
This flexible, simple lemon butter sauce will work with chicken, steak or even vegetables, but perhaps pairs best of all with fish. New York Times

Here’s a plan of action that works for dinner any night of the week: Melt some butter; add in some minced garlic, herbs, spices and a squirt of lemon; then pour it over whatever you have your heart set on eating. With almost no effort, you'll have a sauce that makes anything taste better.

It works on chicken. It works on steak. It even works on all those beets and turnips you couldn’t quite figure out what to do with.

But of all its possible applications, my favorite is to drizzle it on fish fillets before running them under the broiler.

The reason this sauce goes so well with fish is that they are so different in nature. Fish fillets are mild and lean. A spiced garlic butter sauce is bold and rich. They round each other out in a wonderful way.

Start by choosing a mild white fish fillet, whatever looks good in the market. I gravitate toward blackfish and hake because they’re sustainable and I can usually find them at my local fish store. Hake is the less expensive of the two, but it also has a less refined texture, with big, coarse flakes. It’s delicious, just as long as you don’t overcook it. Flounder is another dependable option. (West Coast cooks: Try snapper.)

Ten minutes before you want to put dinner on the table, preheat the broiler and start making the sauce.

You don’t really even need to follow a recipe for this kind of butter sauce; it’s very forgiving. Melt your butter and stir in as much or as little garlic as you like. (I like a lot.) I also add ginger here for extra intensity, but if you don’t have any, you can leave it out. Then check the refrigerator and unearth the last sprigs of dill or thyme left over from grander and more complicated cooking projects. Chop them up, add some to the sauce, and save the rest for a bright garnish.

As for spices, anything fresh and fragrant in your cabinet is fair game. The curry powder here lends a musky note and a little heat. But cumin, coriander or paprika would also be lovely. Then finish with a squeeze of citrus for tang.

It will be one of the quickest and most savory dinners imaginable – a combination welcome at the table any night of the week.

Eric Asimov’s wine suggestion

The world has become flexible enough to accept red wine with fish, but this recipe definitely calls for a white. Which white depends on the part of the recipe you decide to emphasize.

Grated ginger and curry powder are the key variables. Go light on them, and you have a butter, garlic and herb sauce, which will go beautifully with any number of dry whites: Muscadet, Chablis or other white Burgundies, sauvignon blanc, Soave, Etna Bianco or assyrtiko from Santorini. Ramp up the ginger and curry powder, and these wines will still be fine. But even better may be good German rieslings, whether moderately sweet kabinetts and spatleses or dry, steely Rheingaus. Gruner veltliner is another option.

Broiled fish with lemon curry butter

Serves 4

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced

1 1/2 tablespoons minced thyme leaves

1 1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, more as needed

3/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Ground black pepper, to taste

Four 6-ounce fish fillets, such as hake, snapper, blackfish or flounder

Fresh lemon juice, for serving

Dill fronds or fresh parsley, for serving

Heat the broiler. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Stir in garlic, thyme, curry powder, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt; heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in lemon zest.

Season fish with salt and pepper and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour sauce over fish and broil until fish is flaky and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh dill, and serve.

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