Fish in tomato and cilantro sauce
This delectable fish is saucy, herby and pungent.
I like serving this festive fish. It's first fried, then gently baked in a sauce rich with tomatoes, cilantro and pine nuts. The sauce reduces until thick, and it’s so good, so herby and pungent, you want to lick the plate.
I seldom fry anything, and when I do, I use olive oil. It fits the fish and the Israeli way of eating. So go for olive oil here if you can. And remember not to crowd the fish in the skillet and to keep the oil hot. Small, flat fish may be fried in oil that comes halfway up to them. Turn them over once after 5 minutes in the hot oil. Large, chunky slices should be deep-fried. You’ll have to judge how much oil to heat according to the size of the fish pieces. Fry in batches so as not to crowd the fish, which would result in a soggy crust. Hardly anybody likes a soggy crust.
You may use parsley instead of cilantro, but the taste will be very different. You can cook this with whole small fish, like red mullets, or thick slices taken off a large white-fleshed fish, or fillets from a medium-sized fish like sea bream. I’ve made this recipe with all those. I confess that I like fillets of red mullet best, although the photos in this post show fillets of bream.
- 1 pound fresh fish
- 2 thinly sliced onions
- 3 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste
- Olive oil for frying
Pat the fish dry with a towel. Season the flour with salt and pepper. Turn the fish over and over in the seasoned flour, making sure to cover all surfaces.
Have the oil hot, and gently drop the fish in.
Drain the fish pieces and set aside.
Let the olive oil in the skillet cool down to just warm. Drain all the oil off and wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel or two. Add 2-3 tablespoons of fresh oil to the skillet and heat it over medium heat. Fry the onions in it until wilted. Add the tomatoes and cook until soft. Push the vegetables aside and add the pine nuts. Fry the nuts for two minutes, turning them over often.
Add only enough water to cover the vegetables and nuts. Add the cilantro. Stir, and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Simmer the sauce for five minutes.
If your skillet is oven-proof, simply lower the fish into the sauce and pop the whole thing into a 400 º F (200º C) oven. If not, transfer the fish to an oven-proof casserole dish and cover it with the sauce. Either way, bake for 15 minutes.
Recipe adapted from Claudia Roden’s 'Book of Middle Eastern Food.'