One of my resolutions for this year has been to expand my seafood repertoire with more fish and crab dishes. However, I picked a rather lousy time to do so with the monsoons in full swing.
I sometimes buy pre-packaged prawns and fish from my supermarket because they tend to last longer (I assume thanks to their cleaner processing and packaging) and are also available through the year. I picked up a packet of fish fillets (according to Sumeru, whose fillets I’d bought, they use grouper, snapper or reef cod in their Ocean Fresh line of fillets) and decided to cook it in an Italian way.
The method itself is super simple and doesn’t call for much prep. Make sure the fish is at absolutely room temperature before you begin, because cold fish tends to do funny things when dropped on a hot skillet (it’d also take longer to cook). The butter used in this recipe is pretty optional. I like using about the same amount I’d put on a slice of bread (or two). I wouldn’t make this without a touch of butter, because the combination of butter and garlic and fish is a special thing. So use butter; take the stairs.
You could also adapt this recipe towards a whole bunch of different uses and flavour combinations. You could cook the fish the way the recipe described it below (reducing the cooking in wine time to maybe 10 minutes, to account for the cooking in the oven) and flake it over a pizza, like the one in the picture above.
I used rosemary instead of thyme for the fish pizza and it worked just as well. I made the pizza by layering a little cream cheese on the pizza base, along with some shaved asparagus dressed in lime juice and some sautéed broccoli. The fish was flaked over this and gently salted and peppered. This was baked (on a baking stone of course) in a hot oven for about 5-7 minutes.
This recipe also uses capers, which aren’t that hard to find these days. I found the little bottle of capers I use in my local supermarket. I prefer the little round caper berries over the larger ones because they’re smaller and carry a more concentrated flavour. The little lemony bursts of flavour they contribute to goes really well with the flavour of the fish drunk on wine, so I wouldn’t recommend substituting them with anything. You can still try making this with just olives (but do go find some capers; there are so many things you could do with them).
The anchovies used in the beginning are also optional, but they do form a nice fishy pre-flavouring for the whole dish, as they disintegrate into the oil and garlic when they cook. I also use anchovies in other recipes where fish might be involved, like the adaptation of this recipe using sardines.
The specific cook-times (4 minutes on either side and then simmered in wine for 14 minutes) ensure that the fish won’t get overcooked into a tough white cardboard. You’ll see the the meat flaking into segments when you pry it loose with a fork.
If you’re just starting with cooking fish (like I am), this recipe is a perfect starter recipe to take your first fishy baby steps with.
1 fish fillet (preferably of reef cod or snapper)
2-3 anchovies (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Butter (about the amount you’d spread on a sandwich)
2 fat cloves of garlic, sliced super fine
1 tablespoon capers
A dash of dry white wine (I use a Sauvignon blanc)
5-10 pitted black olives (optional)
1 onion, finely diced
½ teaspoon thyme
Salt & pepper, to taste
- Heat the oilve oil and butter in a skillet and add the anchovies. Mash them in with a spatula.
- Add the garlic, sauté till you can smell garlic in the air. Add the onions and cook till they colour too.
- Spread the onion and garlic towards the edges of your skillet to make some room in the centre. Lay your fish fillet in this space and bring the onions back inwards to hug the edges of the fish, to hold the heat in. Keep the flame on a medium low while cooking your fish.
- Cook on one side for 4 minutes, then on the other for another 4.
- Pour in the wine and capers and olives (if using) and cook for 14 minutes, stirring, basting and flipping the fish occasionally to make sure both sides cook evenly. I only use about enough wine to cover the bottom of the pan and simmer. The fish shouldn’t be swimming in it or you’ll end up with a lot of winey, watery residue.
- Season and serve immediately with toasted bread or pasta. This can even be flaked into a salad. Fish will continue to cook when taken off the heat, so it’s best consumed right away.
Note: The amount of butter you use will determine how much colour your fish takes on. The more the butter, the more golden your fish will be. Using a thicker bottomed, heavier pan also helps.