Fish Puttanesca

5 from 29 votes
Jump to Recipe

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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.

Fish puttanesca on a plate.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

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

Fish puttanesca on a plate
5 from 29 votes

Fish Puttanesca

"Harlot's sauce," this is a classic Italian sauce made up of pantry staples, allegedly something a lady of the night would whip up after work, in the early morning before markets opened. Great on pasta, better with fish or chicken.
Course: Main Course, Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 1/2 pounds halibut or other firm fish, cut into chunks
  • Salt
  • 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. 


While I used California halibut here, any firm fish works. Alternatives could be walleye, catfish, perch, snapper, rockfish, seabass, striped bass, tuna, etc. 

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. 


Calories: 321kcal | Carbohydrates: 7g | Protein: 33g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 83mg | Sodium: 590mg | Potassium: 986mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 455IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 61mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

You May Also Like

Whitefish Salad

A classic recipe for whitefisah salad with sour cream, capers, celery and sweet onions. Smoked whitefish is traditional, but most fish works.

Smoked Salmon Pasta

Whole wheat pasta with flaked smoked salmon and fresh herbs. Easy to make, quick, healthy and tasty.

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are one of those foods I have a hard time controlling myself with. These deviled eggs, made with smoked salmon, are especially good.

Southern Fish and Grits

Southern fish and grits: Seared fish, grits and a simple sauce make this Southern classic an easy supper. Great with tripletail or any firm fish.

About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

5 from 29 votes (3 ratings without comment)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating


  1. So so good and easy too. Made this with sheepshead. Added some anchovies while cooking the onions. Served over spaghetti with fresh asparagus from the garden. Will definitely be in our spring meal rotation. Thanks again, Hank. Another keeper.

  2. Hello Hank,
    I tried this recipe from your book “Hook, Line, and Supper”. My sister and I find it most yummcious! Mostly use cod, since that is what is usually available at the place we shop. Don’t know any fishermen unfortunately!
    All the best.

  3. Really easy and a really great flavour profile. I did it with catfish because that’s what I had. Same for green olives. Otherwise just followed the recipe exactly and it was excellent. Those ladies of the night sure were eating well ?

  4. Loved this tonight, but I must admit I ate three quarters myself! I added three anchovy fillets to the olive oil before I ever put the fish in. Worked great.

  5. Bravo! I did this with rockfish fried with the skin on. Did it over al dente pasta resting on a thin bed of arugula. Very simple weeknight treat. Thanks!

  6. I made this recipe with white Seabass that I caught at Catalina. It was absolutely amazing! Are used fresh tomatoes instead of canned and it made a very bright tasting dish.

  7. Awesome use for spoonbill. Company stops asking what the heck kinda fish they’re eating after the first bite!

  8. This recipe is now one of my favorites, I used ling cod because I was out of halibut. Can’t wait to try it with halibut, it was great with lingcod! My wife requires me to make this for her now.