Another fish crusted in a corn product

December 30, 2009

I'm originally from western Pennsylvania where every dive bar competes to serves the most gigantic fried fish sandwich. This means I am conditioned to prefer my sea critters with a crunchy coating. (In fact just an hour ago I ate a salad with fried fish on it at a restaurant in my hometown.) Add to that the fact that I found this older Rick Bayless cookbook in a used bookstore in Charlottesville, VA, and taaa-daaaaa - before I knew it I was eating cereal on my fish. (And to revisit the Rick Bayless issue from a previous blog post - yes, I did eventually see the tv show, and he is quite creepy. Damn good cookbook author, but as a show host he gives off somewhat of a stalker vibe. Blink, Rick! Blink!)

Crispy fish with tomatillo sauce, adapted from Mexico: One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless
Serves 2

1/4 cup flour
pinch of salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups smashed corn flakes (smash first, then measure)
2 5-6 oz. fish fillets (I used catfish), about 3/4 inch thich

vegetable oil, for frying

1/2 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 serrano pepper, stem cut off, but otherwise left whole (use a jalepeno if serrano seeds are too hot for you and yours)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup fish or chicken broth
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Fish preparation
Get out three flat bowls for breading the fish. Put the flour and salt in one, the egg in another and beat it with a little bit of water, and the smashed corn flakes in the third. (Note: you will probably want to smash the corn flakes with your hands rather than a food processor, because the machine will make the crumbs too fine.) Dredge the fish on both sides in the flour, then egg, then corn flakes. Really push the corn flakes into the fish. Repeat with the second fillet. Put them on a clean plate and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Roast the tomatillos and chile on a baking sheet under the broiler for about 5 minutes on each side. You want them to blacken in spots, and they will probably also burst a little bit too. Take them out to cool for a few minutes before pureeing it all (along with the juices) in a food processor or blender.

Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion slices and cook until golden, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, stir for about a minute, then add the tomatillo puree. Stirring constantly, cook until it is darker and thicker, about 3-4 minutes. Add the broth and half of the cilantro. Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer and let it cook and thicken for about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

Fish, continued
In a large heavy skillet (cast iron is nice here), pour in vegetable oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. Heat it over a medium high flame until it is hot enough to instantly sizzle a cornflake. Cook the fish for about 2 minutes on each side, or until nicely browned. (The refrigeration helps the coating stick to the fish, which makes for easier cooking and flipping.) Drain the fillets briefly on paper towels, if desired.

Spoon half the sauce onto each plate, then top with a piece of fish. Garnish with the rest of the cilantro. I served this at my house with a simple romaine salad with a lime vinaigrette. (Bonus recipe! Lime vinaigrette: juice of one lime, salt, pepper, whisk in olive oil to taste.)