Lemon Butter and Thyme Grilled Fish

Tired of fried fish? In this recipe, I keep it simple using lemon, butter, and thyme. This has quickly become one of my favorite ways to prepare a relatively healthy meal in a short amount of time.

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The whole dish starts on the boat and in the grocery store. You want a fish fillet that holds up to the grill or skillet without falling apart, and fresh ingredients to enhance the meat with rich flavors. In the following photos, I use the fillets of a large triggerfish caught recently. It is a great, white-meat fish that is firm enough to flip like chicken. Other good choices include grouper, mahi mahi, snapper, redfish, and fresh speckled trout cut at about 2.5 inches of thickness. Our fish is always fresh and held in the ice chest submerged in ice from the moment it hits the boat. The next best option is vacuum packed, frozen fish.

There are only a few pieces of advice I have that are vital to getting the perfect sear and flavor on your fish. First, always preheat to high temperatures on your stove top or grill. Start by heating the oil alone and then add butter later when the fish is ready to be cooked. This keeps the kitchen from setting off the fire alarm. Additionally, pat the fillets dry before adding any seasoning or oils.  Too much moisture on the fillet will keep the meat from searing well. And finally, be sure to let the fish sit on each side long enough to flip easily.

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As far as the ingredients, I always use fresh, sliced lemons and thyme. This allows me to bring out the lemon flavor with a touch of zest at the end, and the thyme leeches flavor into the butter during the cooking process. While I am at the store, I always try to add a few sides that will compliment the fish. In this example, I use Brussels sprouts and new potatoes. The Brussels sprouts are diced in half, with the bottom portion and outer leaves removed. They are then marinated in a dijon mustard, seasoning and vinegar for 10 minutes before roasting at 400 degrees for 14 minutes. To improve work flow, I finish preparing the sides before touching the raw fish. That way, I’m not running back and forth washing my hands.

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Enough talk, here’s the recipe:

Lemon Butter and Thyme Grilled Fish (15 min)


1/4 stick of butter
2 tbsp olive oil
Cajun seaoning (I use a Tony Chacere’s)
Black pepper to taste
Fresh thyme
2 lemons
Fillets, cut at 2.5 inches or less in thickness


Preheat the grill or skillet to high heat. Coat thinly with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. As this heats up, prepare your fillets by patting them dry and seasoning lightly with seasoning and pepper on both sides. Before placing your fillets on the skillet, take half of your butter and melt it on the skillet. If using a grill, brush it onto the fish before placing it on the grill. I place the fillets on the skillet an let them sear on high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the fillet is 1/3 of the way cooked.

At this point the fish should lift easily and separate from the surface. I let the second side sear for 60 seconds, then turn the heat down to low or medium-low. During the low heat phase, I add the thyme to the skillet and melt the butter (be careful with the thyme, the water in the plant will pop as it hits the oil). I continually take teaspoons of the hot butter/thyme/olive oil mixture in the pan and scald the upper side of the fillet as it cooks. I will also squeeze lemon over the fish at this point. This will go on for about 4-5 minutes, with continual scooping and scalding. This ensures the butter and thyme flavor really sets into the meat.

You are ready to plate the fish once it has cooked slowly to done. Don’t forget to squeeze the lemon over the fish as it sits on the plate. As an extra bit of flavor, I grate a little lemon zest over the top. Enjoy!

In an upcoming post, I will lay out the different sides that can go along with fish and seafood. Stay tuned!