Fish ought to be simple, quick to prepare, and fun to eat. This fish puttanesca fits the bill. Chunks of firm, white fish, floured and fried, then tossed with all the great flavors of a traditional Italian puttanesca sauce.
A what? Those who know Italian or even Spanish can guess at the origin of this sauce; it means “harlot’s sauce.” There are lots of legends about its name, but the one I like best is that the ladies of the evening, after a long night’s work, could whip this up in the predawn hours — before any markets opened — eat a good meal and finally catch some sleep.
The key to a puttanesca sauce is that pretty much everything would either be in her pantry or growing on her windowsill. Fresh herbs, salted capers and anchovies, olives, an onion, maybe a clove of garlic or two. Some canned tomatoes, or fresh ones sitting on her kitchen counter. Maybe a hot chile or three.
The result is powerful. Salty, herby, sour and a little sweet from the tomatoes. It is ideal for a big fish like tuna, swordfish or sturgeon — and tuna puttanesca is a thing in Italy — but will work with any sort of firm, white fish. I used halibut, but don’t let that stop you if you don’t have any. Play with it.
Normally I’ll dust the fish with regular flour, but there is an alternative that is both delicious and gluten-free: chickpea flour. It will actually give you fish even more golden than with flour, and has a bit of nutty flavor, too.
All told, fish puttanesca is a spectacular quick-and-easy meal for a weeknight.
I have a few similar dishes from Italy you might like, from Glutton’s Style Fish to my spaghetti with crab sauce. A good appetizer that goes well with fish puttanesca is shrimp or scallop scampi, or salt cod fritters.
- 1 1/2 pounds halibut or other firm fish, cut into chunks
- 2 cups regular or chickpea flour, for dusting
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 shallot or small onion, minced
- 2 cups diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- 12-20 olives, sliced
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup chopped basil, parsley or tarragon
- black pepper to taste
- Salt the fish well and dust with the flour.
- Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When it's hot, brown the fish pieces in batches. Sear several sides of the chunks so they're nicely browned. Set the fish aside as it browns.
- When all the fish is done, add the shallot and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds.
- Return the fish to the pan and add all the remaining ingredients. Toss to combine, and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes. Serve with crusty bread, polenta or rice.
Keys to Success
- This comes together quickly so have everything all set up before you begin.
- AP flour is perfectly fine here, although I do really like the chickpea flour. It add flavor and browns well.
- I like pitted black Kalamata olives for this recipe, but any olive you want will work.
- Get the small capers. They're better. Even better? Get them packed in salt.