Jenni Ridall's Seared Bass with Brown Butter, Cherry Tomatoes & Pecans

Jenni Ridall's Seared Bass with Brown Butter, Cherry Tomatoes & Pecans

Schermer @ Home: Jenni Ridall of TK Culinary Consulting & Test Kitchen
By Stephanie Burt, The Southern Fork

headshot image credit: Lori Soloman
recipe image credit: Maggie Braucher

There is much more to the culinary world than the home kitchen and the restaurant kitchen. Behind the scenes and around the edges are a whole army of culinary professionals who help live demos on television work, test recipes for cookbook authors as another pair of eyes (and hands) in the kitchen, and even help chefs organize recipes in their restaurants in order to be able to teach them to their staffs.

One member of that troupe is Jenni Ridall, owner of TK Culinary Consulting & Test Kitchen, based in Charleston, SC. Her focus is providing creative and administrative support for chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, and culinary brands who have too much on their plates. She’s worked on photo shoots, with celebrity chefs, helped write cookbooks, and developed recipes for publications including Eating Well and The Local Palate. But she’s also a home cook and she knows that while cooking for your family can be wonderful, it’s often also tiring and sometimes even intimidating.

“I was very intimidated to cook fish for Mike at home,” she says, referring to her husband, Chef Mike Lata, whose restaurants The Ordinary and FIG in Charleston are lauded for their approach to and execution of delicious seafood. “But he said, ‘no one should be afraid of their food.’”

So she dove in and started learning to cook it, and the key for her was a good non-stick skillet and enough fat in the pan so the fish doesn’t stick. And then “you don’t touch it, leave it alone until it’s just about done.” That’s liberated her love of seafood at home, and so she brings some of her professional palate to the rest of the dish, “liberating pecans” too, from just a crust to a chunky part of the sauce, pairing with the balanced sweet and acid of cherry tomatoes and the nuttiness of brown butter. It’s easy, all made in one pan, and uses great flavor combinations for a result that tastes wonderful in comparison to the simplicity of its preparation.

“Ultimately, you’re only going to cook more at home if it’s fun,” she says. “So cook for your personality. If you like to experiment and play, then do it, but if you like recipes, find the best source for those recipes.” Even if you’re not a professional recipe developer, you can cook like one if you trust your sources. And trust us, this dish will make you look (and feel) like a pro.


Seared Bass with Brown Butter, Cherry Tomatoes & Pecans
Serves 4

2/3 cup pecan pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 tablespoons butter, divided
4 (5-oz) fresh fish filets, such as grouper, snapper, swordfish, or black bass
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced 
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, some halved, some left whole
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup torn basil leaves 
Coarse Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  1. Toast pecans in a dry nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and reserve. 
  2. Season fish filets with salt and pepper. Return the nonstick skillet to medium heat and melt together olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. When the foam subsides, add the fish filets (work in batches to avoid crowding the skillet if necessary). Gently sear on one side until just over halfway cooked through, about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of the filet. Flip and cook 1-2 minutes more until just cooked through. Transfer to a platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
  3. Add remaining butter to the skillet and cook until rich and brown with a strong nutty aroma (watch closely as it can easily burn). As soon as the butter is browned, stir in garlic, shallot and tomatoes. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until shallots and garlic are soft.
  4. Stir in wine and gently simmer for 4-5 minutes until tomatoes are soft and begin to burst, swirling the pan to emulsify the sauce as it cooks. Finally, stir in reserved pecans and basil and gently stir together until wilted and warmed through, about 1 minute.
  5. Spoon brown butter-pecan-tomato sauce over the fish filets and garnish with additional basil if desired. Serve immediately. 



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