Fish in Crazy Water (Pesce all'Acqua Pazza) is an Amalfitana classic. For some it is a pan-poached dish, but for the purist the fish is pan-fried and the vigorously reduced ‘crazy water’ added back to serve. Here I’ve provided a method for both, the former being gluten free. The purist would opt for the latter where white wine and chopped chili are excluded, for that would be too crazy! (Purists have been known to change restaurants after finding out wine and chili are used, LOL). That appeals to me too, the pace of the pan-fried method yields a freshness and purity of flavour that the pan-poached method doesn’t, and exceptional ingredients needn’t be laboured. The pan-poached method gives a richer and more developed flavour and is probably easier to nail.
-PJ

THE FISH
Use small pan sized pink snapper of about 400-500gm or a similar sized Australian southern black bream (which are closest to the ‘sarago’ or sea bream used in Southern Italy). If taken from clean and cold estuarine water black bream are great eating fish and are not distantly related to pink snapper anyway. Goatfish (erroneously referred to as red mullet by fishmongers) are also perfect for this dish. They are small but meaty and suit fast cooking, they have to be very fresh and are best cooked whole. Fillets of bream or snapper will also suit the pan fried method.

Sydney Harbour Angling by James Giles

VERSION 1. ‘PAN-POACHED’

Ingredients
2 whole fish scaled & gutted
175ml EVOO
4 x garlic cloves, crudely chopped in large pieces
20 x top shelf cherry tomatoes, quartered
Handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn or chopped Salt and freshly ground black pepper
300ml hot water
100ml dry white wine (Trebbiano or Vermentino)
1⁄2 small red chili sliced
A little lemon juice

Method
Add a little lemon juice and seasoning to the fish’s cavity. Heat the olive oil over moderately high heat in a heavy based pan that has a lid. Add the fish then shortly after add the garlic, tomatoes, chili, basil and generously salt. Add the wine while still hot to boil-off the alcohol for a moment then add the hot water. At this point turn the heat down to moderate and cook the fish for about 5 minutes on each side while covered. Place the fish on a serving dish then increase the heat of the remaining sauce for about 30 seconds and then pour over the fish. Use fresh bread to mop up the juice, or if you’re feeling a bit sleazy add freshly cooked spaghetti No11 and heat into the sauce to make a bigger meal of it.

VERSION 2. ‘PAN-FRIED’

Ingredients
2 whole fish scaled, gutted and dusted with a little ‘OO’ 150ml EVOO split in two
4 x garlic cloves, 2 smashed, 2 finely sliced
20 x top shelf cherry tomatoes, quartered
Handful of fresh parsley leaves, roughly torn or chopped Salt and freshly ground black pepper
400-500ml hot water

Method
Put a smashed clove of garlic in each fish’s cavity. Season and dust the fish in flour, removing any excess. Heat half the oil in a heavy pan and fry the fish for 5 minutes each side over moderately high heat. Remove the fish and discard the oil. Add the remaining oil to the pan and fry the sliced garlic and tomatoes for two minutes (don’t burn the garlic so use moderate heat). Add the hot water and turn up the heat. Allow it to boil vigorously until the water is reduced by about 30%. Season generously. Pour over the fish on a serving dish and garnish with the parsley. Eat with oiled grilled bread.

For bread, my go-to in Sydney is Iggy’s, in Melbourne it’s Bread Club, in NYC go to Bourke Street Bakery (call me patriotic…) and in London try St Johns.


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