Sunday cooking: Turn your fresh fish into this dish

A recipe for this cook’s favorite way to make fresh snapper: Fish a la Spetsiota
Fish a la Spetsiota, made with a local catch.
Fish a la Spetsiota, made with a local catch. [ KATHY SAUNDERS | Special to the Times ]
Published Aug. 11, 2022

Living near the water, we have the great advantage of being able to fish for our dinner. Truthfully, I haven’t been fishing since I got my engagement ring 30 years ago. But my husband was, and still is, an avid angler.

He recently returned from a fishing trip with a bounty of yellowtail and mangrove snapper. He cleans the fish and I cook it. With our catch, I prepared three different recipes and also put a couple of fillets in the freezer for future meals.

We love fish sandwiches. I cut a few fillets into sandwich-sized pieces and popped them in the fridge for dinner later in the week. I simply season the fish with salt and pepper and put it directly on the grill. When it’s almost done, I top the fillets with cheddar cheese. I butter a couple of hamburger buns and place them on the grill for just a few minutes. The freshness of the fish and the char from the grill make for perfect sandwiches. Depending on the thickness of the fillets, they could be fried or blackened as well. With such fresh fish, there’s no need to mask any flavor — we prefer it right off the grill. I usually serve the sandwiches with homemade potato chips and a salad or fruit.

I also prepared a couple of fillets for a future dinner of baked fish. I usually get all the ingredients ready a day or two ahead and prepare the dish just prior to eating. Since commercially caught fish can spend days on a boat before going to the supermarket or fish counter, fresh-caught fillets will keep very well in the refrigerator for several days. They can be frozen for several weeks.

I season the fresh fish with salt and pepper and then bread the fillets with flour, egg and a combination of regular and panko bread crumbs. If I have fresh herbs I sometimes add them to the bread crumbs, along with a little garlic powder. The mixture creates a hearty texture that holds up well in the oven.

Before it goes in the oven, I saute the crusted fish in a little olive oil until the coating is golden brown and then put it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. The fish is cooked as soon as it’s white and not translucent. It’s easy to overcook fish, so I cook it on a high temperature of 400 degrees for a short amount of time — usually five to eight minutes for a snapper or thin grouper fillet. If I am feeling nostalgic for Hawaii, where I grew up, I top the fillets with chopped macadamia nuts just before removing them from the oven. They will burn if added sooner.

Most often, I serve the baked fish with rice and a green vegetable and lemon wedges that really elevate the flavor of the dish. When the fish are thawed from being frozen, the lemon juice helps break down any fishy taste.

My favorite recipe for fresh snapper is the meal I made the evening it was caught. I prepared Fish a la Spetsiota, from chef Diane Kochilas. I first watched her prepare the dish on a PBS cooking show featuring her Greek specialties. She recommends any white, fleshy fish — which are plentiful in local waters. On her website, Kochilas explains that the dish came from the island of Spetses off the eastern coast of the Peloponnese. She said this is a simple version, and she was right. I love it for the combination of flavors, freshness and for the colors on the plate. I serve it over brown rice with steamed broccolini.

Fish a la Spetsiota

2 to 2 ½ pounds fish fillets

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1 ½ cups peeled and seeded finely chopped fresh tomatoes with juices (I used a few fresh Roma tomatoes and a can of diced tomatoes)

3 garlic cloves, chopped

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

½ cup dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

¾ cup plain bread crumbs

¼ cup extra-virgin Greek olive oil (I used Alziari olive oil from France because that’s my favorite and I use it for all recipes requiring olive oil)

Lightly salt the fish and let it sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, parsley and wine and let sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Season the fish with a little extra salt and pepper. Place in a lightly oiled baking dish. Spoon the tomato marinade over the fish and top with bread crumbs. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the fish is fork tender, the tomato topping is dense and juicy and the bread crumbs are golden.