you travel to exotic locales, do you find yourself buying intriguing local
produce at the farmers market? Perhaps you even do that at your local market.
When we first
moved to the Southwest, that is what I did. Whether at the farmers market, or
in the grocery store, if I saw something distinctively Southwestern, or
unusual, weird, or completely unfamiliar, I bought it.
the first time I bought tomatillos. I had heard of them, but had never seen them. I
loved their brittle paper jackets and bought eight of them with absolutely no
idea what to do with them.
home to our kitchen, and then sat there doing nothing. I guess the allure gave
way to uncertainty.
pushing me to do something with the tomatillos so they didn't go to waste. I
suggested that he find a recipe and I would cook it. And that he did.
He found a
Rick Bayless recipe for fish with tomatillo salsa. Bayless' recipe was a
contemporary take on a traditional Mexican recipe, and my version takes it a
few steps further from the traditional.
It has ended
up being one of our favorites, and each time we make it (like last night) we
ask ourselves, "Why don't we make this more often?"
basically a Mexican fish and chips, but it is so much more than that. The chips
are not French-fried potatoes; they are the crust of the fish. The tomatillo
sauce is just perfect with the buttery-flavored fish with its crunchy coat.
And, yes, it
is fried. I don't like to fry indoors, especially when it is fish. In a small
house, all you can smell for days is the fish and then, for days after, the
oil. Instead, I use the side burner on my outdoor gas grill to fry the fish,
and the covered grill, set to low, to keep the fish warm and crispy as I cook
it in batches.
mean that I have to disappear from the dinner table for a few minutes to do the
final cooking, but Markipedia keeps the troops entertained until I am able to
enter with the platter of golden-fried fish on a bed of tomatillo salsa. I don't
recall anyone complaining that I was gone too long! They were too busy cleaning
pieces grouper filet (or other firm, white fish)
1/2 cup flour
white or yellow tortilla chips
tomatillos, about 1 1/2 pounds
1 large, or
two small, jalapeño chiles
1 large white
chopped fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
1/2 red bell
pepper, seeded and diced (optional)
bell pepper, seeded and diced (optional)
your grouper is cut into equal-sized pieces. You want it to be about 1
1/4-inches thick. Place the flour in a shallow bowl, and stir in 1/2 teaspoon
salt. Place the eggs in another shallow bowl, and whisk them together with 1/2
teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons water. Using the bag in which the chips came,
crush them until they are about 1/4-inch in size, although some largest pieces
are nice, too. Spread these crumbled chips on a large plate.
grouper pieces into the flour and coat all sides. Then dip it into the egg
mixture, and follow that by pressing the fish into the chips on all sides.
Place each piece on a foil-lined baking sheet. (This can be done ahead and
refrigerated for up to 2 hours.)
peel and discard the papery tomatillo husks, rinse them, and place them on a
foil-lined baking sheet. Add the jalapeño pepper(s) and place under the broiler
- as close as possible - for 8-10 minutes, until they begin to char. Turn the
vegetables, and char the bottoms for another 6-8 minutes. Place the charred
vegetables, and any accumulated juices, in a blender and purée till smooth. A
few chunky bits won't hurt.
In a large
saucepan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion over medium heat until it is
golden, stirring often. Increase heat to medium-high and, when sizzling, add
the tomatillo purée. Cook for about 5 minutes until the color is darker, and
the mixture has thickened.
chicken stock and cilantro, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a brisk simmer and
let cook for 30-40 minutes until thickened, but not pasty. Set aside and keep
warm. (The salsa can be made a day in advance, refrigerated, and then reheated
at serving time.)
Heat the oil
in a large skilled over medium-high heat. Place a baking sheet, lined with
foil, in the oven and set to 300°F. (I set my gas grill on low, and set the
lined baking sheet directly on the grill with the lid closed.) To test if the
oil is ready, take a small piece of the fish crust and drop it in the oil. If
it sizzles, you are ready.
the grouper pieces in the oil and fry for 2 minutes per side. Remove them from
the oil and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Fry the remaining pieces,
also for 2 minutes per side, and then place them on the baking sheet with the
other pieces. Leave them to keep warm until you are ready to plate.
divide the sauce among six plates, and place a piece of fish on the sauce (or
two pieces, if you made them smaller like I did). Top with chopped cilantro or
a sprinkle of diced bell pepper for color. Serves 6.