Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pan-Fried Fish Parmesana: Something's Fishy...

It looks pretty good doesn't it? Maybe even a little bit like it was served in a restaurant rather than in my two-bedroom WeHo apartment. I could lie and say that it was lip-smacking delicious -- that I moaned and groaned and cried out in pain when I took my last bite of the delicate Parmesan encrusted tilapia. Except it wasn't nearly as swoon-worthy as I anticipated when I descended --spatula in hand-- upon my kitchen on Tuesday night. As much as I would love to write a glowing post about the power of my skillet, I just can't do it.

That's right, I seriously bonked on this one. Well, not SERIOUSLY. Seriously would mean it was inedible, and it wasn't. My oven-roasted fingerling potatoes were perfectly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and the fish itself was fine. It was the sauce that was the problem. And my far too liberal squeezes of lemon juice over the top...

Everything started out okay. After cutting my fingerling potatoes (a popular choice for many restaurant chefs -- it works excellently with fish or in a salad) into cubes, I tossed them in a little olive oil, pepper and salt, and popped them into my 400 degree oven for approximately 20-25 minutes. I prepared my steamer for my hericot verts (French Green Beans), and began readying my tilapia, purchased at Santa Monica Seafood that day, for the frying pan. I was following an old standby recipe of my mother's -- the "Pan-Fried Fish Parmesana" from one of her standby cookbooks, San Francisco a la Carte. I was using the finest ingredients from the finest sources, and adhering to a mother-approved recipe book -- how could I go wrong?

I said it once and I'll say it again -- it was the sauce! It was the sauce...

I wish I could blame it on Giada, Rachel or Martha, but this one was all me. While the recipe doesn't call for any sort of liquid accompaniment, I thought the fish might be a little plain without it. Lemon juice, white wine, garlic and capers seemed to be a fitting accompaniment, so I decided to parlay the sauce from my chicken piccata recipe and add a little Dijon mustard to the mix too. Overly confident that the sauce could not fail, I poured things in without bothering to measure anything. Good cooks can tell if a sauce is good by the way it looks and smells, and as my sauce bubbled down to a pale yellow, runny egg-like consistency, I was convinced it would be delectable. Without even bothering to taste it first, I poured it over my fish with reckless abandon, squirted some extra lemon over the top and sat down to what I thought would be a scrumptious meal.

From the first bite, I knew something was off. At first, I thought it might be the Worcestershire used to season the fish. But the bites of fish that were not tainted by my Dijon lemon wine caper concoction tasted fine -- respectable even. It was the Dijon. And the capers. And yes, my extreme use of the lemon too. Oddly enough, it was the simply prepared, no-fuss, no-muss fingerling potatoes that proved to be the highlight of the meal. Just like the basic black dress can outshine even the brightest of frocks, my basic spuds stole the plate show away from my over-dressed fish.

While my meal was by no means an election night winner, I have included the recipe for the Pan-Fried Fish Parmesana with the hope that the Supreme Court (ie. my kitchen saavy readers) can provide some suggestions for an appropriate sauce to accompany my sad little fish. Unlike (most) elections, in the kitchen, there is always the opportunity for a re-do. Especially if it means I can make more potatoes to go with it.

Pan-Fried Fish Parmesana (San Francisco a la Carte)
*Recipe has been cut in half

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Fillet of sole, orange roughy or other fish (I used Tilapia)
Ground pepper
Flour (for dredging)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs (I used panko crumbs)
Butter, oil for browning

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce and sprinkle over the fish pieces. Pepper the fish, then dredge lightly in flour. (I skipped the flour dredging step.) Dip the fish in the egg wash, then coat generously with the cheese and bread crumb mixture.

In a heavy skillet, saute the fish in a mixture of butter and oil (I used just olive oil) over medium heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Remove the browned fish from the skillet, and bake in a glass casserole dish for 4-5 minutes, or until just heated through. Serve immediately. (Preferably with a GOOD sauce.)


Esi said...

Hmmm, well the fish sounds good. I would think just a (small) spritz of lemon would do it, but maybe a lemon parsley sauce? Or better yet, serve it with arugula or spinach that mixed with a lemon vinaigrette? That could be good.

Futile Sniffer said...

I am not an advanced cook at all, nor really a great beginner. However! I do know that I am not a big fan of lemon on fish, but would rather replace it with lime. I read that lime and basil are good on tilapia too. Going on that note, I would add some sort of bourbon!

Diana H. said...

Esi - I love the idea of doing it over greens with a light vinaigrette! And I think you are right about something simpler like lemon and parsley. I'm going to have to try this again soon -- get back on the saddle! :)

Meg - Lime is sooo good with salmon and halibut -- especially when I'm working with soy/asian flavors!