Panko-crusted fish with Key lime butter is my favorite Florida souvenir

Photo: Kevin Pang

Our family vacationed in the Florida Keys last week. This trip was more warm weather-focused than food-focused, so we arrived with few dining expectations other than Cuban food in Miami and fresh seafood in the Keys. While seeking out restaurant recommendations, a place called Lazy Days caught my eye. Many restaurants in the Keys served seafood grilled, fried, and blackened, but Lazy Days has the distinction of a proprietary preparation humbly dubbed “Lazy Days-style.”

What is Lazy Days-style? A piece of fish or chicken is coated in Japanese panko breadcrumbs, fried crispy, then topped with tomatoes, scallions, Parmesan cheese, and sauced with Key lime butter.

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<Record scratch>

Key lime butter!

Intrigued, I took my family to Lazy Day’s Marathon location for dinner. We ordered conch fritters, coconut shrimp, grilled mahi mahi, and of course, fried grouper Lazy Days-style. The image at the top of this story was what arrived. Yes, crispy fish dabbed in a citrusy butter sauce was as divine as it sounded. I’m usually the type to edit out ingredients, but the tomatoes, bite of the scallions, and salty hit of Parmesan cheese really worked in this context. There’s not one unnecessary element in the “Lazy Days-style” construction.

Upon returning home to Chicago, I knew I had to replicate the recipe. I first consulted Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making, the book by James Peterson considered essential by professional chefs. My instincts veered towards beurre blanc, the classic French butter sauce, but with Key lime juice in place of vinegar. But on my first batch, I realized shallots weren’t right for this recipe. I made several other attempts, until I remembered my predilection for editing out and making dishes simpler. That’s when I thought: Why not just Key lime juice and butter? This, it turned out, was the solution.

A few more notes before we embark on my attempt at Lazy Days-style fried fish:

  • The three keys here, as with most creamy butter sauces, is 1) incorporate small chunks of cold butter into the sauce, 2) avoid bringing the sauce to a boil, 3) whisking constantly. This ensures the sauce won’t “break,” and everything stays a creamy constant.
  • I decided to add heavy cream to help emulsify, as well as to dull any sharpness from the Key lime. Which leads us to...
  • When you taste this sauce by itself, you may think it’s overly tart. Let me assure you it’ll be less so once you taste it with fried fish.
  • Key limes are hard to come by in the produce section, especially here in Chicago. Fortunately, bottled Key lime juice is readily available. I found mine at Whole Foods. Buy it once, and make this butter sauce, as well as margaritas, Key lime pie, and mojitos.
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Photo: Kevin Pang
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Panko-crusted fish with Key lime butter, Lazy Days-style

Serves two

  • 1 stick salted butter, cut into 2 Tbsp. pieces (four cubes)
  • 3/4 Tbsp. Key lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb. cod fillet, cut into two equal pieces (or any white-fleshed fish)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Heat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Set up a breading station with three wide shallow bowls for the flour, beaten eggs, and panko crumbs. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Lightly salt and pepper your fish on both sides. Dip the fish pieces lightly in flour, shaking off the excess. Then coat in egg, allowing excess to drip off. Press fish into the panko, flipping to ensure it adheres to all sides. Test to see if oil is ready by dropping a bit of panko in. If it starts to sizzle, it’s ready. Add breaded fish to the oil, flipping once the fish pieces are deeply golden on one side. Continue to fry for another 2-3 minutes, until fully golden and crisp. Remove fish pieces, and keep warm in the oven.

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In a saucepan, add Key lime juice and one cube of butter (a quarter of a stick), and whisk over medium-low heat. Keep whisking. After it’s melted and incorporated, add another cube and repeat whisking. Add third cube, whisk, add fourth cube, whisk. Whisk in the heavy cream. Taste this sauce: Remember, it’ll be sharp with Key lime tang, but shouldn’t be inedibly so.

When ready to serve, spoon warm over the fried fish pieces, top with tomatoes, chopped scallions, and Parmesan cheese, then top with more Key lime butter.

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About the author

Kevin Pang

Kevin Pang was the founder and editor-in-chief of The Takeout, and director of the documentary For Grace on Netflix.