I recently bought some wonderfully fresh, well-priced B.C. rockfish fillets from my neighbourhood seafood store and on the way home contemplated how to prepare them.
There are many types of rockfish and years ago a seafood seller decided to give them a more recognizable name and market them all as Pacific snapper. That name stuck and many places, supermarkets in particular, still label them that. But rockfish are not related to “true” snappers, caught in warm water places, such as the Gulf of Mexico.
Rockfish and “true” snapper, though, do share similar qualities in that their flesh has a flaky texture and a taste that’s sweet, mild and appealing. They can also be prepared in similar ways.
The latter fact reminded of a simple way a chef in Louisiana showed me how to prepare snapper fillets when I visited part of that state called “Cajun” country. All he did was coat them in flour, dip them in water until moistened, and then coat them in breadcrumbs that were seasoned with Cajun-style spices.
The fish was then deep-fried and the chef said that dipping the fish in water, rather than a beaten egg mixture, as you often do when breading something, gave them a crispier crust.
He was right. That fish was good, so I decided to prepare my rockfish fillets that way. But instead of deep-frying them, I shallow fried them in hot oil in a skillet. The fish will make a nice dinner for two when served with coleslaw and another side dish, perhaps corn on the cob or boiled miniature potatoes.
Cajun-spiced Fish Fry for Two
B.C. rockfish fillets, coated and flavoured southern-style, then fried in a skillet until rich golden on the outside, and moist in the middle.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: six to eight minutes
Makes: two servings
2 (about 175 gram each) rockfish fillets (also called Pacific snapper)
1/3 cup dried fine breadcrumbs (not panko)
1 tsp Cajun spice, or taste (see Note)
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
• lemon slices and parsley sprigs (optional), for garnish
Cut each fish fillet into two, roughly equal pieces, removing and discarding any bones, if there are any.
Combine breadcrumbs and Cajun spice in a shallow dish. Put the flour in a second shallow dish. Fill a third shallow dish with half an inch of cold water.
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap. Coat a piece of the fish with the flour. Now quickly dip in the water, just until moistened on both sides. Set the fish in the breadcrumb mixture and coat on both sides, firmly pressing the crumbs on. Set the coated piece of fish on the baking sheet. Repeat the process with the other pieces of fish in the breadcrumb mixture as you did the first one.
Pour the oil into a large skillet (mine was 12-inches wide) set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is very hot, set the fish in the skillet and fry three to four minutes per side, until rich golden in colour and cooked through. Plate and serve the fish, garnished with lemon slices and parsley sprigs, if using.
Note: Cajun spice is sold in bottled spice/herb aisle of most supermarkets. If yours does not contain salt, season the fish with salt before coating it. If you want to make your own Cajun spice, in a small jar, combine 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp dried thyme, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/4 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Use what you need for the recipe and save the rest for another time.
Coleslaw with Apples and Pecans
This is a sweet and tangy coleslaw you can serve with the rockfish.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: None
Makes: two generous servings
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp honey
1 cup finely shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced apple
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp pecan pieces
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice and honey in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine. Cover and refrigerate coleslaw until ready to serve with the fish.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.