How’d They Do That?

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Luc Dendievel, the Belgian chef at Restaurant 55 Degrees in downtown Sacramento, seems surprised that anyone would notice he cooks fish perfectly. How he does it is the real surprise: The fish is cooked on only one side.

The first thing he does is season both sides of a fillet. Then, Dendievel figures out which s
ide of the fish had been next to the bone. (It’s marked by a reddish line down the center.) He places the fish, bone side down, into a hot pan holding a shallow layer of grapeseed oil, favored for its high smoking point and neutral taste.

A second or two of outright sizzle is all this fish gets. Dendievel lowers the heat to medium and leaves the fish to cook gently and slowly, the key to retaining moistness. What’s exciting about this technique is that Dendievel can watch the cooking process move through the fish from bottom to top.

Is it done? He inserts the tip of a metal cake tester into the fish for 10 seconds, then touches it to his lower lip. The metal should be slightly warm, Dendievel says. If it’s too hot, the fish is overcooked.

Before plating, Dendievel finally flips the fish. The second side has contact with the pan for about 30 seconds, long enough for the chef to baste the cooked side with a chunk of butter. A quick drain on a paper towels and the mahi-mahi (or whatever fish he’s serving) is ready.

Dendievel is in a sharing mood: This technique also works with boneless chicken breasts.