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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cornmeal Crusted Halibut with Modified Putanesca Sauce.

So, I've come to the conclusion that cooking at college is something that--at least this year--isn't gonna happen very often. There are just too many confounding factors: no reliable kitchen, people wandering in and messing things up, no readily accessible grocery store, too much sunk cost, and too little free time. I'm very hopeful that next year I will be in a co-op with friends and all this will change, but for now cooking is a part of my life I can only really indulge in off-campus--which means that every time I go home, or to Anne's, (or to Eden's, though that was during the summer), I try my absolute hardest to get into the kitchen at least once.

In this instance, I was cooking at my dads, and needed to feed a decent-sized crowd (my dad, stepbrother, stepmother, and step-grandparents who were in town for the holidays) with mixed tastes and dietary restrictions (fish but no meat for my stepmother, low salt for my step parents, nothing too spicy so as to avoid setting off dad's heartburn). Additionally, I wanted something that I could make start to finish in a no more than a couple of relaxed hours, was substantial enough without being rich or too large (I'd finally taken my dad and step-brother to Ruiz's that afternoon), and was low on labor so I could do it solo. Dad put me on the idea of cornmeal-crusted fish, and--looking for something light but very flavorful that would play well with halibut--came up with what I think is a more well-rounded take on Putanesca sauce.

Three notes:
1) I used Halibut because it was the best white fish that Yuri had in stock. For those who haven't met him, Yuri is the mad genius fishmonger at Rincon Market in Tucson. Rincon is otherwise quite mediocre as a supermarket (though their grill is pretty decent), but Yuri's fish is absolutely equal to the best I've had at any non-coastal restaurant; it's flown in fresh daily (no freezing ever)and more often than not was swimming the day before.

At any rate, if you don't like halibut--or there's better looking Snapper, Cod, etc. available, by all means go for it. You could probably also give scallops the same treatment (obviously cooking for less time). Salmon, Char, or a meaty fish like Tuna, Swordfish, or Sturgeon might not work though; same deal with Mackerel, much as I love it.

2) This is the normal-person salt level, not the one I actually used. If you're salt-sensitive, halve the parmesan and only do a third as many sardines. It will still be good.

3) My usual caveat (especially with things not intended to be blog entries): quantities are reconstructed from memory and very much approximate. Common sense strongly advised--though obviously, let me know if I got it wrong.

Cornmeal-Crusted Halibut with Modified Putanesca Sauce
Serves 4

4 medium-sized filets Halibut or other firm whitefish. Should be fairly thin, may be pounded if needed.

3 eggs
Splash milk

1/4 cup of canola oil

Crust (this will be overkill, but better too much than too little):
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup very finely minced (food processor suggested) parsley, or half parsley and half oregano
2-3 tbsp white pepper
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp salt

4 large Roma tomatoes, quartered
3 cloves garlic
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 cups roasted red peppers, chopped
2 medium red onions
1 cup green olives
3-4 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup oregano (opt.)
4-6 small anchovies
2 tsp capers
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Place crust ingredients in shallow dish, mix thoroughly, set aside.
2. Sautee red onion in olive oil until nearly-caremelized
3.Add all sauce ingredients (including onion) to food processor, blend until only somewhat chunky. Move to large pot on stovetop, bring to boil for ~2 minutes then reduce to simmer for at least 20 mins.
3. Whisk together eggs and milk. Cover bottom of a pan with oil and get as hot as possible without burning.
4. Coat fish in egg mix, dredge in crust, fry 2 fillets at a time, 2-3 mins. per side until golden brown. When oil becomes cloudy, change.
5. Top with sauce and serve immediately

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