There is something I have to admit. It's about my past. A sordid detail - yes, thats right, I grew up in the Midwest. Don't get me wrong, I love Chicago and Naperville, where I grew up, is a really nice suburb. But, fish was just not readily available to the home cook. My father grew up out on the Chesapeake, so he would bring home a nice piece of fish every time he could find one - but, it's the Midwest, that isn't so often. The problem is not that no fish is sold in the markets, it's that the fish has, for the most part, been frozen and tends to be fairly low quality - even if you make the run over to Whole Foods. The classic fish dishes I grew up on are fried Catfish and seared Salmon. My father has certainly prepared other fish as well, but those two are the ones that would happen regularly.
Now, however, I leave on the East coast - soon (so very, very soon), I will be living on the West coast. It is really high time I got to know my Snapper from my Striped Bass - and learned to cook them too. Neen and I have done a few seafood dishes since we have gotten out to D.C., but mostly they have revolved around either clams or mussels. So this weekend I decided to give cooking fish a try. Lucky for me, I just happened to have a recipe from last month's Food and Wine magazine for "6 quick fixes for fish fillets." The decision on which to make was easy enough: their picture of the Sea Bass Fillets with Parsley looked divine. Now, being F&W, when they say "quick fix" they mean that it takes only 4 prep-bowls, 3-4 trips through a blender (for various pieces of the sauce), and approximately 1 hour of hand time. This is not exactly what I would call a "quick fix," but the chef is well repaid for the work when the dish is served.
The original recipe called for using Sea Bass, but I have always been addicted to Red Snapper for my light, flaky fish cravings - this started when I was young and we would go to Thai restaurants and they would have a fried Red Snapper glazed with "Thai sauce." Here, the preparation of the fish itself is a little complicated, but the basic idea is to bread the fish with a mixture of bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper. It is worth noting that the method they use for breading is one of the most successful that I have worked with. First they coat the fish in flour, and then they coat that in egg, before dredging in the bread crumbs. I have never tried breading in that order before, but it worked very well.
Once breaded, the fish is cooked in oil and butter and then topped with a lemon-parsley cream sauce. The flavors work together perfectly. The Red Snapper comes out light and flaky, covered with a crispy shell of bread crumbs. The sauce on top carries enough of the lemon flavor to excite the palate if the fish is very fresh, or mask some of the fish-y flavor if the fish is slightly old. You might wonder how I know that ... well, because we actually made this dish twice. Once just after purchasing the fish then again a couple days later to use up what was left. I thought about cooking a different recipe, but I couldn't find one that I had most of the ingredients for and looked as delicious as this recipe is.
All this to say, if you can get really fresh red snapper, it is an amazing dish. And the breading technique is well worth remembering.
"Red Snapper" Fillets with Parsley Sauce
Cook Time: 40 min (or so F&W claims)
1.75 cups fresh bread crumb
1 cup finely chopped parsley
salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot minced
1.5 cups chicken broth (low sodium is best)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons creme fresh
.25 cup extra virgin olive-oil
all purpose flour
2 large egss, beaten
4x6-oz Red Snapper Fillets
Preparation for Sauce:
1. In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the shallot and cook over medium heat until translucent (~1 min). Add chicken stock and lemon juice then boil over high heat until reduced to 1 cup (~15 min).
2. Whisk in the creme fresh with 1/2 cup parsley and 1/4 cup bread crumb. Scrape sauce into blender and puree. Strain sauce back into saucepan and warm gently.
Preparation for Fish:
1. In a large bowl mis 1.5 cups of bread crumb with .5 cup of parsley. Add 1.5 teaspoons of salt and 0.5 teaspoons of pepper.
2. If you haven't already, remove skin from fillet. Put flour and beaten eggs into two shallow bowls.
4. Season the fillets with salt and peppers, then dredge them in flour, dip in the beaten egg, and coat with the bread crumb mixture.
Cooking the Fish:
1. melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the oil over moderate heat.
2. When the butter starts to brown slightly, add the fillets to the skillet until browned on the bottom (~3 minutes). Flip the fillets and cooking until just white throughout (~2-3 minutes).
3. Transfer to plates, spoon sauce alongside, and serve.