Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grouper Veracruz, Sort Of

Tim returned home Thursday after a long, hot and stinky week of exploring the spoiled Louisiana coast with a team from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. As exhausting as the trip had been, they did have the pleasure of dining at some of New Orleans’ finest restaurants, including our personal favorite, Susan Spicer’s Bayona.

With him tired from work and travel, and a friend of Graham’s over for a visit, I imagined an easy take-out dinner from Zpizza. Instead, I returned home to find Tim had splurged on a large package of lovely fresh grouper and a fancy bag of delicate egg noodles. His plan for what to do with them? Read, relax and leave it to me.

I often go the picatta route with fish, but that was the wrong option here. I turned to one of my favorite sources of inspiration, James Peterson’s Fish & Shellfish – aptly subtitled The Cook’s Indispensible Companion – and landed on Red Drum Fillets with Tomato Sauce, which also is recommended for grouper. Sounded good, and I had most ingredients, but it still was not quite what my gourmet pizza-minded taste buds had in mind.

My thoughts suddenly wandered to our recent holiday in San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City, where we enjoyed several meals of fish prepared in the Veracruz style. A little more onion, a pile of fresh tomatoes from a neighbor’s garden, a liberal infusion of capers, black olives and Tajin Classico, a chile-lime seasoning I carried back (but have since found locally), and voila! – or, perhaps, ole! – grouper Veracruz, sort of. Clean plate club for all.

2-2.5 lbs fresh grouper filets
all-purpose flour
salt and fresh-ground pepper
olive oil
1 Vidalia or red onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
6-8 garden tomatoes, rough chop
1-2 tsp Tajin Classico (chile-lime spice)
3-4 tbsp capers, drained
¼-½ cup black olives, drained

16 oz bag delicate egg noodles
2-3 tbsp butter
¼ cup parmesan, freshly grated; more for table
small handful fresh basil or cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut grouper filets into portions, if necessary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour; shake off excess. Cook in olive oil in batches in skillet on medium-high heat until lightly browned on both sides. Remove to casserole dish.

Lightly wipe out skillet if any burned flour remains. Add olive oil and diced onion -- I used the food processor for a fine dice -- then add garlic. Cook until soft and translucent, then add tomatoes (pulse-chopped in processor). Simmer 5-10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Add capers and olives, simmer another five minutes. Pour over fish in casserole and bake about 6-7 minutes or until fish feels firm and sauce is set on top.

Optional: While fish is baking, cook egg noodles until al dente; drain, saving about ½ cup pasta water. Return pasta to pot with a splash of pasta water, butter and parmesan and basil or cilantro. Toss well; add additional pasta water if needed. Serve with fish and sauce, passing extra parmesan at the table. Good with crusty bread and a crisp white wine.