March 28th, 2011

Coconut-Lime Beurre Blanc, for Fish


My recent trip to Costa Rica has left me longing for the flavors of the tropics. Passionfruit. Mangos. Pineapples.


We would see them, fallen with abandon to the sandy floor of beachside groves. We would also see people gather them in pick-up truckloads, either scavanged from the fallen or cut from on-high, to be arranged alongside bananas and melons on roadside fruitstands.

“Pipas Frias”

Hand-lettered signs would advertise the immature “green” coconuts and their pure, nutrient-rich water. For under a dollar, you could purchase one of these foraged delectables, drilled with a small hole and inserted with a sipping straw.

Cool, barely sweet coconut water was so refreshing.


The coconut has remarkable versatility. From husk to coir to palm frond to trunk, there are no less than 46 documented general uses for it! Of course, we are familiar with coconut milk, the key ingredient in lush curries, or Tom Ka Kai soup. And, in Costa Rica, I found that milk in an unexpected place–cloaking a piece of sea bass at a French-styled bistro.


One day, we drove down the coastal highway to explore the neighboring town, Ojochal. We’d heard there was a farmer’s market going on, and several interesting eateries worth visiting. To our surprise, we discovered a strong French-Canadian community there.

The farmer’s market was small, held in the airy lobby of a hotel/restaurant called Citrus. What a treat! One local farmer was selling ripe tomatoes, slender green beans, and bunches of Lacinato kale. Another had fat bundles of green onions, arugula, and genovese basil. And, a vendor was selling gorgeous artisan bread. Some loaves of rustic wheat had undulating waves and a star drawn and baked into the crust. (with a taste that matched the beauty!) These had been baked by a French man further down the Ojochal main dirt road. His breads were in high demand, available only by special order, or at these markets.

After making a few purchases, we stopped at a little panaderia–a bakery/coffeehouse run by another French couple–for a cup of dark roast and croissant. We snacked under the tin roof porch and laughed every time a coconut fell with a startling crash. Here, we learned about Exotica, the long-standing and possibly best restaurant in Puntarenas province. After giving directions, the bakery owners called ahead for us too, in case we needed reservations.


Exotica is a festive little enclave–thatched hut, breezy covered patio with tables made from tree trunks, charming forged lanterns suspended from the ceiling, and flowers-flowers-flowers, all surrounded by natural bamboo and wrought iron fencing.

We were greeted by hostess and co-owner Lucy, a tall, handsome woman who radiated hospitality. She and her husband, Robert, who is the chef, have run Exotica since the 1990’s—in the early years, without electricity.

Their menu wove French and Costa Rican influences, belonging to neither cuisine, but a happy fusion of the two. We each enjoyed a salad of local lettuces in a bright citrusy vinaigrette, garnished with a huge salmon-colored hibiscus bloom. Bill had a cheese plate with camembert, boursin, and a locally crafted tomme. I chose the sea bass in garlic beurre blanc.

My fish had a delicate pan-seared crust, bathed in a beurre blanc sauce that deviated from the expected French manner. Instead of the traditional lemon-garlic-white wine reduction swirled with a heap of butter, this beurre blanc got its acid note from lime, and its buttery mouthfeel from coconut milk. There was a balance of butter and coconut milk, neither overpowering the other, with nuanced layering of garlic and lime. Served with a timbale of jasmine rice and steamed local green beans, it was a sublime dish, one that I wanted to recreate.


Simply —and with speed—-done.

Here are some notes:

The coconut milk replaces at least half the butter in a classic beurre blanc recipe, and is faster-easier to work with too. The whole process came together in about fifteen minutes, which is so nice for such elegant results.

I cooked my jasmine rice in brown butter with leeks—hence the darker color, and rich-sweet toasty flavor. Saute a handful of diced leeks in a tablespoon of butter, with a pinch of salt. When the leeks are collapsed and the butter solids golden, stir in the rice. Let the butter-leek mixture coat the grains before adding the water.

Sea bass was unavailable at the market the day I went shopping, so I chose flounder. While not as thick a filet, it was still delicious. Any mild white fish should work well.



6 oz. fresh Sea Bass fillets (or flounder, or other mild white fish)
1 fresh Lime, for zest and juice
1/2 t. each: Sea Salt, Granulated Garlic, Black Pepper
1/4 t. Red Pepper Flakes
4 T. Butter, divided (1 T. for saute, 3 T. for beurre blanc)
1/2 c. Coconut Milk (canned is fine)
Fresh Chives, for garnish

Rinse fish fillets and pat dry. Season with grated lime zest, salt, peppers, and garlic. Snip a couple of chives and sprinkle over the fillets, too.

Heat skillet and melt 1 T. butter. Sear seasoned fillets for a couple of minutes on one side (edges will turn golden) and flip. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove fillets from the skillet, and place on a separate plate or baking dish.

Return skillet to medium heat. Add coconut milk and stir well, scraping up any browned bits. Add the juice squeezed from the lime and continue stirring.
Cut remaining butter (3 T.) into pieces. Turn off heat, and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The sauce will get a glossy sheen. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Pour the sauce over the fillets, garnish with chives and serve.

Serves 2.


Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes, Sauces

23 Responses to “Coconut-Lime Beurre Blanc, for Fish”
  1. Karen Says:

    Nancy, your post instantly transported me to the balmy humidity of a carefree day in the tropics where time always seems to go by so much slower. I love your vivid description of the farmer’s market and the fusion restaurant you went to. Oh, and tropical fruit!! Your fish dish with this lovely take on a traditional beurre blanc looks exquisite.

  2. Tracy Says:

    I love coconut. I think I would get a kick out of hearing them falling all around me.

  3. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Oh, Nancy, this looks absolutely delicious. Nice work.

  4. My Little Expat Kitchen Says:

    Nancy, I loved this post and this recipe. Those flavors are so refreshing and unique. That last photograph is incredibly appetizing!

  5. Kath Says:

    Oh my goodness Nancy what a fantastic post. It sounds like such a wonderful holiday and fantastic eating experiences. Your dish with the lime and coconut and the brown butter rice has my mouth watering. Your mention of the fresh coconuts brings back very happy memories of our first and really big holiday of my childhood when my parents spent the savings on a trip to the Caribbean. Fresh coconuts were a real revelation and the taste absolutely sublime. Wonderful, wonderful.

  6. Wendy Says:

    Thanks for another glimpse into your magical trip to the tropics—this meal sounds so delicious.

  7. gg Says:

    Nancy, welcome back and thank you for this post….great cooks notes and fabulous choices as usual. Can’t wait to see you and catch up. Much love xoxoxo

  8. Nancy Says:

    Hi Nancy – how wonderful! I would seek out the restaurant for this sauce alone — but luckily you’ve saved me the trouble by decoding the recipe and sharing it with us :) I love coconut and will have to try this soon.

  9. FOODESSA Says:

    How nice that you got a chance to meet some French Canadians on your tropical trip. It’s certainly a place where a few people from Quebec decided to set up shop and call home…and who can blame them ;o)

    Nancy, this dish is very well thought out…especially since the ingredients alone has inspired me to make it for my next fish filet meal. Thanks for bringing us a little of the tropics from your kitchen ;o)

    Have a great week and flavourful wishes,

  10. Michele Napoli Says:

    I know that each time you cook this tropical dish, you will be transported back to that fabulous vacation.

  11. Barbara Says:

    Hi Nance-you are truly amazing! This looks so, so wonderful. I am afraid, however, that this is much too sophisticated for my husband’s simple, country tastes. I guess I could make it for myself. And again, so glad you and Bill had such a nice trip!

  12. pigpigscorner Says:

    Gorgeous flavours! Coconut adds depth and so much flavours to a dish!

  13. Barbara Says:

    What a super dish, Nancy. I’d love to try the lime and coconut in the sauce…a nice tang I should think, and not quite as rich as the “real” beurre blanc.
    Sounds like you had a lovely trip to Costa Rica, chock full of fun experiences!

  14. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Kath-glad that my post awakened a sweet childhood memory!

    Barbara–you are right; it is not quite as rich as the true French beurre blanc, and is also less apt to “break” as butter sauce emulsions sometimes can.

  15. Renee Says:

    This is great– simple, delicious, mouth-watering. I can’t wait to try!

  16. Joyti Says:

    My parents came from the Fiji Islands, and your memories of Costa Rican coconuts reminded me of it – coconuts are indeed everywhere in the tropics. Everywhere! Your descriptions of Costa Rica somehow reminds of it…except that rather than markets, we would buy produce and super-fresh fish and clams from people selling it on roadsides…
    The fish looks delicious, the sauce sounds wonderful…

  17. Juliana Says:

    Fish and coconut milk is a great combo, and your look even yummier with all the other flavors in it. Nice meal…have a great week Nancy :-)

  18. Tammy Says:

    I’ve just returned from Florida and coconut lime says it all. Great photos as usual.

  19. Sruthi @ Exercise, Food & Beyond Says:

    What a yummy fish, I am totally going to make it.

  20. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    I love fresh coconut juice! It’s nothing like packaged coconut water! I’ve been trying to incorporate coconut milk more often in my meals, there are so many health benefits! This is one recipe that I would not have imagined to be adding coconut milk, but it looks so perfectly tropical and well-inspired!

  21. Madeleine Says:

    Made ts for dinner last night… Used halibut. Dollop good! And easy!! Thanks for the inspiration.

  22. Madeleine Says:

    Wrote above message on iPad and note many spelling errors. Dolllop is supposed to be sooooo!

  23. alita Says:

    yummmmmmmy. I love your site Nance and the post is fabulous. Brought me back to living on Utila. I will be off again soon and will make this dish where I land, these ingredients are local there. thanks for the great recipes and once again…GREAT SITE

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