Mixed fried seafood always reminds me of summer, but actually, here in eastern Long Island, there is local seafood twelve months a year. Right now the sea scallops and fluke are sweet and tender, and they were irresistable at the market. I could tell just by looking at this seafood that it was fresh, but I always ask to sniff anyway–there are no surprises that way.
For me, the best way to prepare fluke or any other thin white fish is to coat it with something crunchy and pan-fry it. My preferred coating for seafood is cornmeal–two parts cornmeal to one part flour. The flour helps the cornmeal adhere and ensures an even coating.
This dish does not require a recipe as there are no other ingredients besides cornmeal, flour, seafood and olive oil. What it requires instead, is a set of directions, which I will attempt to outline.
The amount of cornmeal and flour you use depends on how much seafood you’re coating. I just put a generous amount of cornmeal and flour (2 to 1) in a pie pan and mix it well. Any remaining after I’m finished, I simply discard.
In pan-frying, you must get the oil hot enough for the seafood to begin sizzling immediately upon hitting the skillet. The way to test is to dip the tail-end of one of the coated fish pieces in the oil and if it immediately sizzles, you can start adding pieces to the oil. If not, pull it out and wait until the oil heats.
The oil should start out on high heat, depending on how powerful your flame is, then be reduced slightly (if at all) once everything is sizzling. It’s difficult for the oil to be too hot, but if the pieces begin browning too quickly (you don’t want to scorch the cornmeal), just turn down the flame or remove the skillet from the flame for a moment. Worse would be for the oil not to be hot enough–then the seafood will simply poach and never get crisp.
Do not crowd the skillet–let there be a bit of circulation room around each piece of seafood. Fry in more than one batch and you’ll be fine. If there’s too much scorched cornmeal and flour in the skillet when you’re finished with a batch, discard the oil and heat some fresh oil before proceeding.
With all of these caveats in place, this is how the dish goes . . . simply take each piece of fish and cut in half or thirds, depending on how large you want the finished pieces to be. Don’t dry the fish or scallops before coating–simply dredge in the cornmeal/flour mixture, shake off the excess, then gently place in about a half-inch of sizzling hot olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt (I use kosher because I can feel the grains and judge how much I’m using) Let brown on one side–this should take about 2 minutes or so, then gently flip and let brown on other side. Salt the other side as well. In about 2 or three minutes, or when golden on both sides, lay on platter, dust with black pepper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.
In my opinion, this should be eaten either sizzling hot or cold from the fridge the next day (with a salad). At room temperature, I feel it gets fishy, but cold, it’s brilliant.
Broccoli di Rapa with Garlic, Lemon and Chili Flakes
As an accompaniment to the seafood, I’m making broccoli di rapa. There are two basic ways to make this vegetable–one is to saute it raw; the other is to blanch it first in boiling water, then saute it. Sauteing it raw results in the characteristically bitter dish that most Italians associate with broccoli di rapa. Boiling it first, results in a much milder less pungent flavor–I truly love it both ways.
There are several flavors that pair well with broccoli di rapa–the most obvious one is garlic, along with chili flakes. Other assertive flavors which complement it well are sun-dried tomatoes (slivered and sauteed along with the garlic), or anchovies, or pine nuts/raisins. My mother used to saute little rounds of cured sausage with the broccoli and would never blanch it first.
When I’m serving it as an accompaniment to seafood, I love to add not only garlic to the broccoli, but lemon zest–right in the skillet while I’m sauteing it. It combines with the garlic and gives the broccoli a wonderfully bright quality that cuts the richness of the fried seafood. In addition, because I’m adding something as strong as lemon zest, I’m going to saute the broccoli raw, and cook it for a while. Once the broccoli sautes for a while and softens, if you leave it undisturbed for a few minutes in the hot oil, it begins to caramelize, which adds yet nother dimension to the flavor and also sweetens the bitterness a bit.
Sauteed Broccoli di Rapa with Garlic, Lemon and Chili Flakes
2 bunches broccoli di rapa, the bottom 1/2″ removed, then cut crosswise into 1/2″ pieces
8 tbls olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, split in half
zest of 1 lemon
Wash the greens and let them drain in colander, leaving the water that clings to them.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil and garlic on low until the cloves are golden (about 10 minutes). Add lemon zest and saute for about 2 minutes. Add broccoli pieces and cover, leaving the heat on medium-high, for about 8 minutes. Taste and add salt. Remove lid and saute until the pieces begin to caramelize, about another 4-5 minutes.